British Chess Centre

British National Chess Centre

The National Chess Centre opened in September 1939, the same month as the start of World War II. The venue was the Cavendish Square building of the John Lewis Partnership, Oxford Street, London W1.

The City of London Chess Club merged with the National Chess Centre on on 20th November 1939, somewhat boosting the number of strong players. The club was formed in 1852 and was known as one of the strongest clubs in London. From "The Living Age" 1898:

The Clity of London Chess Club stood at the very head of English chess as a great fighting organization. It is aptly named, for it is and has always been a city club for city men, busy men all--stock-brokers, merchants, lawyers, accountants, managers and others, all representatives of the busy hive wherein they toil. In every way the "City" is a great chess institution, great alike in its membership, its aggregate playing strength and its enthusiasm for the game. Its membership totals up to something like four hundred and fifty, and it is ready to play a match, one hundred a side, with any chess club or organization in the world. The quality of the play in its championship tournament, and in the first-class sections of its great winter tournament, is of the highest; and what the "old City" can do when put upon its mettle was fully shown some little time ago when a team of master players (including Lasker) could do no more than effect a draw against a team of "City" players.

A book is available by Roger Leslie Paige listing games of the City club championship between 1890-1939.

Vera Menchik was the manager of the British National Chess Centre until it was destroyed by fire (during The Blitz) on the 23rd September 1940. At that time it was the largest chess club in London with over 700 members. The contents of the Chess centre were entirely destroyed. The entire property of the SCCU, the best half of the BCF library, all the finer old four-handed equipment, some Kent trophies and records were all gone. Only the SCCU's Shannon Trophy was recovered and repaired some time later.Chess Magazine 1952 page 93 has a photo of the war damaged National Chess Centre:

The significance of this event to West London Chess Club's history, is that it left a large number of players without anywhere to play. When Vera Menchik joined West London in 1941, many of the strongest players followed.

The National Chess Centre was re-opened on Monday 22nd September 1952 on the second floor of Messrs. Fleming's Restaurant at 307 Oxford Street [1], just opposite the old venue, which was still a network of battered steel girders. The official opening was held on Saturday 4th October, with a six-a-side lightning team tournament -approximately 100 attended the lunch before the tournament [2].

The National Chess Centre was still going in March 1957 at 158 Bishopsgate, London EC2[3], but is now defunct. A photo is here.


[1] BCM September 1952

[2] BCM November 1952

[3] BCM March 1957