Spirit of Atticus


Liverpool European Capital of Culture 2008

Dedicated to the 'Spirit of Atticus'

Atticus History



Part 3: Early Days by John Carleton


Sensational archive material has recently been released by the British Library, and, as with all documents relating to the noble game, a priority copy was promptly forwarded to the Club in recognition of the high esteem in which we are held throughout the academic world. Here is an extended extract from the most exciting document, one which casts new light on the origins of Atticus.




Dear Club Members etc.,


  Kirkdale Community Centre, Liverpool

Kirkdale Community Centre, Liverpool

There are a load of things that you need to know before we begin the new season, most of which have been decided or negotiated without including you! If any part of the following information appears to be out of keeping with the ideas of the club, then please complain to someone!


Some of the senior members of the club had a meeting the other day [05.09.1975] and we took a few decisions about the coming season. If you want to complain, therefore, direct your attentions to Messrs. Carleton, Cassin, Hall, McKrell, Osterberg, Ripley and Robertson who were responsible. [ps. we didn't invite anyone else, because we didn't want any trouble].


We all agreed therefore that the following were the priorities of the club:




playing chess in the best social and physical conditions possible


attracting new players to the club


winning all those tournaments that we should have won last year


providing a club tournament


supping a few ales now and again


By 10:30p.m., having met objective No. 6 in all its conditions, we resolved upon the following:


A/ Survival



It appears we have survived the summer [most of us that is]. We lose Martin Burbidge totally. Geoff Hall is moving to Manchester [sort of], but that could be a blessing in disguise [no offence- see later]


We gain Jim Cassin definitely, and Howard Sleeman should be back in November after a course. We appear to gain a Yorkshire player called Derek Hipple who met John Ripley in Lewis's, but that needs to be confirmed. [With the hand-written note, "Yes! and A.K.Taylor"]


We will probably gain on a more regular basis Andy Mort who might be able to travel from Manchester with Geoff Hall; also Paul Taylor [strong ex-University player] may be able to get from Warrington, and Graham Willetts said he would play for us, but I must confirm as well.


Several others have said they will play when available, including Paul Jordan [Edin. Univ].


Such is our RELATIVE health, we have committed ourselves to a 3rd team [see later] whose players I am not sure of yet.


If everyone who was committed to the club in one way or another were regularly available, we would have a club of about 20-25 players. N. B. This is an optimistic figure and must be improved.


B/ Playing Venue


  Atticus Bookshop interior 1984

Atticus Bookshop interior 1984



The summer has been a pretty hectic time for some club members, since it was felt that the "Gazebo" wasn't exactly right for chess [poor lighting. "rip-off" coffee etc.], and some of us have been searching the city for a suitable place where we could play chess in decent, trouble-free conditions and where we could be sure of entering the right kind of social environment, if possible. Jim Cassin, in particular, tried very hard to find places and came up with two venues which would have been suitable, but they were out of the city centre a bit. Finally, we got the break that we had been waiting for, when, at the prompting of Dave Herring principally, we were able to negotiate, what I regard as an ideal venue.


In future we will be playing our chess at the "ATTICUS BOOKSHOP" in Clarence Street, just off Mount Pleasant.


[I am omitting sections c, d, e which deal with the advantages, possible problems with and opening night of the new venue.]


C/ Squads for the two 1st teams


This is probably the most difficult problem. Consideration was given to the following points when drawing up these PROVISIONAL squads:



The A team and the B team should be as equally balanced as possible.


Where social groups existed, they should be preserved


The B team is committed to a lot of travelling so they should have priority with cars


The B team also faced the toughest possible start to the season, and had the bulk of its matches before Xmas when the club was likely to be at its most disorganised, so it needed a very reliable and settled squad. 5/ every attempt should be made to stabilise the A team which was noticeably fragile in some aspects


We agreed, therefore, that the squads would look something like:


  John Carleton anf David Robertson 1966

Visionaries John Carleton and David Robertson, freshman

and friends at Liverpool University 1966. John reading Physics

was West Midlands U-18 Champion and David reading Politics

and Economics was runner-up in the same event.

[click to read about their ideas for Birmingham chess]

John Carleton*
Tom Bimpson*

Geoff Hall+?/
Sheila Jackson*
Hans Schadee?/
Howard Sleeman+?/
Andy   Wilks*
Tony Davies?



John Ripley*

Graham Willetts?

Mike Price*+

Jim Cassin*

Dave Robertson*

Pete McKrell*

Bernie Osterberg*

Dave Herring*

Yet to be allocated:

Andy Mort?

Paul Taylor?

Derek Hipple*

Robert Taylor * [Applied to join, as I write!]

Paul Jordan ?/ [Holidays only]


Key to symbols:

*= certain to play in all/most games

+= has car for team travel if necessary

?= dubious, or unconfirmed, or unavailable unless favourable conditions

?/= possible under certain conditions


Various important points of league and club expectations were then summarised [missed out here].


D/ The 3rd Team


In keeping with the philosophy and practice of the club of stretching our resources to breaking point, we have decided to run a 3rd team in the new 7th division.


The idea behind this is to provide an opportunity for players who enjoy the game to play in a league/competitive context without making any major demands on their playing strength, and without becoming a major commitment if they don't want it.


Also, since many of the club members are school teachers, it might be possible to introduce some school kids into this low-ish level of chess, if not in the 1st teams.


More administrative details followed for this team, sections E/ The Club Tournament and F/ Finance [not included here]


G/ Club Name


For the past 3 years we have been Kirkdale, since that was were some of us lived and met. This is no longer true. It was proposed, therefore, that depending upon the success of our tenure at the "Atticus" Bookshop, we should phase in the name ATTICUS over the coming year, with a view to adopting it in the future.


NB Atticus was the friend and confidante of Cicero, the Roman lawyer. He was a man of great wisdom and learning, immense grace and charm, of inestimable wit and refined manners, and who liked the odd bevvy with the lads. As far as I know, he couldn't play chess - because Mr. C. Hess hadn't invented it yet.


The Newsletter finishes with the fixture list for the season [not included here].




The reasons for including these lengthy extracts are many: First and foremost we can acknowledge the many people happy to buy into the Atticus dream and to see where it led. Not only the visionaries and the organisers can be recognised for their contributions but also the unsung heroes who turned out week-in week-out, often travelling long distances play their games to ensure that the Club moved forward.


The keen reader will notice a club in its infancy yes, one with limited structures in place yes, but above all one with unquenchable ambition at all levels of chess activity. The season that followed the newsletter above was the most successful in the history of the club up till that time. Although no trophies were landed priorities 1,3and 6 from the newsletter were carried out almost to perfection and if 2,4 and 5 still had a way to go then so be it! I should mention that great progress had already been made in the club tournament. The tournament was played in the summer months and involved play at normal rate until about 10p.m.. Thereafter there was an adjournment to the pub over the road and matches were played to a finish on our return[ younger readers will be unaware of the somewhat bizarre licensing laws in operation in those days; there was only a relatively small window of drinking opportunity at most pubs after or in this case during a chess match] I have clear recollections of many bizarre finishes during the post-adjournment play. I have only hazy recollections of one particular evening when after adjourning a solid pawn up in the endgame against Tom Bimpson was soon after resumption  forced to resign. I am assured that this was a great evening. In our fourth year of existence we established two teams in the first division and got our third team up and running. 

The fifth year of our existence proved one of the most memorable in our history, moving Atticus into the consciousness of British chess, but that will be a tale for a future episode.
Postscript: Where are they now?


  Atticus Chess Club members in 1977

Atticus in 1977

(left to right foreground): Dave Robertson, Dave James, John Ripley, Sheila Jackson.

(middle): Pete MacKrell (half-hidden), Jim Cassin, Mike Price, John Carleton

(back): Martin Burbidge, Tom Bimpson, Howard Sleeman and Bernie Osterberg

[see larger photo incl. article about the 1977 achievements]


Many of those mentioned in this chapter still have close links with the Club and we will doubtless pick up their stories later.


However, this would appear a good moment to catch up on some of those who have faded from the scene [and in some cases not catch up on them since we haven't heard from them].

Geoff Hall: there at the beginning of the Club; Geoff continued to offer loyal support even when his career took him to the Dark Side[or Manchester as it is also known]. Geoff did in due course settle in the birthplace of Chess[ Sutton Coldfield,not an Indian village; we're talking about the magazine not the game] but is not believed to play these days; has been seen in professional contexts over the years.

Andy Mort: Geoff's passenger on many occasions, now resident in Chesterfield; contacted us in October 2008. Andy remains proud of his contribution to the early years of our history and is still an active player. There is a gentle challenge from Chesterfield Chess Club on the table if we care to pick it up.

Pete Mckrell: In addition to his optimistic and lively contribution to chess matches, Pete was the first to insist we got our finances on a sound and communal basis. This enabled our chess plans to unfold smoothly. It is a number of years since the shock of Pete's death but he remains strong in our collective memory.

Hans Schadee: I have heard absolutely nothing from Hans. He was however the first of our United Nation's Invasion Force and a strong player to boot.

Martin Burbidge: U.S. resident for the last 19-20 years. Now plays in San Francisco for the Mechanics Chess Club[ believed to be the oldest in the U.S.] Was a strong player in our early days and dropped in on the Club in May 2009. One of many old players who has made contact thanks to our website and our unusual name, which brings us to

Dave Herring: a  Club stalwart in the early years and, as the newsletter indicates, played a large part in obtaining the Atticus bookshop and thus in giving the Club its name. Dave is not active on the competitive scene but was seen admiring the chess talent that descended on Liverpool during the celebrations of 2006-2008.

Andy Wilks: has vivid memories [in fact remembers far more detail than this annotator] of the early years. Andy was, as he recalls, part of our "Youth Programme" playing for the Club in his schooldays at Rock Ferry H.S. Since 1983 Andy has lived in Australia; he made contact in a couple of great emails in 2005 and dropped in on the Club in August 2007. The highlight of his chess career was 6th= in the Australian Championship when it was held in his home city of Melbourne[Andy did have to wait a little for his prize money as the possibility of this unknown player with a slight Scouse accent being a ringer was investigated].




Part 2: What’s in a name? The origins of Atticus by David Robertson


Renaming the club after our first successful year was inevitable. We were already drawing members from across Liverpool. And anyway, playing conditions at the Kirkdale Community Centre, never ideal, deteriorated further when they kicked us out in favour of activities involving organised physical violence. So ended chess in Kirkdale. Given the goings-on there these days, that’s not about to change anytime soon.



Atticus bookshop, Hardman St., 1980's

So the search for new premises began. I’d just started as a lecturer at the FE college in Clarence Street, and during my lunch hour, used to browse through the stock of a small second-hand bookshop next door. It’s a sandwich bar now. But in 1973, it was Atticus Books, a struggling attempt by Tom, its owner, to raise the quality of second-hand books above that of a car-boot sale. We got talking, and eventually reached a deal that allowed us to use his upstairs room for matches. We played there throughout 1973-74, taking the name ‘Atticus’ as part of the deal.


The upstairs room was extremely small and very old. Before each match, we would carefully clear piles of books from the tables. Then, when sixteen people sat down to play, the only comfort to be drawn from the squash was that collective body heat compensated for the minimal heating on offer. Why minimal heating? Because Tom, the owner, didn’t want us burning down his livelihood. Witty folk from visiting teams, noting the chill amid the books, offered to incinerate a few. Oh, how we chuckled! If, during the match, you felt your game going downhill, it probably was. The building was so old that the floor sloped alarmingly. We couldn’t have had any structural engineers in the team because no one gave a thought to loading sixteen chess-players onto these dodgy timbers.


As the season headed into winter, some matches had to be played by candle-light. This was the era of the 3-day week, the miners’ strike, and Government restrictions on the use of electricity. Suddenly, there would be a power cut, complete blackout until someone scrambled for a candle. Huddled over the board in  overcoats, surrounded by musty tomes, and crammed together by candle-light, we looked like nothing so much as a bunch of Dickensian clerks bent to their grim labours. Despite everything, or maybe because of it, we won the 1st Division that season, our first as Atticus - and without burning down the shop. Happy days!



So why was ‘Atticus Books’ so named? There is a well-known second-hand bookshop of that name in New York with branches in other American cities. Presumably Tom thought he’d continue the tradition in Liverpool. These bookshops take their name from Titus Pomponius Atticus (110-32 BC), a scholar and close friend of Cicero, the Roman statesman and orator. Titus Pomponius took the name ‘Atticus’ from his love of Athens, and after publishing Cicero’s work, came to be regarded as the world’s first publisher-cum-librarian. A century or so later, Herodes Atticus (101-177) continued the cultural tradition with his work on Plato. Thereafter, St Atticus makes his mark as  “a tireless enemy of heretics”, finding time to write ‘On Virginity’ before dying as Pope in 425.


Skipping quickly over the next one and a half millennia (and a clutter of entries in Google), the next famous Atticus was a prize stallion, presumably not too impressed by the writings of St Atticus. This American champion racehorse sired 27 winners, not bad for a horse, although not as many as Atticus Chess Club of course.



  BH (Baruch, "Barry") Wood

founder of CHESS magazine

Then we have Atticus Finch, the kindly lawyer in Harper Lee’s famous novel, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, played by Gregory Peck in the film of the book. Atticus Finch has been voted the greatest heroic character of the past century with Hannibal Lector, the worst, which leads neatly into Atticus, the modern clothing outlet. This sells Death’s Head t-shirts and other morbid apparel for fun-loving Goths, ideal garb when playing the Sveshnikov.


We haven’t always been plain ‘Atticus’ though. We spent 1974-75 as ‘Atticus Red Star’, or at least we had score-sheets overprinted as such. The ‘Red Star’ element was added by the more left-wing members of the club seeking to be on the side of the angels in the forthcoming Workers’ Revolution. The name was adopted in a truly democratic manner - by not inviting dissent - and was tolerated by other club members with the benign indulgence usually reserved for toddlers. In the end ‘The Workers’, having re-elected Harold Wilson in 1974, decided that was sufficiently revolting, so the ‘Red Star’ title lapsed with the revolution when the score-sheets ran out.


Actually, the title lapsed when the printer refused to print any more. Our score-sheets were overprinted by ‘Chess’ magazine in Sutton Coldfield, owned and edited by the dedicated but formidable Baruch H Wood. ‘BH’, as he was universally known, was the longstanding chess correspondent of the ‘Daily Telegraph’. Never were the politics of correspondent and newspaper more perfectly matched.


Ever the entrepreneur, ‘BH’ would hire out his print-room as a weekend rendezvous for teams in the National Club Championship meeting halfway. On one occasion, we arrived to play a strong Streatham team in the semi-finals. ‘BH’ asked me what the ‘Red Star’ signified. I was delighted by his interest, polishing for his benefit the bit about underpaid print workers throwing off the yoke of rapacious capitalists. His face darkened; his lips pursed with scorn; and I thought for a minute he was about to throw us off the premises, or throw a fit. Then he remembered we hadn’t yet paid for the room. We never dared ask him to print any more though.


But the club was moving on, literally. By the start of the 1974-75 season, Atticus had outgrown the bookshop. So, homeless again, taking nothing but the name, and dragging our equipment behind us, we set off to scour the watering holes of Liverpool, looking for somewhere to play. It’s hard to believe, looking back, but within three years Atticus would be National Club Champions.


The climb to the summit is the next part of our story.




Part 1: The beginning by John Carleton


As all chess historians agree 1972 was a sensational year in the development of the great game. Atticus Chess Club (née Kirkdale Chess Club) played its first match in the autumn of that year, a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Liverpool 3 in Division 2 of the Liverpool and District Chess League.


On the face of it this was not a great start, we did have some excuses to offer: we were not at full strength. Our bottom two boards on the night were two rugby players each promised a couple of pints of best bitter for turning out plus a very attractive bonus again alcoholic in content and also measured in imperial units of capacity. Sadly the bonus scheme was not needed and the rest of the team played rather poorly.


Atticus Chess Club founders




John Carleton


David Robertson


The idea of a new club had been born in the autumn of the previous year. I had returned to Liverpool after a year’s absence and started playing at Prescot and Knotty Ash Chess Club. I was still in contact with a number of former co-students at Liverpool University, none of whom were playing competitive chess, and I felt that together we could make a team to win the Liverpool League. John Ripley, then also playing at Prescot, was most supportive of the idea, helping me talk through the logistical problems but did not himself join the cause until our second year.


The League accepted our application to join and because of our likely strength placed us as high as they felt they could, i.e. in Division 2. Our team for that season in no particular order was Dave Robertson, Geoff Hall, Bernard Osterberg, Pete Mackrall, Howard Sleeman, a bloke called Eddie and me, John Carleton. Keen students of local history will appreciate that four of this team were in the Atticus 2 team that won the Merseyside Division One Championship in 2004-2005. I am not quite sure what conclusion can be drawn from this but it is probably not particularly flattering.



Division 1 Trophy

Before our first match two of our major problems were (a) the name of the club and (b) the venue for the home matches. These problems were solved in one move. Dave and Geoff fixed it with Kirkdale Community Centre to use a room there. The only fee we had to ‘pay’ was to run a chess activity class for the youth of Kirkdale one evening per week. Woodwork, a popular choice amongst the boys of Kirkdale clashed with our class which as a result largely consisted of girls plus the occasional boy who had been thrown out of woodwork. Despite deploying many innovative and brilliant ideas the tutors Dave, Geoff and myself failed to establish a production line of young talent like our contemporaries Dvoretsky and Yermolinsky.


The Kirkdale team quickly played itself into form after the shaky start to the season and the crunch match of the League campaign came with a visit to Hoylake. Chauffeur to the Liverpool contingent of the team, Geoff was unavoidably detained in a pub for the afternoon before the match where he unavoidably consumed vast quantities of alcohol. Geoff declared himself fit to play but thought it perhaps better if he did not drive. This led to our travelling on public transport and arriving close to the start of play without time for a pre-match drink to settle our nerves. Perhaps for this reason, the match became a very nervy matter but with a late swing of fortune a crucial victory resulted. The second division title was thus achieved with just one defeat.


The cup final was another tense affair with Kirkdale requiring a 5-1 winning margin against another team newly formed that season (Dista, later to be Hunts Cross and now Aigburth). This did not prove an easy task since Dista had a good team (more than one of whom are still active in their first division team). Again a late flourish saw victory by 5½ - ½.


Thus we started season 1973-4 in Division One as Division Two champions and Knock-Out trophy holders. Our second season saw a new venue, Atticus bookshop, and hence the name Atticus. We also got some new blood; Tom Bimpson returned from working in France to join up with former University colleagues and John Ripley moved across to us as promised. And so the second chapter in the history of Atticus Chess Club began.



 © SC 2015


Copyright © 2015 Spirit of Atticus

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