Early History of Go in Britain

The following summary is based on Franco Pratesi's book EUROGO VOL. 1.

Because of British trading links with China, it was enevitable that some of the traders would come across Weiqi and any scholars that went to study the Orient certainly would. The first published reference was in the 1617 edition of "Purchas His Pilgrimage" where the Rev Samuel Purchas borrowed material already published elsewhere. Professor Thomas Hyde of Oxford was an expert on oriental languages and the history of games and published his master work on games in 1694; it included 7 pages on Go. Hyde posessed a Go set presented to him by William Gifford who was Govern of Madras until 1687, but he did not play. Hyde's source had been Shen Fu-Tsung who travelled Europe in the 1680s, but it is too doubted that he ever played.

Thoughout the 19th Century various works on games mentioned Go. George Walker, a Chess author and player, came across a game that he thought was Chinese Chess, but from his discription it was Go. However he could not read enough Chinese to be able to play.

Herbert Giles was professor of Chinese at Cambridge at the start of the 20th Century. He translated an introduction to the game as early as 1877, but it was not widely available. He admits in Pecorini and Shu's book of 1929 that he used to play with his young children. In 1892 Edward Falkener included Giles' material, plus some more, in "Games Ancient and Oriental". Volpicelli published an article on Weiqi for the Royal Asiatic Society in 1894. Around this time Gobang (Five-in-a-Row) was popular in England, though the logical extension to Go itself seems not to have happened. Go may have been played in Scotland though, as some emigrants are reported as spreading it in New Zealand.

In the 20th century, Go arrived in the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1910, was mentioned in the British Chess Magazine and again in books on games. It seems that Go was starting to be played among Chess and other game players. Walter de Havilland (father of actresses Olivia and Joan (Fontaine)) spent a long time in Japan where he became good at Go and published works on the game in English in the Orient.

Horace Cheshire was a wellknown Chess author from Hastings. It seems he started playing around 1880 and published his book "Goh or Wei-Chi" in 1911. It seems he knew some of the Japanese in the UK and a Professor Komatsubara writes the introduction; also quoted are Chinese sources. It seems also that by 1911 Go was played at Hastings Chess Club. He also advertises Go sets for sale and obviously had contacts at the Japanese Embassy. His book is the first substantial English Go book.

In 1929 when there was an attempt to sell commercial sets through the big London stores. The book out that year was Pecorini and Shu's "The Game of Wei-Chi". It was at this time that John Barrs, founder of the BGA, started to play.

Go was certainly popular also among the scientists at Cambridge. Alan Turing, who is famous from war time code cracking at Bletchley Park, played there in 1935. Paul Dirac, the famous physicist, was also a player and others known to play were Newman, Alexander, Smithers and Good (I.J. Good was the author of the New Scientist article in the 1960s). Some of these moved away from Cambridge and groups in Oxford and Cheltenham are known to have started, which together with John Barrs group in London formed the basis for the BGA in the 1950s.

Last updated Fri Mar 26 2010. If you have any comments, please email the webmaster on web-master AT britgo DOT org.