Port Talbot Chess Club History

The town of Port Talbot is one of the largest in Wales and yet it has always proved difficult to create and maintain a chess club.  That is even more surprising as one of the earliest organisers of the game, Christopher Rice Mansell Talbot, lived in the mansion at Margam.  He was a Member of Parliament for sixty years, created the docks near to Aberavon and gave his name to the new town.

Talbot was on the organising committee of the first ever international chess tournament in London, 1851, ‘representing the chess players of Wales’, and donated £25 towards its finances. He was one of the founder members of the St. George’s Club (1843) in London and for fifteen years remained one of its strongest players.

Played at St. George’s Club 1850

White : C.R.M. Talbot          Black Mr. Catiley

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3  Nf6  3. Nc3  Bc5  4. Bc4  d6  5. d3  h6?  6. Be3  Bb6  7. Qd2  Bg4  8. h3   Bxf6  9. gxf6  Nbd7  10. 0-0-0  a6?  11. d4  exd4  12. Bxd4  Bxd4  13. Qxd4  Ne5  14. f4  Nxc4  15. Qxc4  b5?  16. Qc6+  Nd7  17. Nd5  0-0  18. Rhg1!  Nf6  19. Qc3  Kh7  20. Rxg7+  Kxg7  21. Rg1+  Kh8  22. Nxf6  c5  23. Rg7!  Kxg7 and White mates in three moves.              

                                                           C.R.M.Talbot M.P.


He had inherited the 44,000 acre estates of Margam and Penrice on the death of his father in 1824.  As a young man he spent much of his time travelling in the Mediterranean and the following game was played on a visit to Constantinople against a member of the Turkish royal family.  As such it is one of the earliest recorded games by a Welsh player.  The game (undated) was published in the Chess Players’ Chronicle of 1851:

White: C.R.M.Talbot     Black:  Yousouf Pasha

1.e4  e5  2. Nf3  d6  3. Bc4  b5  4. Bxb5+  c6  5. Ba4  Be7  6. d3  Qa5+ 7. c3  Nf6   8. 0-0  0-0  9. b4  Qa6  10. c4  Qb6  11. a3  Bg4  12. h3  Bh5  13. Be3  c5  14. Nbd2  Nbd7  15. Qe1  Qc7  16.  Bb3  Rab8  17. Nh2  cxb4  18. axb4  Rxb4  19. Rxa7  Qc8  20. f4  Qb8  21. Ra3  d5  22. exd5  exf4  23. Bxf4  Qb6+  24. Kh1  Bc5  25. Bd1  Re8  26. Qg3  Bxd1  27. Rxd1  Nh5  28. Qf3  Nxf4  29. Qxf4  Bd6  30. Qf5  Ne5  31. Ndf3  Qf2  32. Rf1  Qg3  33. Nxe4  Qxe4  34. Qxf7+  Kh8  35. Ng4  Qe2  36. Ra7  Rg8  37. Nh6  R4b8  38. Qxg8+  Rxg8  39. Nf7++

However, there is no evidence of him supporting efforts to nurture the game nearer to home and the first club in the town did not appear until over thirty years after his death.


The club was formed in 1923 but did not join the South Wales Chess Association for a few years.  There is no record of any matches being played for the first four years of their existence.  The earliest recorded matches were against Great Western Railways in 1927 and they were led by Christian Hertz, an assistant engineer at Margam,  and a  young Arthur Kent (1908-1993).  Hertz had a Danish father and followed him as an engineer on the railways.  He moved to London. 

On Board 7 of the ten board match was E. R. (Ebenezer) Thomas (1906-1965), who was to become and remain one of the clubs strongest players. The match was lost 2.5-7.5 but the opposition team was led by C. Hybart and A. E. Williams (who lost to Kent) who both soon joined the Port Talbot club.  Further down J. Clyde Davies also joined and was club secretary from about 1933 to 1937.  Claude Hybart continued to lead the club until its demise in 1956.  He was runner up in the South Wales Championships of 1930. 


                                      Old Port Talbot YMCA where the chess club met

They finally took the plunge in 1927 and were paired with Bridgend, Mountain Ash, Swansea and Tonyrefail in one of the two preliminary all-play-all section of the SWCA Club Championships.  The Port Talbot team was led by Claude Hybart, the former Bridgend and Barry player. He was strong enough to beat A. Harper of Mountain Ash in their encounter though it was  the opposition who went on to qualify for the final.  On Board 2 was a teenager, Arthur Kent, who played for a few years before going off to university and qualifying as a barrister.  His older brother George (1907-1980) also played for the club and he too had an interesting career, ending up as Chairman of Lewes District Council in Sussex.

One of the stalwarts of the club from its earliest days was Noel Tomlinson (1893-1978), a chemist and metallurgist in the steel works.  His father was a well-known professional artist, Walter Tomlinson.  Between 1930 and 1952 Noel Tomlinson was the controller of the South Wales postal chess teams competing in the BCF Counties & District Correspondence Chess Competitions.  Unsurprisingly many of the Port Talbot club members were represented in the teams that he put together.  It may be that this background of postal chess gave the club an edge over opponents.  They never had ‘star’ players and South Wales champions who featured at other clubs but they punched far above their weight, achieving unexpected success, particularly in the decade after the war when chess in Wales was perhaps at its lowest ebb. Tomlinson also served for many years as club secretary.  He was a Vice-President of the West Wales League from 1936 to 1958, served briefly as league chairman 1936-7 and one of his later roles was as a South Wales delegate to the British Chess Federation (around 1950).

In the Wales v. Ireland postal match 1927-8 the club was well represented:  Board 4 C. Hybart, Bd. 35 A. V. Kent, Bd. 43 G. Kent, Bd. 44 N. Tomlinson, Bd. 45 A. G. Llewellyn, Bd. 47 A. Richards, Bd. 48 E. R. Thomas and Bd. 49 J. C. Davies.

A. G. Llewellyn was another who was a long-time servant of the club. He was chairman of the West Wales League 1950-2.

Frank Jarvis of Porthcawl visited the club in February 1928 and gave a simultaneous display against 12 of the club members.  He had played in several South Wales Championships and was regarded as a strong opponent.  There is no record of any other simultaneous display ever being given at the club.

To prepare for the new season matches were arranged against St. David’s Church Institute, Llanelli, and against Llanelli YMCA.  Again they failed to get through the preliminaries, losing to Cardiff after drawing the match 3-3, because Cardiff had the black pieces!  A strange tie-break indeed.

They continued to compete in the South Wales competitions and gained extra experience by joining the fledgling West Wales League – then known as the Swansea and District League – in 1933. 

The South Wales Chess Association collapsed in 1930 as a result of the Depression and when it was re-formed in 1935 the Annual General Meetings were held at Port Talbot.  Noel Tomlinson was one of the leading promoters of the renewed association. With the formation of leagues in West Wales and Monmouthshire, the South Wales competition preliminaries started to be held locally.

                                                              Photo G.Jenkins

N.L.Tomlinson of Port Talbot (centre) who was responsible for the revival of the S.W.C.A. in 1935.

In the 1935-6 season Port Talbot YMCA beat the Rooks (Swansea), Gorseinon  and Swansea YMCA to qualify for the final where they met Barry.  The club’s leading player, C. Hybart, was not available and the team lost 2-4.  This was to be the club’s only visit to the final before war intervened. The team was Ebenezer Thomas, Llewellyn George, the former Bridgend player R. G. Kyte,  Noel Tomlinson, B. T. Traube and  J. C. Davies.  Llewellyn George (1887-1967) was a clerk in the quarries.  He was a founder member of the Port Talbot Operatic Society with whom he toured the USA in 1913. 

Eb. Thomas qualified for the final of the West Wales Championship in 1936  in a knock-out competition and there he lost to R. A. Johnston of Swansea.

The club won the West Wales League for the first time in 1938.


                         The new Port Talbot YMCA in Talbot Road, under construction 1939.

When activities resumed in 1945 the club met in the spacious new Y.M.C.A. which still exists on the main road through Port Talbot.

 Claude Hybart, was made a Vice-President of the West Wales League in 1949 and remained so until 1959.

Port Talbot once again took part in the West Wales League and in the western section of the South Wales Chess Association Championships.  These events were perhaps at their lowest ebb with sometimes only three teams competing.  Nevertheless they did well to win on several occasions despite the might of Swansea chess club.  They succeeded in winning the league in 1947, 1949, 1951, 1954, 1955 and won the western zone of SWCA 1946-7-8 and 1952-3-4.

                   The Port Talbot team (right) in play against Swansea University c.1949

Port Talbot players from nearest to camera are Keith Peters, Gerald Jenkins and Noel Tomlinson.

Through all of this period they were led by Claude Hybart with his main support coming from Ebenezer Thomas, Noel Tomlinson and A. G. Llewellyn.

In 1946 they again lost in the final of the SWCA competition against Barry; but the following year, after finishing ahead of Swansea, Llanelli and Pontyates in the western section, they drew 3-3 with Cardiff in the final and edged the tie-break to take the title for the first time.

History repeated itself in 1948 when they again lost in the final to Barry.  They reached the final again in 1952 but this time were well beaten 1-5 by Cardiff.  They lost to the same club 2-4 the following year.

Their last hurrah was in the 1954 final when they drew 3-3 with Barry but won on tie-break.  Their team on this occasion was Claude Hybart, Eb. Thomas, A.G. Llewellyn, Noel Tomlinson, Handel Jenkins and Keith Peters.

In the early 1950s the club benefitted from the membership of junior players.  The formation of a Welsh Secondary Schools Chess Association  in 1952 was the work of Brother Cyril and Mr. W. R. Lotwick of Port Talbot County Intermediate  School.  This school was one of the first in Wales to be awarded a British Chess Federation Schools’ Shield in 1951.

Keith Peters was educated at Glan Afan Grammar School and played chess for Cardiff University after leaving the town.  As with so many talented junior players his further education and career took him away from South Wales. His stellar career is subject to an article on the WCU website (Three Welsh Chess Geniuses). He was knighted and  became Regius Professor of Physic in the University of Cambridge and head of the School of Clinical Medicine in 1987. 

Several club members represented West Wales in the South Wales and Welsh Chess Union events: 

1946    SWCA v. Monmouth   Bd. 8  E. R. Thomas;  Bd. 35 S. George

1953  SWCA v. Monmouth   Bd. 20 Gerald Jenkins (Gerald was from Neath and transferred to the new club in his home town in 1954).

1954  West v. East  :  Handel Jenkins, Ivor Preece, E. R. Thomas, A. G. Llewellyn, Gerald Jenkins, and Keith Peters all played for the West.

1954  SWCA v. Monmouth     Gerald Jenkins

1955  West Wales v. Monmouth  Bd. 2 Claude Hybart;  Bd. 4 Eb Thomas; Bd. 5 Noel Tomlinson; Bd. 6 A. G. Llewellyn; Bd. 12 Handel Jenkins; Bd. 14 G. D. Rees

1955  East Glamorgan v. West Wales Bd. 2 Claude Hybart; Bd. 4 Eb Thomas; Bd. 8 Noel Tomlinson; Bd. 14 J. C. Davies

1956  West wales v. East Glamorgan  Bd. 3 Eb Thomas.

The loss of Gerald Jenkins in 1954 was a major blow.  He had improved rapidly since his arrival in 1950 and later made his presence felt at several Welsh Championships.  Other players were growing older and the club finally closed in 1956.


 A club was started within SCOW in 1966 and ran until 1969.  They started play in Division Two as ‘Abbey’ and were led by R. Mahoney, M. J. Baker, B. H. Jones and L. Howells.  They finished runners-up and were duly promoted  though they struggled at the higher level.  In their second year Colin Gilbert from Cwmbran played one game, drawing with the strongest player in the league, Graham Chesters.  Due to loss of membership they spent their last season in a four-board Division Three.  One of their players that year was T. Cattle who was probably the same   Thomas Sidney Cattle (b. 1903), a chemist in the steel-works, who  had led the Port Talbot club and been team captain in the 1937-8 season. 

 CHESS CLUB 1981-1986

The commencement of an annual schools’ chess tournament – the Neath & District Junior Chess Championships – in 1978, led directly to a boom in the number of junior chess players in Port Talbot, Neath and the upper Swansea Valley. 

In Port Talbot the Central and St. Joseph schools in particular had teachers (Viv Walters and John Basini respectively) who fostered the game and many of their students joined the Castell Nedd chess club.  In 1981 two of the parents, John Walsh and Len Powell, set up a club in Port Talbot itself and this successfully participated in the lower Divisions of the West Wales League for about five years.  The club met in Dyffryn Lower Comprehensive School.

The list of Welsh Junior Champions from Port Talbot is a reflection of the success of that club.


1952     Under 14           Ivor Preece

1955     Under 18           Keith Peters

1981     Under 9             Christopher Walsh

1983     Under 11           Christopher Walsh

1984     Under 13           Christopher Walsh and Robert Wood

1985     Under 13           Aled Roberts   

1986     Under 13           Emyr Roberts

1986     Under 15           Christopher Walsh

1987     Under 11           Andrew Harris

1987     Under 18           Christopher Walsh (shared)

Welsh Quickplay Champions – Bristol & West

1983     Under 11           Christopher Walsh (shared)

1984     Under 13           Christopher Walsh

1987     Under 13           Emyr Roberts

1987     Under 18           Christopher Walsh (shared)

1988     Under 15           Emyr Roberts

Christopher Walsh was undoubtedly the strongest player ever to come from the town. He went on to play for Nidum and was extremely successful in Junior International events.


1949    Glorney Cup                  J. Graham T.  Jones Bd 6  0/2

1950    Glorney Cup                  J. Graham T.  Jones  Bd 2  2/5

1951    Glorney Cup                   J. Graham T.   Jones Bd 1  0/3, D. Rowe Jones Bd 5  ½ /2   (Rowe played for Bridgend in the early 1970s).     

1953    Glorney Cup                    Keith Peters   Bd 5/6    1/2

1954    Glorney Cup                     Keith Peters   Bd. 1      ½ /2

1985     Christopher Walsh         World U14 Championships, Argentine  5.5/9  6th

1985     Christopher Walsh          Board 1 v. England U16s

1987     Christopher Walsh           World Cadet (U16) Championships, Austria  5.5/9

1989     Christopher Walsh           World Junior Championships, Colombia 6/13

1987-8-9    Christopher Walsh       Glorney Cup

Attempts have been made since 1986 to resurrect a club in the town.  David Merryweather of Castell Nedd and Briton Ferry tried unsuccessfully for several years to start a club in the YMCA. 


Bridgend chess club applied to join the West Wales League in 2013.  They were only allowed to join on condition that their home venue lay within the zone boundary.  They found a home at Taibach Rugby Club (later moving to Trefelin Workingmens’ Club) and spent a couple of seasons playing in Division One but failed to rise above the bottom few places.  The team was led by Keith Thompson, Mike Cleaves and Neil Stuart.