Yorkshire Chess History



Wordsworth Donisthorpe











Made in Yorkshire



Sheffield Sub-Site



24/03/1847, Leeds


03/05/1847, St. Andrews, Leeds


30/01/1914, Surrey



Non-Chess Life


The parents of Wordsworth Donisthorpe were wool merchant George Edmund Donisthorpe (born 1810/11, Market Bosworth, Leics.) and Elizabeth Donisthorpe (born 1820/21, Leeds), who between them had the following five children, of whom Wordsworth was the only son:


Emily Flower Donisthorpe

born 1845/46, Bradford

Wordsworth Donisthorpe

born 24/03/1847, Leeds

Ann Gertude Donisthorpe

born 1848, Leeds

Edith Lucy Donisthorpe

born Dec/Jan 1850/51, Moor Allerton

Alice Maud Donisthorp

born 1852/53, Moor Allerton


Wordsworth’s first name is attributable to his mother being a great-niece of the poet William Wordsworth.  This nominal and hereditary connection with poetry seems to have induced in Wordsworth Donisthorpe greater belief in his prowess as a poet than was shared by contemporary critics.


Entry 212 in the baptism register of St. Andrews, Leeds, records the baptism on 03/05/1847, by parish curate Benjamin Crosthwaite, of Wordsworth Donisthorpe, son of George Edmund Donisthorpe, wool merchant of Springfield Mount, Leeds, and Elizabeth Donisthorpe.  The date of birth is there given as 24/03/1847, the date given by Venn.  The birth is said to have occurred at Springfield Mount [2].  This was presumably the Springfield Mount at Woodhouse, round the back of the present-day university, rather than the back-to-back one a little further south, at Hill Top.


White’s Directory of Leeds & the Clothing Districts, 1847, listed, George Edmund Donisthorpe & Co., wool merchants and worsted top manufacturers, at 47 Basinghall Street, Leeds, and listed the Donisthorpe residence as 2 Springfield Mount, [Little Woodhouse,] Leeds.


The 1851 census found the parents and first four of the above children living at Shadwell Lane, Chapel Allerton, Leeds, with four servants.  Father George was stated to be a wool merchant.


White’s Directory of Leeds, Bradford &c, 1854, listed George Edmund Donisthorpe & Co., machine top and noil manufacturers, oil refiners and wool merchants, at 55 Basinghall Street and at Larchfield Mills, [Hunslet Road,] Leeds.  The Donisthorpe residence was now given as Holly Bank, Moortown, Leeds, still in the Moor Allerton and Chapel Allerton area, five miles of so to the north of the centre of Leeds.  This may well not have represented a change of address but a more specific address.  “Holly Bank” was in italics some references, as were other names which were clearly house names.  Thus “Holly Bank” appears to have been the name of a house on or near Shadwell Lane, in the Moortown (Chapel Allerton) district of Leeds.


White’s Directory of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, Wakefield &c, 1858, listed George Edmund Donisthorpe & Co., machine top and noil manufacturers, and wool merchants, at Larchfield Mills, Hunslet Road, Leeds, with the Donisthorpe residence still at Holly Bank.  Oil refining and the Basinghall Street business premises seem to have been ditched.


The enumerator of the Chapel Allerton district of Leeds for the 1861 census was clearly less literate than one would expect.  After listing two households as occupying “Lodg” (without an “e”) he went on to record the Donisthorpe household as living at “Olli Bank”, without an “H” and with “i” instead of “y”.  “Olli Bank” was repeated as the household ran over onto the next page.  The ménage at Holly Bank had been greatly expanded.  Besides parents George and Elizabeth, and the five children, there were listed George’s younger brother Alfred Donisthorpe, Alfred’s wife Sarah Donisthorpe, and that couple’s daughters Mary Flower Donisthorpe and Maria Flower Donisthorpe.  There were also five servants and two visitors listed.  Father George was stated to be a wool merchant, while his five children were stated to be scholars.


Wordsworth went to Leeds Grammar School (under Mr. Barry [Venn]), and from there was admitted as a pensioner to Trinity College, Cambridge, on 28/10/1865.  He matriculated in Michaelmas 1866, going on to get a (science) B.A. (Cambridge didn’t use “B.Sc.” in those days) in 1870.  At that stage he was launched into a career in law, being admitted to the Inner Temple on 22/11/1870, but not being “called to the Bar” until 1879.  Though he was described in census returns as a barrister, he seems in fact rarely, if ever, to have practised law.


The period 1861 to 1871 saw the removal of the Donisthorpe family to Harrogate.  Venn describes Wordsworth’s father as “of Harrogate”, suggesting the move to Harrogate occurred before Wordsworth went to Cambridge in 1865.


The 1871 census found parents George and Elizabeth living with all five children, and six servants, in Harrogate.  The address appears to have been a house called Belvedere, in an area or road called West Park.  Father George was now a colliery proprietor, which change of job may have occasioned the move from Leeds.  Wordsworth was a law student, and his four sisters were described as living on dividends, suggesting their father had set them up with a secure financial future.


The marriage of Wordsworth Donisthorpe to Annie Maria Anderson (born 1854/55, York), on 17/03/1873, at St. Olave’s, Marygate, York, was registered in the fourth quarter of 1873, at York.  The couple had at least four children, all born in London:


Anderson H. Downisthorpe

born 1874/75

Ethel Downisthorpe

born 1875/76

Edmund Seal Downisthorpe

born 1877/78

Frank W. Downisthorpe

born 1878/79


The place of birth of the children makes it clear that Wordsworth and his wife set up home in London, immediately or soon after getting married.  The 1881 census seems to give the fourth child’s forename as “Frank”, but the 1901 census seemed to give it as “Mark”.

The 1881 census found Wordsworth, his wife, four children and three servants living at 2 Vicarage Gardens, Kensington.  Wordsworth was described as a barrister, though that seems merely to have been a convenient alternative to “political activist, cinematographic inventor, would-be poet, and chess-player”.


Wordsworth Donnisthorpe was co-founder with cousin William Carr Crofts et al., in 1882, of the Liberty and Property Defence League.


Electoral registers for 1885, 1888 and 1890 list Wordsworth Donnisthorpe as resident at 32 Pembridge Villas, Kensington.

The 1891 census found Wordsworth living with three servants at 32 Pembridge Villas, Kensington.  His wife and children were not listed, either because they were away visiting, or because Annie Maria Donisthorpe was fed up with her husband’s lifestyle and left him, taking the children.


On 15/03/1892, Annie Maria Donisthorpe filed a petition for judicial separation from her husband, and on 01/04/1892 filed an alimony petition.  In the petition, dated 27/02/1892, and in a later document, Annie’s address was given as St. Olave’s, West Bridgford, Nottingham, which is an curious co-incidence, as she was married at St. Olave’s in York.  The petition alleged that Wordsworth had frequently committed adultery with one Marie Hirschmann, in the months of March to September 1892, both at 32 Pembridge Villas, Bayswater, and at Church Hill House, Ventnor, Isle of Wight.  Annie was petitioning for judicial separation from Wordsworth, custody of the children under 16, and “such further and other relief as the case may require”.


The names Maria Hirschmann (born 1867/68, Germany) was one of the three servants mentioned in Wordsworth Donisthorpe’s household in the 1891 census, and was 21 years younger than he was.  Annie Maria Donisthorpe, on the other hand was about 8 years older than her husband.  Presumably Annie got the separation etc that she sought.  In any event, the marriage was clearly ended in practical terms.


Wordsworth Donisthorpe continued to live at 32 Pembridge Villas, where he was listed in the electoral register for 1896, but by the time of the 1901 census he had moved to Kintbury, in Berkshire, where he was joined by his two youngest sons.


The 1901 census found married Wordsworth Donisthorpe living with sons 22-year-old Edmund and 22-year-old “Mark” (=Frank?), and a cook, at The Willows, Kintbury, Berkshire.  Wordsworth was still listed as a barrister. The boys had no stated occupation.


By 1914 he was resident at Dottisholme, Hazel Grove, Hindhead, Surrey.


His political publications included Principles of Plutology, Liberty or Law, Individualism: A System of Politics, and Law in a Free State.


Wordsworth Donisthorpe’s fringe political activity is described in his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  That article, however, is curiously reticent about his pioneering work in the field of cinematography [see http://www.victorian-cinema.net/donisthorpe ].  His father had been something of an inventor in the field of wool-carding machinery, and Wordsworth’s design for a piece of cinematographic apparatus was supposedly inspired by his father’s wool-carding system [1], much as computer punched cards were inspired by Jacquard’s system for weaving looms.


Living up to his name, Wordsworth Donisthorpe unleashed his poetry on the world, but this met with scathing criticism [2].




Wordsworth Donisthorpe of Dottisholme, Hazel Grove, Hindhead, Surrey, died on 30/01/1914.  The cause of death was heart failure [2].  The death was registered at Farnham, Surrey.  The place of death, more specifically, is given by some as Shottermill [2], about 2 miles west of Haslemere, Surrey, and by some as Hindhead [1], about 3 miles NNW of Haslemere.  (Hindhead might have been assumed to have been his place of death due to it being his place of residence at the time.)


Probate was originally granted to Basil William Hardcastle, chartered accountant, at which point he was said to have left £7,373 19s 4d.  That provision, however, became cessate, and probate was granted a year later to Edmund Seal Donisthorpe, and officer in His Majesty’s Army.  Effects were now given as £7,441 11s 5d.




Wordsworth Donisthorpe seems not to have applied himself seriously to chess, but had he done so he might have achieved a high level of skill in the game.  In the context of some verbal sparring between editors of chess magazines, when an anonymous poem was attributed by Steinitz to Wordsworth Donisthorpe, the December 1890 issue of Chess Monthly said of Wordsworth Donisthorpe:


It is regretted that he has not followed the advice of Mr. Steinitz, who gave it some years ago as his opinion that, if Mr. Donnisthorpe would practice seriously with him, after a series of a hundred games he could beat Mason.  The latter has fortunately escaped defeat owing to Mr. Donisthorpe’s indifference to avail himself of Mr. Steinitz’s offer.


His recorded chess-playing activity seems limited to the period after he moved to London, around 1873, and so seems primarily to have been limited to chess played at a modest level in London.  He nevertheless popped up as a “Yorkshire” player in the 1893 North v South match, when, though resident in the South, he played for his native North.


He appears he may have been instrumental in the formation of the British Chess Club in London, of which he was a member, and represented in matches.





[1] http://www.victorian-cinema.net/donisthorpe

[2] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography





Copyright © 2013 Stephen John Mann

Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information

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