SHEFFIELD Chess History



Dr Joseph Law

Yorkshire Home


Sheffield Home







Made in Sheffield




c. 1811/12, Sheffield


01/06/1897, Sheffield


Dr. Joseph Law’s main contribution to Sheffield Chess was a weekly chess problem for solving by the reader, published in the Sheffield & Rotherham Independent Weekly Supplement (becoming the Sheffield Weekly Independent) in the 1880s and possibly into the 1890s.  Outside chess he was one of those involved in the developing provision of public healthcare in Sheffield.


Private Life and Working Career


Joseph Law was born in Sheffield.  Pinning him down in censuses is difficult, and quoted ages, where found, are inconsistent.  In 1861 he was recorded as 47 years old, yet in 1871 he was recorded as 59.  At the same time his wife seemingly aged from 40 to 52!  However, his wife’s age at death in 1886 was given as 67, which agrees with the 1871 census, which would thus seem to be probably correct.  This leads to the conclusion that Joseph Law was born in 1811/12.


Miscellaneous sources state his medical career included the following posts:

1841-1852, house surgeon at the General Infirmary (the later Royal Infirmary);

1842-1852, honorary secretary of the Sheffield Medical Society;

1853-1854, president of the Medical Society of Sheffield and the Neighbourhood;

1854-1876, member of staff of the Sheffield Public Dispensary;

1874-1875, president of the Sheffield Medico-chirurgical Society;

1876-[1887?], apothecary at the General Infirmary.


White’s General Directory of Sheffield, 1849, and White’s Gazetteer & General Directory of Sheffield, 1852, listed his as house surgeon at the infirmary.


His appointment as physician at the Sheffield Public Dispensary in 1854 followed the resignation of Edward Martin and a Mr. Porter.  Two other chess players were appointed as Dispensary physicians at the same time: John Charles Hall and Charles Elam.


At some time from about 1840 to 1861 he married Mary Charlotte whose maiden name was apparently Kirkham, and who was born in Guernsey, apparently in 1818/19.  The couple seems to have had no children, unless they had all left home by 1861.


White’s General Directory of Sheffield, Rotherham &c, 1856, and F. White’s Directory & Topography of Sheffield, 1862, listed Joseph Law, M. D., at 141 Devonshire Street, which is consistent with his having left the Infirmary, and having started working at the Dispensary.  The 1861 census placed Joseph and his wife at the same address, describing him as a medical doctor of Edinburgh University, practising as a physician.  It could be that the change in job was to adopt a lifestyle more consistent with married life.


The 1871 census listed Joseph, a physician, and his wife, at 137 Devonshire Street.  Did the enumerator get the house number wrong, or did he move?  At this time his Guernsey-born 77-year-old mother-in-law, apparently named Fanny York Kirkham, and 31-year-old sister-in-law, apparently called Mary [something] Kirkham, were living with the doctor and his wife.


White’s Directory of Sheffield, Rotherham &c, 1879, listed Joseph Law, M. D., physician, at 169 Devonshire Street, the address where he remained resident to his death in 1897, as confirmed by subsequent directories and probate records.  The site of 169 Devonshire Street is now part of a recently created car park at the top of what for some years has been an open space known as Devonshire Green, on the south side of Devonshire Street.  Even numbers such as 168 are still standing and in use as commercial premises on the north side of the road.


Pictures of the doctor show him with dark hair, sideburns and a moustache.  It is said that, after his hair and whiskers started turning grey, he adopted the practice of dying his hair and whiskers black.




His wife, Mary Charlotte Law, died in the third quarter of 1886, aged 67, implying she was born in 1818/19.


Joseph Law died on 1st June 1897.  Probate records quote his residence at the time as 169 Devonshire Street.  Probate was granted to Samuel Jackson, suggesting he left no children; the effects he left amounted to £2,077 6s. 0d.




One non-chess source claims Joseph Law was a “brilliant” chess-player, yet he was conspicuous by his absence from records of membership subscriptions to the Sheffield Athenaeum Chess Club.  There apparently existed a rivalry at the infirmary between Dr. Joseph Law and Dr. Mariano Martin de Bartolomé, a founder and president of the Sheffield Athenaeum Club (of which the chess club was a part).  Whilst this rivalry has been described as more or less amicable, it remains conceivable that Dr. Law wished to avoid Dr. Bartholomé outside work!


In 1852 he was one of the three chess-playing doctors (John Charles Hall, Joseph Law and Charles Elam) who seem to have been members of the Lyceum Chess Club, Sheffield.  He was at that club when Howard Staunton visited it on 4th June 1852.


He had an interest in chess problems, and in 1859 the Chess Player’s Chronicle 3rd Series, Volume I, page 256, included two problems composed by “J. Law, Esq., M.D., Sheffield.”  Other problems by him are difficult to find in chess magazines before or after.  In his later years, however, he found an easy way of getting his problems published.


On 2nd December 1882, the Weekly Supplement to the Sheffield & Rotherham Independent started carrying a syndicated chess column by H. E. Bird.  Our man seems to have initially entered into communication with Bird, judging by the cryptic “Replies to Correspondents” contained therein, and on 3rd March 1883 there started to be appended to Bird’s column each week an article by “Dr. Law” carrying a chess problem for solving by the readers.  This was in addition to the problems at the head, which were an integral part of Bird’s column.


In this way “Dr. Law” published a number of his own problems.  We know this was our man, as the article contained his address in instructions such as:

“Solutions of his problems, and his problems only, to be sent to Dr. Law, Devonshire Street, Sheffield.”


Clearly he’d had a problem with people sending solutions to problems in the main column to him rather than the main column’s address.


This arrangement continued when Bird’s syndicated column was replaced by one by Frideswide Fanny Beechey (who in 1884 married Thomas Benjamin Rowland), and continued in the Supplement through to 5th June 1887.  From 12th June 1887, what had been this “weekly supplement” continued under the new name of Sheffield Weekly Independent.  The main chess column and Dr. Law’s problem article are assumed to have continued, as the columns of 5th June 1887 gave no indication that they wouldn’t, but microfilms of the Sheffield Weekly Independent aren’t available at Sheffield Reference Library.





Steve Mann

Last Updated