The Partnership and indoor games

John Spedan Lewis at the chess board, 1959
A Heelas toy catalogue from 1909, advertising numerous 'lost' games, including the extraordinarily named Tipplee-Web

The Founder’s main love

Chess has always been taken seriously by the John Lewis Partnership. This was primarily because, as Sir Bernard Miller once noted, the game was probably the Founder’s main love. John Spedan Lewis adored chess, and equally, absolutely hated to lose at it. Spedan Lewis believed that chess mirrored life and had real value as a ‘training for business’. He told Partners in 1949 that success depended on

Knowing certain general principles and on sticking to these principles

It also encouraged forward-thinking and the implementation of strategy, and awareness of an array of possibilities.

Outstanding Partners

It therefore should as little surprise that the Partnership employed many outstanding chess players. The late CHO’D Alexander, who worked in administration, was British Champion, and at one point beat the former world champion Dr Euwe in 1939, whilst playing for England against Holland.

Before World War II other Partners of note were Leonard Barden, a Learner (management trainee), who was the chess correspondent for the Financial Times, the London Evening Standard and The Guardian. Another keen chess player was William Gordon Welchman, who went on to be the Partnership’s Director of Expansion and Research in the late 1940s.  The remarkable Miss Vera Menchik, later Mrs Stevenson, was employed within the business too.  She was the Womens’ World Champion from 1926 until her death in 1944. She coached the Founder, and was later appointed, along with her husband, to manage the National Chess Centre at John Lewis, which opened in 1939. Sadly, the Centre was destroyed by the Oxford Street bombing only a year later. Mr Stevenson was apparently broken-hearted, became ill and died shortly afterwards.

The Partnership had a flourishing Chess Club for many years taking part in competitions across the country.

Other indoor pursuits

Those in the Partnership after more laid-back indoor pursuits have been equally well catered for down the years. The Founder was also a fan of Russian pool, and in fact, many a pool table down the years has graced the Partnership rest-rooms. Board games were always popular, as they too exercised the mind and forced forward thinking. Some games popular in years gone by have unfortunately teetered out of existence, including the game Tipplee-Web, seen opposite in a Heelas toy catalogue from 1909.

Today, a multitude of indoor games are available to Partners, some better known than others. Scrabble, dominoes and Pictionary are all there, although for many, chess still arguably reigns supreme.

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