Samuel Passmore was born in 1864 to Edmund and Lydia Passmore. For generations, the Passmores had farmed in the parish of Bishop's Nympton, between South Molton and Witheridge (Comins Mansfield's birthplace) in the heart of rural mid-Devon. Edmund Passmore ran Mornacott Farm of 520 acres, and was one of the biggest landowners in the area.
Samuel was the 2nd child and first son, but any idea of being thereby a bit special was somewhat diluted as siblings continued to appear at the approximate rate of one every other year, until by 1881 he was one of ten children.
As the eldest son of a landowning farmer, he might have been expected to take over the family estate at some point, but for whatever reason, he decided to move to the big city, where he could better utilise his talent for music. He was part of the great 19th century migration from the countryside to the towns.
The 1891 census records him as having married Mary, a Staffordshire girl from Uttoxeter, and living at No. 9, Fonthill Road, near where the Arsenal football ground was later built in north London, where he was earning, or trying to earn, a living as a teacher of music. Whatever his degree of success at this stage, he was able to supplement his income by having one of his younger brothers as a lodger. This was Herbert Passmore, 20, who was studying to be a vet, and things couldn't have been too bad financially as Samuel could afford a live-in servant.
Indeed, this formula must have been deemed within the family as being very successful for by 1901, he had moved a short distance to 10, Yerbury Road, and was giving lodging to three more of his unmarried brothers; William, 28, an engineer working for himself; John, 22, a civil servant at the India Office and Leonard, 20, a bank clerk. From their ages and occupations, it looks as if these brothers were not just passing through. Clearly, the attraction of farm life was not strong among the male Passmores, and it could have been an arrangement that suited all parties.
Also, he had become a father to a 6 year old daughter, Christine. Samuel himself was listed as a "Teacher of Music" on his "own account". If this means his main income was from private tuition it would mean his income would be limited and that his work commitment would be at unsocial times; that is, he worked when others had the leisure to take lessons. So fitting in chess play in the evenings would not necessarily be easy. At this time, one of the leading male singers with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company was a Walter Passmore, and it is not clear whether there was any connection between the two, or whether they moved in the same musical circles.
Whatever difficulties he may have had in combining work and leisure, he became a leading member of the Athenaeum Club and competed regularly in the City of London Club championship.
His obituary writer recalled him as being "always an opponent to be feared with a fine attacking style". In trying to gauge his playing strength more accurately, a useful source is the Chessmetrics website of Jeff Sonas, who calculates that Passmore's best world ranking was in June 1904 when he was ranked No. 48 in the world. His highest rating was gained in January 1904 when, at the age of 42, he reached 2481 (ECF 235)
Unfortunately for him, the best documented tournament in which he took part was that of London 1900 when the City of London Club organised a competition, inviting 6 London-based masters and 6 leading local amateurs, and held at their clubrooms at 7, Grocer's Hall Court, Poultry.
City of London Invitation Tournament
5th May - 5th June 1900
This event was something of a disaster for him, except that his sole win was against James Mason, depriving him of clear 1st place. This may be an indication of how dangerous an opponent he could be, given half a chance, or how drunk Mason was that day, or both. Playing through the game, Mason certainly seemed to have taken Passmore a little too lightly in their Round 1 game. This early loss seems to have had the double effect of bringing Mason to his senses, and possibly going to Passmore's head. All Passmore's 13 games from this tournament are in the Pioneers' database.
That same year he took 8th board in a 50 man S.C.C.U. team against the Northern Counties Union ahead of his fellow Pioneer, Charles Lambert, on Bd. 15.
Although Charles Lambert had been elected Devon's match captain at the Association's A.G.M. in 1903, for some unknown reason he did not take up those duties, and the captaincy was taken over by Henry Bremridge, already the Secretary and Treasurer. He was certainly pro-active in getting players to turn out for Devon, and to this end, established a contact with Passmore in London. For the Devon v Somerset match, planned for Saturday 26th March 1904, Passmore was willing to play but couldn't get to Taunton. Bremridge got round this by arranging with the Somerset captain that Passmore could play at the City of London Club against H. W. Trenchard, another London-based westcountryman, who was born in the village of Thorncombe, near the point where Devon, Dorset and Somerset all meet. It was evident that Passmore's pre-eminence was recognised at the time as he played on top board, above Lambert, the County Champion. The top 5 results were as follows:
The contact at this time extended to Bremridge inviting Passmore to his local Winkleigh Chess Club where he put on a simultaneous display. Passmore's game with Bremridge from this event is in the Pioneers' database.
In June 1904 he played an 8 game match against the Pole, Paul Saladin Leonhardt, (1877 - 1934) followed by 2 more games, all of which are in the Pioneers database.
Judging by the game scores, something was amiss somewhere along the line, as in Game 3, Leonhardt simply played 1. Nf3 and got the full point. Did Passmore simply fail to turn up? In Game 8, Passmore played 3.Bb5 in a Ruy Lopez, and his opponent was then awarded the full point. In game 10, there are actually no moves at all, yet a draw was recorded. What was going on? Have the actual moves played been lost over time, or were some other irregularities involved?
If his job as music teacher possibly affected the amount of time he could devote to club chess, he was further distracted from the classical game when he became attracted to the chess variant Kriegspiel. This was developed by his exact contemporary, Michael Henry Temple (1862 - 1928), who introduced it at the Knight Lights Club, held in the Cock Tavern, Fleet Street, London in 1898.
In this version of the game, each player has sight of their own board but not their opponent's and there is a referee with a third board and sight of the other two. Neither player knows what their opponent has played and try to construct a game. The referee will say if a proposed move is illegal.
Complex though it sounds, it was immediately popular with many famous players dabbling in it, Lasker, Marshall and Kashdan included. BCM and the new Chess Amateur magazines both devoted space to the game, and it appears that Passmore was also smitten, and his obituarist remarked on his skill. A regular kriegspiel circle was formed at the Gambit Chess Rooms and this is where Passmore was involved.
His health suffered greatly in his final years and he died in a nursing home in Epsom, Surrey, on Christmas Day 1928, after a long illness, at the age of 64.
In his book Chess Personalia, Gaige reports Passmore's birthplace as "St. Thomas", which probably refers to that part of Exeter, but from 19th century census returns we know this is incorrect. For the Devon v Somerset match in 1904, he was listed as "Exeter", which may simply refer to a notional club subscription having been paid to allow him to play for Devon. Also, some of the older members of the Exeter Chess Club remember in the1950s two middle-aged Miss Passmores, who were talented and somewhat eccentric. Richard Hitchcock recalls them thus… "Perhaps the most singular member I recall was Miss Jane Passmore. Her sister, Katie, was reputedly a stronger player had also been a member of the club. Miss Passmore would walk from her home in St. Leonards, was never without her floral hat which she wore indoors and out, and she was partial to Queen sacrifices."
Could these have been Samuel's daughters, or otherwise related? The name, age, location and ability all fit, but more research is still needed here. Did Passmore have some specific connection with Exeter?
Passmore is difficult to pin down more precisely, and many questions and inconsistencies remain. If he had remained in Devon he would certainly have been much more involved in the creation and early years of the DCCA, and in this connection his activities would have been better documented. Instead, his move to London made him a smaller fish in a much bigger pond. He was undoubtedly a well-respected attacking player, but his predilection for risky play, blitz chess, and chess variants, probably took the edge off his tournament results. Whatever the truth of this, he was the strongest Devon-born player of his day and fully deserves his place among our Pioneers.
Sergeant, P. W: A Century of British Chess Hutchinson 1934
Gaige, J: Chess Personalia McFarland
Forster, R: Amos Burn McFarland: 2004
Regis, D. 100-Odd Years of Exeter Chess Club 1998
Pritchard, D: The Encyclopaedia of Chess Variants Games & Puzzles 1994
Various 19th century directories for Devon - e.g. Kelly's and White's
Contemporary newspaper accounts at the Devon & Exeter Institute.
BCM obituary etc. kindly made available by Owen Hindle.