Friday, 30 March 2012

En Passant

        I have a set of chessmen which I keep in this box. The box is Indian, highly carved with birds and foliage, came from a charity shop in Clitheroe, and cost £4.

The chessmen are a miniature set, based on the Lewis chessmen, and I bought them for £5 at a car boot sale in Clitheroe, about ten years ago. They are not small sized replicas of the original Lewis set - there are several differences, other than the size.

In 1831, a crofter Malcolm 'Sprot' Macleod, from Pennydonald on the Isle of Lewis, was at Uig bay on the west of the island, when he found a stone box (or cist) in a sand dune. In it were 92 items; a carved buckle, 14 plain, round pieces from a game called tables, and 77 chess-pieces (a further bishop was found later - making 78 pieces in total). The chessmen were carved from either walrus ivory or whale teeth, and probably come from five different sets. It is likely that they were made in Norway in the 12th century, (Norway ruled the Outer Hebrides and other Scottish islands at the time), with evidence pointing to Trondheim.

The originals have kings, queens, bishops and knights which are similar to mine, although there are variations in the details. In my set the rooks are towers, but in the Lewis set, the rooks are warders or warriors, and the original set has small, geometric obelisks for the pawns, whereas my set has miniature versions of the warders.

The Lewis chessmen are now split between the British Museum, London, and the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. They are well worth seeing.

I have some latex moulds somewhere for a larger set, which I hope to get around to casting one day.

Did you know ? If you click through any of my photos, and then right click on the resulting picture and select 'View Image', you can get an enlargement big enough to read any text.

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