There is no blue plaque on the wall of No. 9 Billiter Square, E.C.3. commemorating the birthplace of the London Commercial Chess League. It was here, however, in the Billiter Cafe, early in 1924, that a dozen or so chess enthusiasts met to discuss the possibility of forming a league for business house chess clubs.
Of those present, five deserve special mention as they gave up so much of their time and spent so much of their energy in making the League a successful organisation. These were R.W. Baylis (Mortons) the founder, R.G. Tollett (Mex) later League General Secretary, F.H. Hale (Sedgewick Collins) for thirty years the League Treasurer, H.D. Callender (Shell-Mex) over thirty years later to become League President, and G.A. Holloway (P.L.A.) whose name became synonymous with the London Commercial Chess League after the war.
For many months before the first meeting, Baylis had been working on his idea of a league, by canvassing Business Houses known to have chess clubs and those with Sports Associations where there was a possibility of a Chess Club being formed. There was already an organisation known as the London Business Houses Amateur Sports Association which organised several sports, social competitions and leagues but Baylis was determined to keep his venture outside this organisation. He would have been interested to read, some years after he had left his league in the hands of others, an extract from the Secretary's report of 1937:-
"The London Bussiness Houses League proposed to form a Chess Section for the season 1937/8 but in view of the strength and solidarity of the London Commercial Chess League, this idea was dropped, and all London Business Houses' Clubs were in future to be informed of the existence of our League by the Bussiness Houses' Secretary and invited to get into touch with me."
There are no records of the 1924 meeting, nor for that matter of meetings held during the first three years, but it is known that Baylis was elected Secretary and Treasurer. It is known, too, that there was a long discussion on the subject of the well established and strong Lensbury Club. There were at least six Lensbury representatives at the meeting and it was finally agreed that, as this Club's team would be far too strong for any other Club, the constituent parts of Lensbury should compete as separate clubs, that is as Shell-Mex, St. Helen's Court and Mex. So, in October, these three clubs, together with Nestanglo, Lloyds, Cornhill, Bowrings, Mortons, Motor Union and Sedgewick Collins, ten in all, began the League's first season, 1924/5. Of those only Lensbury survived to see the League's Golden Jubilee in 1974, although P.L.A., Union-Castle (later British and Commmonwealth) and Britannic House (later BP) (who all joined in 1926), and Gas Light (later North Thames Gas) (who joined in 1927) were all still in membership then. Today only Lensbury, in the form of Shell, survives.
Baylis was fortunate in gaining the support of three men, Messrs. C.D. Morton (C & E. Morton Ltd.) who was elected President, J.A.Miles (Shell-Mex) and H.K.E. Ostle (Motor Union) who were elected and known as "Active" Vice-Presidents. From the early League Accounts it seems that the chief activity of these gentlemen was to put their hands into their pockets. Without their aid, it is difficult to see how the League could have weathered the financial storms of the first few seasons. Compared with the present time, subscriptions were large, and their donations to cover the deficits of the Annual Dinners and what were called the "big" matches, were generous. The names of these three men are perpetuated by the League Cups. The "Morton" Cup, presented for the Club Championship, which went to Nestanglo at the end of the first season, has remained the premier League trophy (now called the "Morton Hall" trophy). It is fitting that the oldest Club, Lensbury, should have its name inscribed on it, in one form or another, on sixteen occasions.
After the successful first season, a second division was formed for six-board teams. In this division's first season, five second teams competed, together with Sedgewick Collins, which Club had had great difficulty in raising a nine board side from seven members. Now the Vice-Presidents again became "active" and the "Miles-Ostle" Cup appeared. This cup remained the trophy for the top six-board division until the re-organisation of the League structure in 1965. It was then presented to the Champions of Division III, a division for seven-board teams.
On the 15th February 1927, Kent County were entertained in a match of one hundred boards at the home of the Mex Club, 16, Finsbury Circus, E.C.2. In this, the third season, there were fourteen clubs in membership, nine having second teams in the second division. The extent of the enthusiasm of the members of these Clubs is disclosed by the fact that there was not one default conceded by the League side. A loss by 55-45 was hardly surprising against a strong County side considering the number of quite weak players who were included in the LCCL team.
During the following season a similar match was played against Surrey but, unfortunately, each of these events incurred a serious financial loss of about £3 despite the help of the Vice-Presidents. Even the irrepressible Baylis appears to have had doubts as to the usefulness of these "big" matches, but when he voiced these doubts at the next Council Meeting he was overruled and it was decided that an increase in the number of boards might obviate the loss. Therefore, a match of 150 boards was arranged and played in November 1929, again at Finsbury Circus, against the Civil Service in which the League lost 101½-48½.
Again there was a loss of approximately £3, and except for a fifty board match in 1934 against the Civil Service, there is no record of any further "big" matches until 1938. By then, the League's finances were on a firmer footing and two, one hundred board matches were played. The first, against Kent, was played at the Charing Cross Hotel and ended in a victory for the League by 50½-49½. The second match, against Middlesex (a defeat by 44½-55½) was played at the new National Chess Centre where the League had the privilege of informally opening the Centre and where the hospitality of Mr. Spedan Lewis was enjoyed. Unfortunately, this splendid venue for Chess at John Lewis in Oxford Street was so soon to be destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.
One of the most popular events of the early years was the Annual Dinner. First held at the end of the 1924/5 season, it was repeated every year until 1939. The venue changed from time to time, from the Cannon Street Hotel to the Northumberland Rooms and later to the First Avenue Hotel and the numbers attending increased each year until 1936 when 142 people were present. Well known entertainers were engaged and the guests each year included at least one Chess personality. This was also the occasion upon which the League Trophies and prizes were presented.
Needless to say, the event had to be heavily subsidised, and the "Annual Dinner Fund" received donations not only from the usual gentlemen but also from the individual Clubs in order that the charge for tickets could be kept low enough to attract the younger members of the Clubs. After the war, when rationing had ended and the 5/- limit on meals in restaurants and hotels had gone, the question of reviving the dinner was discussed but it was found that there would be very little support at the price that would have to be charged. No longer could a dinner and evening's entertainment be offered at 4/6 for a single or 7/6 for a double ticket!
In 1927 Baylis produced the first handbook, an ambitious project for so young an organisation. Not only did this volume give the league tables for the first three seasons but it gave a list of the names of the members of all the affiliated Clubs, together with detailed scores of all the matches played in the two divisions during the season 1926/7. Of the almost two hundred men playing in those matches, two were still playing in the League when it celebrated its Golden Jubilee, both members of the Union-Castle Club (later British and Commonwealth). H.E.Clarkson, who then played on board three, was later known to many as the B&C top board, where he played for over thirty years. Without him, the Union-Castle Club would probably have gone the way of so many of the early Clubs. The second Union-Castle player was the loser of a game played against P.L.A. in 1926, a game of which George Holloway, the League's Secretary for so many years, was always very proud:- G.A. Holloway 1 - M. Hall 0. It was almost forty years before revenge was taken for that defeat.
In the Legue's first handbook, the League rules occupied only one and a half pages and the accounts would have taken very little space but for the long list of donations to the Annual Dinner Fund. There is also a list of Affiliated Clubs for the 1927/8 season - a list of twenty, six more than in the previous season. It was not possible to produce a book every year, owing to the cost, seventeen guineas for 350 copies. Although a revenue of about £5 was obtained from advertisements, too many copies had to be sold at one shilling each for it to be profitable. In fact, it was not until 1937 that it paid for itself and it certainly did not do so again until the complete revision of the system of League subscriptions in 1968.
The second yearbook, published in 1929, was far less ambitious than the first - sixteen pages against forty-eight. By now, there were three divisions of the League (two nine board and one six board) and most of the space was occupied with particulars of the individual Clubs, five years' league positions, and two years of individual averages, everyone with 50% or more appearing in this list. The advertisements had vanished, except for that of a restaurant in Essex Street that catered specially for Chess Clubs and where table d'hote dinner was 2/- and where at tea time were served the "renowned original cakes, made daily by Certificated Lady Cake-makers"!
In 1928, the League suffered a blow that would have wrecked a less sturdy organisation still in its infancy. Founder, Secretary and Treasurer Baylis announced that he would have to resign his offices, since his Company was transferring him to India. It is always difficult, if not impossible, to replace a person of the calibre of R.W. Baylis, and with the League rapidly growing and constantly suffering from financial growing pains, a period of change followed. At the beginning of the season 1928/9 the offices of Secretary and Treasurer were divided, T. Noakes (Shell-Mex) becoming Secretary and F. H. Hale (Sedgewick Collins) Treasurer. But one year appears to have been enough for Noakes, and the following year he was succeeded by R. G. Tollett (Mex) who struggled with the ever increasing work load until 1932. At the Council meeting of that year, to relieve the pressure on Tollett, two new offices were created, those of Match Secretary and Tournament Secretary, the latter being necessary since the individual tournaments had commenced as early as 1927. G.A. Holloway and W. Evans (P&0) were elected to the new offices while Tollett continued as General Secretary.
Under the guidance of these men, and also A.H. Reeves (G.W.R.), who replaced Tollett as General Secretary in 1935, came seven years of progress and prosperity. By the time of the outbreak of the second world war, 34 Clubs were in membership with 72 teams playing in seven divisions, four major (nine boards) and three minor (six boards). Financially, too, by 1939, the League was flourishing. It is stated in the minutes of a meeting held in 1928 that the Council had decided to appoint Westminster Bank Ltd. (Mincing Lane Branch) as Bankers to the League and that all cheques drawn should be signed by the new Treasurer, F.H. Hale. It can only be presumed that the Treasurer immediately deposited with the Bank the balance of 9/8d which he had inherited from Baylis!
Fred Hale served the League for a longer period than any other member. Representing a very small Club, which he struggled to keep alive until 1952, he attended the 1924 meeting when he was elected to the Executive Committee and acted as the League Auditor until he became Treassurer. This office he held until he retired to the South Coast in 1956. Even this distance did not deter him from serving for a further eleven years on the Executive Committee, a total of 43 years in all. During this period it is very rare to find a minute of a meeting where his name does not appear as being present.
As Treasurer, he was of the opinion that, as far as possible, the League should be self-supporting and not have to rely upon the generosity of the President and Vice-Presidents. He persuaded the Council to increase the subscriptions of the Clubs from 10/- to 15/- and, with the influx of new Clubs and teams, he was able to build a balance of over £100 by the time of the closure for the duration of the war. This balance proved invaluable in the post-war years of re-organisation. With fewer Clubs and rising costs, this £100 gradually diminished and by the time the Treasurer retired there was only the sum of £17 to be handed over to his successor, R.W. Tyndale (John Lewis).
The early years, of the fifteen that Dick Tyndale held the office of Treasurer, were a financial struggle but gradually more Clubs joined the League and as the Club subscriptions were again increased, the healthy balance was restored. In 1973, when the League's second Treasurer retired, he was able to pass on over £400 to his successor, I.C Robson (New Oxford - later Nationwide). This amount was probably equivalent to the balance thirty-five years earlier, and it was no doubt that the restraining influence of these two men had much to do with the strong financial position the League went on to achieve.
All sporting institutions, if they are to prosper, must have at least one tireless, selfless person to do the work. Chess Clubs and Chess Leagues are no exception. It has been seen that such a man emerged in 1924 but it was probably not realised that, at that first meeting, an even more enthusiastic and diligent man was present in the person of G.A. Holloway. At that time the P.L.A. had no Chess Club but George Holloway was quick to remedy that, and within two years he had a Club strong enough to enter the League and finish second in its first season. He was promptly elected to the Executive Commmittee and, as has been seen, became Match Secretary in 1932.
His untiring work during the next seven years contributed greatly to the growth of the League during this period. He was assisted in his quest for new Clubs in the last few years before the war by the fact that the mid-day edition of the London Evening News carried a Chess Column edited by H. Meek, an Hon. Vice-President of the League. One day each week, the column gave full scores of LCCL matches together with League Tables. This had the effect of bringing the activities of the League to the notice of the chess-playing public.
After the war, it was Holloway who set about bringing the League to life again, a task at least as great as the original formation. He quickly found that Reeves was not returning to G.W.R. and that, as P&0 no longer had a Chess Club, Evans was not available as Tournament Secretary. So, George Holloway decided to act alone. After considerable difficulty, he contacted Reeves and recovered some of the minute books and League records. He traced and collected all but one of the silver cups belonging to the League, the one missing being that presented in 1932 by Lensbury and Britannic House for the third division of the major section. Sadly, this had been destroyed when the John Lewis Chess Centre was bombed early in the war. He called a Council Meeting in September 1946 and seventeen Clubs sent representatives, just half of those in membership pre-war.
Between them, these Clubs could muster only twenty-four teams, one third of the 1939 number. For the season 1946/7 a small programme of eight matches per team was arranged on a regional basis, no championships nor cups being at stake. It was a beginning, but for George Holloway, who had been elected Secretary at the 1946 meeting, it was the beginning of a period of hard and often unrewarding work. At one Executive Committee Meeting in 1948 he reported that he had written to forty Clubs or prospective Clubs but had only two acceptances.
The first full post-war season, 1947/8, produced 21 Clubs and 31 teams but from then the Holloway magic began to work again with an increase in numbers every year for ten years when he had 37 and 69 respectively. It must have been sad for him to write in his last report before his retirement from office in 1963 that:- "with regard to next season's membership, the number of Clubs at 43 shows a drop of seven and the number of teams at 66 also shows a decrease of seven".
This, it should be added, was largely the result of the various regional Railway Clubs being merged as the Railways Chess Association, but George Holloway had the League back to its 1939 numerical strength. What he set out to do in 1946 he had accomplished. The following year (1964) he retired from the P.L.A. and left London for the Bournemouth area. His retirement coincided with the League's fortieth anniversary and at a celebration cocktail party held at BP House by the courtesy and help of the BP Club, the President made a presentation to him on behalf of the Clubs. How appropriate it was that the League President should be H. D. Calllender who, like Holloway, had attended the meeting in Billiter Square forty years before, both having served the League in various ways over the whole period.
In the post-war years the name of George Holloway and the London Commercial Chess League were inseparable. This is illustrated by a story told by the League Captain of a telephone call he received in the early 1960s from a Representative of a Club not in membership with the League asking for the telephone number of the Secretary. "Which Secretary do you want?" asked the Captain. "Oh! The tall chap, Mr. London Commercial Chess League himself!"
With the welfare of the League so much at heart, for some years Holloway had been looking around for his own likely successor. He had been impressed with the enthusiasm of the Secretary of the National Coal Board Club, D.W. Coleby, and at the Council Meeting of 1961 proposed that he should be elected to serve on the Executive Committee. Derrick Coleby had begun his League chess life with the Union-Castle Club, quickly rising from the lower sides to their first team. In 1952 he left Union-Castle for the National Coal Board and set about forming a Chess Club there. His efforts were quickly rewarded.
After a season of friendly matches with League Clubs, he entered a team in the second division of the League's major section and won promotion to the first division at the first attempt. The following season, the Coal Board team tied for the Championship with the all-conquering Lensbury, losing only in the play-off. During the next eight years, the Coal Board were always in one of the first three positions in the League, winning the Championship twice and finishing second three times; on two occasions being beaten by Lensbury in a play-off.
Coleby was duly elected to succeed at the Annual General Meeting of 1963. Had another Holloway been found? Unfortunately it will never be known since three years later the National Coal Board decided to decentralise and, it seemed, picked on the strongest chess players to send to far-away parts of the country. Derrick Coleby was transferred to Doncaster and the London Commercial Chess League was without a General Secretary.
The Executive Committee's task of finding someone to allow his name to go forward for nomination as General Secretary at the next Annual General Meeting was made more difficult by Coleby's enthusiasm. He had undertaken the necessary work in connection with grading LCCL players for the Southern Counties Chess Union. He had initiated a tournament to be played each season between the Champions of the Banks, Civil Service, Insurance and London Commercial Chess Leagues and had persuaded Dr. Jacob Bronowski, then playing for the Coal Board, to donate a trophy for this event. There was now a Team Lightning Tournament for a cup presented by the BP and Lensbury Clubs and there were three inter-league matches to arrange instead of one played prior to 1963. The office of General Secretary was now a daunting prospect for anyone accepting the position.
Probably without realising the extent of the work involved, F.L. Start (B&C) agreed to act for one year. And a strange year that was - lasting not twelve months, but twelve years! Unlike previous General Secretaries, Frank Start had no experience of the working of the League. He had attended AGMs and Council meetings as B&C Secretary and delegate, but had never served on the Executive Committee. Here was a man with a completely new outlook on the League's problems, a man who, in his own quiet way, was able to persuade a rather conservative Committee to recommend changes to the Council.
In 1955, the Printer that had produced the Year Book since the League's early days went out of business. Since then, several printers had been tried, with ever increasing prices and ever worsening deliveries and the Handbook had become the summer worry of each Secretary in turn. In Frank Start's first year, not only were he and his wife sitting in deck chairs at Falmouth in September checking proofs at a time when the finished books should have been delivered, but the loss to the League's meagre resources amounted to £96. It is understandable, therefore, that this should be the first problem to which the new Secretary should turn his attention.
Of the several estimates he obtained, the most promising came from Mr. B.H. Wood for the work to be done by "Chess" at Sutton Coldfield. Despite considerable opposition, both by the Commmittee and the Council, Start obtained sufficient support for him to place the order with "Chess", a decision that has never been regretted. Immediately, the loss was cut by more than half and despite the fact that there had often been a very tight schedule, the copies of the book have always been delivered by the date promised, a record of which any Printer would be proud.
A beginning had been made to solving the problem, but to Frank Start only the fringe had been touched. Since 1933, pages had been sold to the Clubs to publish their own particulars and fixtures. Unfortunately, as not all Clubs purchased pages, there was never a complete list of League fixtures in the Year Book, and while some Clubs purchased fifty copies, others bought only one. After weeks of thought and work in producing figures to satisfy a sceptical Commmittee, the Secretary produced a plan whereby the whole structure of Affiliation Fees charged by the League would be changed. Instead of paying for each team, the Clubs would pay a fee for each board. This board fee would include a free copy of the Year Book which would contain a full League fixture list and all the individual Clubs' particulars. The cost to the Clubs would, overall, be little more than they were paying previously since twenty pages of print were saved and the cost of the handbook accordingly reduced. As usual, there was opposition to change, but Start received sufficient support to put his plan into operation and within three years of his election to office, he had not only produced a more comprehensive Year Book but had eliminated the annual loss.
The first three post-war General Secretaries would be the first to acknowledge the help they received from the Match and Tournament Secretaries. During this period there were four Match Secretaries, J.B. Tucker (Union-Castle) (1947/53), H.T. Ennis (Esso) (1954/6), N.H. Perriman (B&C) (1957/67) and W.H. Oakland (NCB) (1968 to 1974), all men who have given much of their leisure time to League work. This was probably the most frustrating office to hold since there was always at least one Club not represented at the Fixture Meeting, always a Club Secretary who did not send his result sheet, always an adjudication diagram showing pieces on wrong squares! Although the gradual increase in the number of affiliated Clubs meant more work, Bill Oakland also produced a grading list of all LCCL players.
Besides arranging and collecting the results from up to four hundred League Matches each season, the Match Secretary has the responsibility of organising the Club Knock-out Competitions. The first of these, open to all member Clubs, is for the John Lewis Partnership Cup, a trophy presented by Mr J Spedan Lewis in 1934. There have been many close fought finals in this competition with many adjudications and appeals. There have been surprise results too, as in l973 when Lyons beat a strong King and King team. Perhaps the biggest surprise was in 1939 when W. H. Smith beat a John Lewis side that included not only the donor of the Cup, but the British Champion, C.H. O'D. Alexander, the League Champion, E.G.R. Cordingley and E.A. Coad Pryor, a one-time champion of Kent. A fortunate result from the League's point of view, for had John Lewis won this match, the Cup would have been destroyed with the Lensbury and Britannic House Cup, a year or so later.
The second "Knock-out" Trophy was presented to the League in 1973 by the Sainsbury Club to commemorate that Club winning the John Lewis Cup for the first time and gaining promotion to the first division in the same season. Except for two seasons some ten years before, Sainsbury had spent twenty-four years in the League's lower divisions and the "Sainsbury Shield", given for a tournament for teams not in the first division, was certainly a gesture from a Club to the teams it was leaving behind after so long.
It has already been mentioned that the individual tournaments began in 1927. In the following year, there were so many entries that it was decided to split the tournament and a cup for the second section was presented by one of the Hon. Vice-Presidents, M. S. Abrahams, the Championship Cup having been purchased from League Funds at a cost of £9 6s 9d! In 1932, a need was felt for a more junior tournament and H.K. Eaton Ostle came forward a second time and presented a trophy for this event. The ever generous Eaton Ostle, one of the original "Active" Vice-Presidents, became President in 1936, after the sudden death of J.A. Miles, and remained in office until two years before his death in 1958, having given thirty-four years of financial help to the League.
With the arrival of the third individual Cup came the first Tournament Secretary, W. Evans, who organised these tournaments until the outbreak of the second world war. The Mark Abrahams and the Eaton Ostle sections were always well supported but, unfortunately, the strongest League players did not always enter the Championship Cup. Knock-out, American and Swiss systems were tried, but, as always, many of the strong players had too many other chess commmitments. In addition to these three individual cups, a silver queen was presented by Mr. J. Spedan Lewis in 1960 for a Ladies' Tournament. Unfortunately, very few ladies played in Commercial League Chess this trophy often went uncontested.
The post-war period up until the Golden Jubilee of 1974 saw four Tournament Secretaries. The first, T.G. Wheeler (Gas Light) elected in 1947, was a man who gave all his spare time to chess and chess work, not only with the London Commercial Chess League, but also in several other spheres of chess. His knowledge of happenings in the chess world was often of immense value to the Executive Committee and George Holloway wrote in his report at the time of Wheeler's resignation eight years later:- "During this time, he has been a tower of strength to me personally and a most wise counsellor on the Executive Committee".
Tom Wheeler holds one unique League record. Joining the Gas Light Club in 1936, at the end of that season his name appeared in the Honours List for three Gas Light teams. Division I 78.57%, Division II 80% and Division III 83.33%. A record never to be beaten. Wheeler experienced, as did his successors, G. Adlam (Esso) (1955/6) and H. T. Ennis (Esso) (1957/69) similar difficulties to Evans pre-war in persuading the stronger players to compete in the individual tournaments. It was with this in mind that Tom Wheeler introduced the Premier Cup in 1953. His idea was to reduce the number of games to be played in the Championship and at the same time give the winner of the Premier Tournament the right to play in the Championship the following year. But a few years after his resignation neither the Championship nor the Premier Tournament were being supported. Despite the efforts and enthusiasm of Ennis, the number of entries decreased until in 1967 only five played in the Championship, three in the Premier Tournament and four for the Mark Abrahams Cup. There was talk in Committee of abandoning the individual tournaments but Harry Ennis carried on with his thankless task for a further two years despite ill-health which often, during this period, had him struggling to do League work from his sick bed. Finally in 1969, at the end of a twelve year stint, his health forced his retirement from office.
Ennis was followed by John F. Wheeler (IBM) - no relation to Tom. Perhaps John Wheeler was fortunate that he took office at a time when the League's financial position was beginning to reap the reward of the re-organisation of the League structure, and was able to offer prize money to go with the cups. Perhaps it was the immense amount of work he put into canvassing each individual player or perhaps it was the new type of tournament which he perfected, that made it such an unqualified success. The Council had agreed to subsidise the tournament prizes to the extent of £30 per season, but the loss in the first three years amounted to £16, £13 and £8 respectively, while in the fourth season 1973/4 with eighty-eight entries it was self-supporting. A changed tournament in changing times! It wasn't long however, before the competition was struggling again, and in spite of the sfforts of S.H. Band (1975-78), M Broad (1979-82) and Les Heard (1983 onwards) all of the indidual tournaments were eventually ceased in 1999 through lack of entrants.
During the short period of office of Derrick Coleby, two new trophies were presented to the League, the BP-Shell Cup for the Lightning Tournament and the Bronowski trophy to be played for by the Champions of the four London Business House Chess Leagues. The suggestion of a Lightning Tournament had been raised several times over a period of thirty years and had been turned down on each occasion, either by the Committee or the Council on the grounds of giving extra work to one of the Secretaries. However, both individual and team lightning tournaments still run today and popular as a seaon opener and a pre-Christmas social occasion.
The Bronowski tournament was initially competed for by Clubs, and was opposed by several members of the Committee. They saw that it was not a good advertisement for the Commercial League since the stronger players in the LCCL were scattered over many Clubs, whereas the other Leagues had a few large Clubs with the strength therefore concentrated. This view proved to be correct as only one LCCL Club (King & King) succeeded in winning this trophy. With the consent of Dr. Bronowski and the other three Leagues, the trophy was awarded to the winners of a tournament played over twenty boards between the four Leagues. In the second year of the tournament in this new form, 1973/74, and in the first of Miss Piggott's captaincy, the Commercial League won the trophy, but only by the narrowest possible margin. Two matches were drawn ten games each and the third, against the Insurance League, was won by 10½-9½.
The League peaked in the early 60s and again in the mid 70s when over 40 clubs fielded over 70 teams in six divisions. Since then it has seen a steady decline, and so by 2010 we have just 9 clubs fielding 12 teams in two divisions, less than half of what George Holloway salvaged from the ruins of the war, and less than what Baylis had organised in the League's inauaral season back in 1924. It remains to be seen if this decline can be halted, and and if the League can reach its centenary.
Over ninty years have passed since that first meeting in 1924. Many thousands of chess players have enjoyed the friendly atmosphere of the London
Commercial League Chess. They have made chess friends and experienced moments of glory - and despair. But all owe a debt of gratitude to the few
mentioned in these pages and it is hoped that the "few" are able to look back with satisfaction on the fact that they have given so much pleasure to