John Rhodes was born on 26 August 1814 in Gomersal, just outside Leeds. He was born to Fairfax Rhodes and Hannah (nee Firth) and was baptised at St John’s Church on New Briggate in Leeds on 5 October 1814. His father died when he was 8 years old in 1822.

We think John may have started work as a clerk in the office of the Aire and Calder Navigation Company in Leeds. By 1842 he was working as a share-broker in partnership with Charles Bell under the name of “Bell & Rhodes” based at 20 Albion Street.

John married Mary Benson, daughter of Robert Benson, Wool Merchant, on 20 December 1844 at St Peter’s Church in Leeds by the Rev. W.F.Hook.

John and Mary had the following children:

  • Fairfax (1845-1928)
  • Mary (1850-1915)

In 1847 John was listed as working with share-brokers Bell, Beverley & Co. His home address was 7 Woodhouse Cliff, near Hyde Park, Leeds.

The 1851 Census shows John and Mary living at “Cabbage Hall” on Town Street in Potternewton with their children Fairfax and Mary, and five servants. John is described as a “Share Broker”.

By 1853, John was living at Potternewton House, on what was known as Town Street, but is now Potternewton Lane. Potternewton House remained his residence for the rest of his life.

In 1854, his business address, as a share-broker, was quoted as 12 Albion Street, Leeds.

The 1861 Census shows that John, Mary and Fairfax were living in Potternewton with four servants. I’m not sure where their daughter Mary was at this time.

The 1871 Census identifies John’s address as 1 Clapham(s) Hill though I am pretty sure he was living at Potternewton House. Johnh was now 56 years old and recorded as “Magistrate, Share Broker”. Mary, his wife was 53. Their daughter, Mary, was 21 years old. Fairfax (25) was now married to Mary who is recorded as 33 years old – other records suggest that this age is wrong. Fairfax was working as a “Barrister in practice”. They had five live in servants.

John and Mary were still living at Potternewton House (still recorded as Town Street) at the time of the 1881 Census. John was 66 and still a Share Broker as well as being a JP. They had 4 servants living in but also had a “Servant, groom and gardener” and another “Gardener dom. serv.” living in what I assume to be the gatehouse which still stands today.

Mary died in 1885 and by the time of the 1891 Census John was 76 years old and a widower. He was still a JP but was recorded as living on his own means. He had Annie Rhodes (50) visiting him and 5 servants.

John died on 16 May 1898 and was buried in the graveyard of St Matthew’s on 18 May. Also buried with him were Mary, his wife, and Dorthea Fairfax and Gerald Fairfax Rhodes, children of his son Fairfax.


BORN JULY 25TH 1879,
BORN MAY 27TH 1882,

Probate reads:

RHODES John of Potternewton-house Leeds esquire died 16 May 1898 Probate Wakefield 27 June to Fairfax Rhodes esquire.
Effects £262588 8s. 7d.

During his lifetime John worked as a share broker and as a JP. He was also a member of Leeds Chess Club and was involved in the formation of the Yorkshire Chess Assoociation, He was a very strong player. His obituary in the British Chess Magazine says that he was associated with the Leeds Chess Club as far back as 1834 which means that he may have been a founder member.

The Leeds Mercury carried the following obituary:

Leeds has lost an old and esteemed citizen by the death of Mr. John Rhodes.

For some months past he had been declining in vigour. About a fortnight ago he caught a chill, and, gradually growing weaker, passed away shortly after seven o’clock yesterday morning.

Of a retiring disposition, Mr. Rhodes took little or no part in public [political] affairs, though throughout he was a staunch Conservative. A patron of art, he had one of the finest collections of paintings in the north of England.

His favourite game was chess. In this he excelled. At one time, Mr. [Robert] Cadman (another Leeds man) and Mr. Rhodes were considered the best players in the county.

He contributed liberally to the fund for the erection of the home of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society in Parkrow; the benevolent organisations found him ready to aid them; and many worthy movements had his support. Mr. Rhodes was a magistrate for the city, and until two or three years ago sat regularly on the bench. For a lengthened period he had been a member of the Pious Uses Trust. He was a director of the bank of Leeds from its formation until its absorption by the National Provincial Bank of England.

Mr. Rhodes leaves a son and a daughter – Mr. Fairfax Rhodes, who resides in London, and Lady Carbutt, wife of Sir Edward Carbutt, formerly Member for the Monmouth Boroughs, and Mayor of Leeds in 1877. The interment will take place tomorrow, in Chapel-Allerton Churchyard. Aged 83.

James White, in his chess column in the Leeds Mercury Weekly Supplement Saturday 21st May 1898, wrote

On Monday last a chess player whose name carried great honour and respect with all classes of chessists in the county breathed his last. The end had been looked for, for John Rhodes had reached the ripe age of over fourscore years. He was born on August 26, 1814. He was a brilliant example of commercial success. In chess he was perhaps the strongest player in Yorkshire, at the time when he was in practice. He was one of the leading players in the contests by correspondence between the clubs of Leeds and Liverpool. The first match, begun in December,1838, was resigned by Liverpool in November, 1839, Leeds winning both games; and a second match, begun a week after the conclusion of the first, was also won by Leeds, although Liverpool had been strengthened by the accession of Mr. Mongredien to its playing committee. The second contest was severe, but was resigned by Liverpool in January, 1841. It was quite a treat to hear from Mr. Rhodes the history and details of these matches. Indeed, the accounts he gave of his chess experiences in foreign travel, the racy anecdotes of chess celebrities who met at his hospitable board at his own house, and the evident desire in all recounting of chess exploits in which he himself figured to keep himself in the background, could never be forgotten when once heard. Many chess celebrities of his time, both native and foreign, have visited him at Potternewton House, and expressed themselves delighted with their reception there. Not long ago he played a few games at the Leeds Club, and his style and skill showed what he must have been previously, for he won every game on that occasion, though he had been out of serious practice for many years. The Leeds club has received many marks of his favour and liberality for a number of years. The Silver King, still fought for annually in the club’s tournament, was presented by him; while the donations from his purse as occasion required them were frequent and liberal. A fine trait in the character of the departed one was the quiet and un ostentatious manner in which he performed his good deeds in the club’s favour. The writer remembers that during the time he held the office of treasurer, notes for the club’s funds were pressed into his hands unobserved by any one, and a promise of secrecy exacted as to who the donor was. Such a benefactor as the late John Rhodes, to the Leeds Chess Club in particular, and to the county chess generally, has proved himself the veritable friend in need; and sincere regrets are expressed by all Yorkshire chessists at his removal from their midst.