Leek Chess Club was founded on a formal basis in 1890 and held its earliest meetings in the Mechanics Institute in Russell Street. It is known, however, that organised chess was played amongst the professional men of the town at least 40 years before that, and it is suspected that an earlier Chess Club had once been established in Leek, probably as an offshoot of the town Cricket Club, which was founded in 1844.
In 1890, the club joined the newly formed North Staffordshire and District Chess League and played in it without any spectacular success for most of the next decade. Apart from a couple of seasons in the early 1900s, Leek did not continue to participate in the league in the new century and, as they were not alone in this, the league found itself in some difficulty, winding up temporarily just before the First World War. When the league made two attempts to restart in the early 1920s and again ten years later, it was without Leek. The club itself seems to have failed to re-emerge after closing down during the Great War.
Thanks mainly to the efforts of Bill Hardisty, however, the club was re-established at the end of the Second World War. Not many years afterwards, the club moved into the Nicholson Institute and was taken under the wing of the Leek Arts Club, thereafter being known as Leek Arts Club Chess Section.
Just as the club owed a great deal to Bill Hardisty, chess generally in North Staffordshire owed a lot to the efforts of a schoolteacher called Lawrie Landon. Landon had been a member of the Hanley Chess Club from the early part of the twentieth century and had become a leading light in North Staffordshire chess in the 1930s. By 1940, most clubs of all kinds had closed down and Hanley Chess Club was no exception so Landon took it upon himself to hire a room at Hartshill where he and a few friends met twice a week to play chess. In 1941, this was named the Victory Chess Club.
At the end of the war, Landon invited a few other clubs to join Victory and reform the North Staffordshire Chess League. This duly took place in 1946. Leek re-entered a year later. Not content with this league, which operated on Saturday afternoons, Landon converted the Victory Club's internal team competition into another league, which he called the Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme and District Chess League. His idea was to use all the players in the Victory Club in various teams and they adopted a variety of names such as Penkhull, Michelin, Basford, Fenton, British Aluminium etc. and played each other in a league competition at the club's premises every Friday evening. Once this league had become established in 1947, he invited other clubs to enter teams in it.
Ten years later, in 1957, Leek joined this League as well.
This was the state of affairs in 1969 when, under the shrewd guidance of head teacher George Loraine, a junior chess club was started at Mount Methodist Primary School in Leek. Membership at the club grew at a phenomenal rate so that, within a year, chess was put on the curriculum at the school and all children began to learn to play. In 1971, the school entered a team in the National Primary Schools knockout where they were up against over 400 teams from the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. Incredibly, after winning through seven rounds, the team reached the National Semi-Finals at Birmingham. There the dream came to an end as the occasion finally proved too much for them and the members of the team froze to lose 5-1 to the eventual winners - Ernhale Primary School of Nottingham.
Not to be outdone, however, the school entered thirty-two players in the Staffordshire Junior Championships at Wolverhampton in 1972 and, after travelling on a bus for each of the four days, provided the under-12 winner. In the same year, the school also put a team in the National Junior Primary School Teams competition at Nottingham. Although most of the teams were representing cities or counties, Mount Methodist had sixteen players all from the same school. The organisers would not allow the team to participate under the school name and tried to make it use the name Staffordshire. In the end, a compromise was reached and the team went in as Leek. Leek came fourth behind Nottingham, London and Liverpool and ahead of 12 other teams including Manchester, Birmingham, Surrey and Warwickshire.
The nucleus of this school chess team, together with a few adults, was formed into a club at an inaugural meeting at the Jervis Arms in Onecote on 30 August 1973 and called Cheddleton Chess Club. The three members present at this history-making meeting were Philip Birks, Ashleigh Wood and Robert Milner.
The new club entered a team in Division Three of the Stoke Chess League in season 1973/4 and duly finished in fourth place.
For the following season, the club acquired several new adult players as well as a lot more juniors and entered three teams in the league. Gary Jackson, a strong player from Church Lawton, was appointed first team captain and guided his team to second place in Division Two. Two other teams - B and C - both finished in respectable positions in Division Three.
For the next season, a Fourth Division of nine teams was formed into which Cheddleton entered a D team. The A team found the move to Division One to be a step too far and finished in bottom place, although they did not disgrace themselves in winning three matches. A very young C team won the Division Three Championship and both the B and D teams finished in good positions in Divisions Three and Four respectively.
In season 1976/7, the all-junior team called Cheddleton B won the Division Two Championship, closely followed by the senior Cheddleton A team. The C and D teams again did well but the club did not put a team in the newly formed Division Five.
Leek Chess Club had by now slipped into Division Two and were short of players. So the close season of summer 1977 was significant in that, after a meeting of the officers of the two clubs, they combined as the Cheddleton and Leek Chess Club.
The next season saw the B team capture fourth place in Division One, but the A team struggle greatly and finish in bottom place. The C, D and E teams all did well but the fact that Gary Jackson was working in Preston and not often available and also that several clubs had acquired players who lived outside the area to strengthen their squads were ominous signs of a need to strengthen the Cheddleton club's squad. The final straw was the announcement by Jackson that he was leaving the district in the summer of 1978.
It was at this stage that two new players were brought into the club. One was Alan Smith, a highly-rated player based in Manchester who has remained a member of the club ever since, and who was to play regularly for the next 13 years and occasionally since as well as doing a vast amount of coaching of junior players over that period. The other was a strong junior player from Burton-on Trent.
With these two players playing in most matches, the A team gained its first championship success in season 1978/9. The B team did well in Division Two, the C team won the Division Three Championship, the D and E teams held their own in Division Four and the F team did the same in Division Five.
In an attempt to broaden the club's horizons, other competitions were entered in the late 1970s and early 1980s, one being the Derbyshire County League, the championship of which was secured in 1978.
From this time, the club has achieved major success throughout the 1980s and 1990s, both as a club and at an individual level and particularly at junior level. The juniors have always been the mainstay of the club, and during the year 2000 the club was awarded the distinction of being named as the North Staffordshire Junior Chess Academy.
There have been two changes in the home of the club. On September 24, 1982 it moved from Mount Methodist Primary School in Leek to St Edward's Middle School in Leek, where it stayed until March 31, 1995 when it moved to Norbury House, which is part of Leek United Building Society. Most of the club's activities took place at this address with some at All Saints First School, Leek, and some at Bank House in St. Edward Street in Leek over the next ten years.
The club held a series of Junior Congresses at Mount Methodist Primary School and later at St Edward's Middle School between 1978 and 1987, as well as an Open Congress at St Edward's in 1986. By the time the Junior Congresses finished in 1987, they had become very successful with over 200 contestants on the last occasion. The Leek Congress was started in September 2000, with considerable assistance from Leek United Building Society, when the winner was IM Colin Crouch. A second Leek Congress was held at Westwood High School, Leek, in September 2001 with major sponsorship from Britannia Building Society plus other sponsorship from Leek United Building Society and A H Brooks solicitors, Leek. Various teams from the club gathered eight trophies during the season and many junior members won honours and trophies at all levels. Two in particular should be mentioned, with Molly Moruzzi and Conrad Westmorland both representing England.
The club's founding father and most important name in its history, George Loraine, sadly passed away at Shrewsbury, where he was enjoying a thoroughly deserved retirement, in 2003.