In the late 19th century, a number of pioneers had impregnated Devon with the idea and perceived need of a county-wide association to draw the various threads together, but it was left to the Rev. Henry Bremridge to be the midwife that delivered the DCCA into the world.
The Bremridges were an old-established Devon family whose origins were in the North Devon village of Bremridge, between Barnstaple and South Molton. Henry's father, John Philip Bremridge, was in the ministry, and married Alicia Tidbold, youngest daughter of J. A. Tidbold of The Firs, Chulmleigh. While living at Morchard Bishop, where he was a curate, they had their first son, Philip, before Henry was born in November 1854. They also had a daughter.
As a small boy he watched his parents play chess, and learnt the moves himself early in life. His father became the Vicar of Winkleigh, a quiet village in mid-Devon..
Henry went up to St. John's College, Oxford, where he was a member of the University Chess Club, but at that time he was more interested in physical sports, playing Rugby for the University for two years, losing to Cambridge in his first year but beating them the next time. For three years he rowed in his college boat, and got his cricket colours in his third year. In later life, he played golf regularly on the links at Westward Ho!
He graduated in 1880, and succeeded his father as Vicar of Winkleigh when James Philip died in September 1887. Ten years later he came back to the game and started taking it seriously, being quoted as saying "Chess is the finest game ever invented".
In the meantime he had married Dora Milne, 6 years his junior. First born was a daughter, Mildred Constance, born on 10th April 1892, followed by a son. James Philip Alfred (born 30th September 1893). However, the young family were touched with tragedy when young Mildred died on 3rd. February 1895 aged 2, as her mother was 8 months pregnant with their third child. This was Godfrey (born 1st. March 1895), but Mrs Bremridge herself died just four weeks later on 6th April possibly resulting from a combination of post-natal depression and deep mourning for her lost daughter.
Henry married for a second time, this time to Charlotte May Roby nee Godwin, known as May (2nd September 1877 - 16th August 1958). Together they had four more children, Frances May Grace (27/08/1903 - 25/08/1994), Charles Henry Godwin (16/08/1905 - 22/09/1934), Bernard Lionel (22/12/1906 - 5/09/1995), and Philip Alexander Roby (5/06/1911 - 21/12/1999).
Charles' short life was accounted for by a flying accident near Aylesbury. Francis married the Revd Jack chudleigh Way, who became vicar of Winkleigh between 1943-1957.
A man of broad views and wide sympathies, Henry was highly respected, both by his parish flock and his chess colleagues. His parish duties in the small village of Winkleigh may not have been onerous for a man of such wit and energy as Bremridge possessed, but he spread himself wide. He was president of the local Church of England Temperance Society; President of the Cricket and Bowling Clubs; Reading Room; Choral Society; Nursing Association; also Chairman of the School Managers; was a member of the Committees of the Diocesan Branch of the Church Defence, the Council of Preventative and Rescue work, the Religious Education fund, and a keen worker for various missions.
In the late 1890s, he entered several congresses outside Devon, which brought him into contact with more organised chess. One of these was the SCCU Congress, held in September 1898 at Salisbury, where was erroneously listed in the charts as "Rev. Brimbridge". Also playing in this event was fellow Devonian, Rhoda Annie Bowles, one on the country's leading chess organisers of the time, and doubtless there were opportunities for them to talk about the possibilities of getting chess in Devon onto a more organised footing.
During the course of 1901, Bremridge, at the suggestion of officers of the Southern Counties Chess Union, took the initiative in convening a meeting to test the waters and, if the will was there, to form a Devon association. The City elders allowed the meeting to be held at the Guildhall in Exeter's High Street, which was presided over by the Mayor Mr. A. Edward Dunn, shortly to become MP for Camborne.
The meeting was well-attended, and many letters of support were read out from supporters unable to attend. A steering committee was formed and Bremridge was elected both Secretary and Treasurer of the infant association.
For four years Mr. Bremridge was both Secretary and Treasurer of the Association, and the work done by him during that period was enormous. He felt that he could not continue, and wished to retire. At the A.G.M. in September 1905 a compromise was reached whereby he retained the secretaryship, and George W. Cutler took over as Treasurer. Henry was also President of the Exeter Chess Club for some years.
At this time Cutler wrote, "Mr. Bremridge is persona grata wherever he goes. His very presence among chess players is cheering and inspiring, and he is beloved in all Devon chess circles. He has the happy knack of stimulating others by his enthusiasm for the game, and he attracts to himself a willing band of workers. He is ever ready to help chess by all means in his power, so it is no wonder that he is a 'tower of strength' to the DCCA".
This new arrangement did not last long, however. In September 1909, the DCCA held its A.G.M. in the Barnfield Small Hall, and although Bremridge himself was unable to attend as he was travelling in Ireland, his wife read out his annual report followed by a letter of resignation which included the lines… "I am not tired of chess. I am not going to give it up. It is the most fascinating and intellectual of games, and I think it has helped me make some good moves in life: but the duties of secretary are many, and undoubtedly take up valuable time, and after eight years' active service I am, I think, entitled to be placed on the reserve list". With six young children back at the Vicarage, the four youngest all still under 10, it was hardly surprising that he, and not least his wife, wished to ease his administrative burden.
W. H. Gundry of Exeter was elected to take over from him.
That marked the end of his relatively short but great contribution to Devon chess. He may have already suspected that he was not due for a long life, for he passed away in a London nursing home on June 28th 1913 after a long illness, at the comparatively early age of 58.
But he is far from forgotten. One of the first things he did in 1901 was to donate a cup for the county's champion club, still known today as the Bremridge Cup, and Devon's premier team trophy. Its early winners were as follows, giving an indication of where the playing strength lay at that time.
However, at some point in the early 1980s, the original cup disappeared in mysterious circumstances, and a replacement had to be bought.
Henry's family is the only one of the early Pioneers that can be readily traced down to the present day.
His eldest son, James Philip became a Lieut-Commander in the Royal Navy and died on HMS Delhi in 1926, and was buried in Kalkara Naval Cemetery. His son, James Philip Henry, also joined the Navy and was killed in 1941 aged 18 when HMS Repulse was sunk off Singapore.
Godfrey Bremridge was only 18 when his father died in 1913. During WW1, he joined the Royal Flying Corps, and downed 5 enemy aircraft in the last 12 months of the war. He then emigrated to the Transvaal, where he started an orange farm, and became father to 2 daughters and a son, John Henry (born 1926). In 1933, the family returned to England while the children went through school. In 1939 he re-joined the RAF as a Pilot Instructor, but was killed in a flying accident in 1941.
After the war, Godfrey's son, John Henry Bremridge, went to Hong Kong, where he eventually became Finance Secretary / Minister, (1981 - 86) getting an OBE and Knighthood for his work. He was a keen chess player and died in 1994. Sir John had four children, Anne, Elizabeth, Charles (also a chessplayer) and Henry Bremridge, who currently lives in the South Hams area of Devon.
Clearly, the chess gene continues to run through the generations of the Bremridge family, and Devon chess owes the reverend gentleman a great debt.
Gaskell, E: Devonshire Leaders 1907
Williams, B. H: Ancient Westcountry Families Bridger 1916
Testimony of Henry Bremridge.
Bremridge, John Henry
Chancellor, I have the honour to present John Henry Bremridge for the degree
of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
Bremridge was born on July 12, 1925, on an orange farm in Transvaal - his
father had gone to South Africa after the First World War to grow oranges.
The family returned to the United Kingdom in 1933 in order to be together
while John and his two sisters went to school. His father was killed in 1941
while serving as a pilot in the Royal Air Force. He served for four years as
a captain in the Army. After the War, he went to Oxford to read law and
received an M.A, in 1949. It may be of interest to students, who usually do
not pay much attention to such matters, that John Bremridge got his first
and only job by visiting the university's appointments board. Other than a
desire to go overseas, he was not quite sure what he wanted to do and so
'shipping' came to mind. The job he got was junior executive of a shipping
firm in Hong Kong at an annual salary of ￡350
rising to ￡450
in three years. During the subsequent years he rose to become chairman of
that company. While John Bremridge likes to refer to himself as a 'good
second-rate businessman', and he is surely entitled to his own opinion, the
facts indicate that there has been nothing second-rate in his achievements
and services to the community. During the thirty-one years to his retirement
from the private sector in 1980, he served on numerous advisory Boards and
Councils. These included the Trade Development Council, Hong Kong Tourist
Association, Corruption Prevention Advisory Committee and Country Parks
Board, to name but a few. He also served as an unofficial member of the
Legislative Council and the Executive Council. As an active member of the
University Court, Council, and Finance Committee, and the Robert Black
College Committee of Management, his advice and guidance was particularly
appreciated during a period of expansion in the University. His contribution
to the deliberations of University affairs was drawn from his vast
experience in commerce and industry, and reflected the needs and
expectations of the community.
Bremridge regards his appointment to the Universities and Polytechnic Grants
Committee as one of the most rewarding. He served on the UPGC for five
years, (from 1975 to the end of 1980), the last three years as chairman of
the Committee. He viewed the UPGC, with its strong overseas academic
membership, as a means of reinforcing the autonomy of the local institutions
of higher learning. Contrary to popular belief, the UPGC is not interested
in the details of the University budget, but only in the direction of its
development. Since the two are intimately related, in fact almost impossible
to separate, it is understandable that confusion has arisen in the minds of
many. By preventing direct conflict between the Government and the
institutions of higher learning and ensuring that money supplied by the
Government is wisely spent, the UPGC has gained the respect and confidence
of both. An example of the usefulness of the UPGC comes to mind in the
matter of student numbers. The University's view is a simple one and was
expressed 18 years ago by the late Sir Lindsay Ride in his address to the
graduating class of 1964. After noting that the University was compelled to
turn away approximately fifty per cent of those trained in our schools who
qualify for entrance he went on to say: 'No community of four million souls,
with the wealth, potential, and resources of manpower, and the international
challenges, opportunities, and responsibilities of Hong Kong, can afford to
treat its youth thus, nor can it leave their education to others and expect
to survive... The University I now leave is ready to meet the challenge. It
can train four thousand, six thousand, even ten thousand, if the community
so wishes...' Those words were said before the establishment of the Grants
Committee and were presumably addressed to the Government. With the
formation of the UPGC the task of ensuring an orderly expansion of the
universities and the polytechnic fell within its purview. During his tenure
on the UPGC, John Bremridge, while fully aware of the need for more tertiary
and vocational training for the youth of Hong Kong, insisted that expansion
be at a rate consistent with the community's ability to pay and the
institutions' ability to absorb the increased numbers without lowering of
standards. I am sure that the University, in retrospect, will be grateful
for the orderly, if somewhat slower, rate of expansion that has taken place.
The University is particularly grateful to John Bremridge for his delicate
touch while keeping a steady hand on the tiller.
Chancellor, for his services to the community John Bremridge was honoured by
Her Majesty with the O.B.E. in 1976; for his services to the community, and
especially his service to higher education in Hong Kong the University would
also like to honour him and I request your Excellency to confer upon John
Henry Bremridge the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.