Edith Elina Helen Baird - née Winter-Wood  (1859 - 1924)  

25/08/2008 13:37    

 

 

Of all the Devon Pioneers, Mrs. Baird was undoubtedly the best known in her lifetime, her only rival being another problemist, Comins Mansfield, whose fame came later, these two being the only Pioneers to have their own entries in Hooper & Whyld's seminal work, The Oxford Companion Chess (2nd ed.) She was, of course, the youngest child of Thomas Winter Wood, her older brothers being Edward and Carlaske, all four being significant Pioneers.

She was born in 1859 at the family home of Hareston Manor, Brixton, just outside Plymouth, but spent years travelling on the continent with the family. More details of this aspect of her life may be found in her father's biographical sketch. With both parents and both older brothers being well-versed in the game, it was not surprising that she, too, picked up the basics as a young child, almost by osmosis.

At the age of 21, in 1880 she married Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals & Fleets, W. J. Baird MD; R.N.  and went to live in the Brighton area. Her only child, Lilian Edith, was born the following year.

It was not until 1888 that she started to put her mind to the composition of chess problems. She rapidly found success and her compositions were popular with the public and more discerning judges alike. In 1893, for example, she entered The Hackney Mercury 3-mover tournament, with a limit of 6 pieces. Most of the great composers of the time had entered,  - B. G. Laws, P. H. Williams and James Raynor among them, but she won 1st prize. As one American critic observed, "The fact that the tourney assumed an almost international character rendered the triumph of the distinguished lady victor as noteworthy as it was creditable".

She went on to compose over 2,000 problems which were always very popular, though, judged by the highest standards of today, are not felt to be very profound, although they were noted for their soundness. She published two notable books of her compositions - in 1902 the King's printer, Henry Sotheran, published her Seven Hundred Chess Problems, to be followed in 1907 by The Twentieth Century Retractor. These were two of the most elegant chess books ever to appear and sold at less than cost. The second volume arose from her growing interest in retractor problems and letter problems, in which the pieces form the shape of letters - the latter being an amusing novelty but never likely to become worthy of serious study.

She was a player of some ability over the board and in 1897 won the Sussex Ladies Championship.

Eminent though she was at problem composition, there was much more to her achievements. She was an accomplished painter and illustrator, and inherited her father's talent for poetry. She produced an illuminated book of verse, which was described as "so chaste and delicate in design as to recall the illuminated books which are treasured in museums and art galleries". She was a skilful archer, being a committee member of the Furze Hill Archery Club and a regular prize-winner.In politics she was a Liberal and very much against all cruelty to animals, whether for sport or science, views she did not share with her father who had been a Master of Foxhounds.

Towards the ends of their lives, the Winter-Wood children re-assembled in Paignton, where all three died within a short time of each other. Her eldest brother, Edward, had died in June 1920, while she and her other brother, Carslake, died within days of each other in February 1924, she being just 64. Her mother and daughter both lived well into their nineties.

Her obituarist described her as "much the most distinguished of women problem-composers throughout the world" and "The Queen of Chess".

Lilian Edith Strong née Baird   (1881  - 1977)

Edith had just one child, Lilian, who, like all her Winter-Wood ancestors, seemed to imbibe chess with her mother's milk. She was publishing problems before she was 10 years old.

Frederick Gittins' description of her in his book The Chess Bouquet (1897) can hardly be bettered.

" Of Miss Lilian Baird we can only say that she is one of the marvels of the chess world. A child of thirteen, with long sunny golden hair falling back from a fine and lofty forehead, thoughtful eyes, and all the shy grace of childhood, she has already, in some  mysterious intuitive way, learned the secret of problem-composing, and, absolutely unaided, has produced upwards of seventy compositions which have excited the admiration of the most critical judges. Some of the first composers of the day have dedicated problems to her honour, editors of chess columns are continually asking her to contribute, and people have asked her for her autograph - one of the surest evidences of fame. Like a wise mother, however, Mrs Baird seeks to keep her back rather than to press her forward, so she is now being kept mainly to her lessons and those natural pleasures of childhood to which even the most gifted boy or girl turns with joy. Like her mother, she writes verses quite charmingly and draws beautifully; but, with all her gifts, she remains a child and the happiest and mist industrious of schoolgirls. A childhood of such exceptional promise, and so wisely and affectionately guided and tended, can scarcely fail to lead up to a womanhood of rare fruition".

Whatever Gittins' hopes and expectations, Lilian did not fulfil this early promise - indeed, so fulsome was the praise at the time, it would not have been easy for any child to have done so. For whatever reason, she seems to have moved on from chess in her teens.

She married Major H. P. Strong, of the 108th Infantry in the Indian Army. When he retired, the couple moved back to her home town of Brighton. When her mother and Uncle Carslake died almost together in February 1924, Lilian, as an only child, would probably have inherited much of their chess memorabilia. She certainly acquired a chess set that once belonged to her maternal       Grandfather, Thomas. He had commisioned a silver set incorporated into a trophy that he presented to the DCCA. When he did this, he had a replica set made, and it was this that Lilian inherited.

In 1951, aged 70, she travelled down to the Plymouth Chess Club and presented these pieces to the Club, and they had them made into a new shield, called the Strong Trophy, which is competed for to this day. If she was afraid she might pass away before this was done, she was very much mistaken, for she lived another quarter century, and just missed getting her telegram from the Queen.

In 1963, she presented two books to the Club, which may have been her mother's personal copies of her problem books.

Although her early promise was unfulfilled, "Little Lilian", as she was known by her Grandparents, was the last chess connection with the Winter-Wood dynasty that gave so much to Devon chess for almost 100 years.

 

Bibliography:

Hooper & Whyld:         Oxford Companion to Chess              Oxford 2nd ed.                         1992

Gittins,  F. R:               The Chess Bouquet                            Fielden                        1897