History of the league
The Mid-Sussex Chess League was set in motion by Godfrey [G. F.] Mowatt of Keymer, who in 1923 donated a trophy for competition between clubs. To organize the details, representatives from the Haywards Heath, Hassocks, Burgess Hill, Anstye and Balcombe chess clubs met on 15 January of that year at the Belvedere School, Haywards Heath. Godfrey Mowatt was elected president; Charles [C. J. D.] Gregory of Haywards Heath Chess Club became secretary. The first rule of the new competition was 'The Mid-Sussex League shall be open to all amateur chess clubs in Mid-Sussex. This term shall imply an area of eight miles from Haywards Heath station.'
In 1933 Godfrey Mowatt furnished the league with a second trophy, named the Gregory Cup in appreciation of Charles Gregory's contribution to the competition. The Mowatt Cup was then awarded to the most successful team over the first six boards and the Gregory Cup for the best over ten.
In the early years the competition was confined to a handful of clubs. (Of the founders, Balcombe seems to have taken part for a short time only.) Haywards Heath were regular winners, though victory went to Hassocks in 1928, Anstye in 1933 and Burgess Hill in 1934. Horsham soon became the dominant team after it was admitted to the league in 1934.
As well as running its own competition, the league put together a joint team to play friendly matches against clubs such as Brighton CC and Christ Church (another Brighton club), and competed in the McArthur Cup, the premier competition of the Sussex County Chess Association.
Messrs Mowatt and Gregory were still in their posts in 1939, when the start of the Second World War brought the activities of the league to a halt. A hiatus of many years followed. When the Sussex County Chess Association instituted an annual jamboree in 1955 the Mowatt and Gregory cups, then lying idle, were pressed into service in the new competition.
In 1966 a campaign to re-establish a Mid-Sussex League was mounted by Les Porter of Burgess Hill Chess Club. This led to a meeting of interested parties at Burgess Hill in February 1967, with representatives from Burgess Hill, Hassocks, Haywards Heath, Horsham and the Paymaster General's Office chess clubs. Their plan at first was to call the new organization the McArthur Cup Minor League, but the old name soon won over.
The revived competition, though still lacking formal rules, began in the autumn of 1967. Teams were divided into a northern and a southern zone, with the winners of each zone playing each other in the final. The three teams in the northern zone were East Grinstead, MEL Equipment Ltd and the Paymaster General's Office; in the southern zone there were Haywards Heath II and two teams from St Francis Hospital (also in Haywards Heath). Burgess Hill appears never to have played in the competition; nor at first does there seem to have been a Haywards Heath I in the league.
The Annual General Meeting of 25 May 1968 adopted a set of rules. Teams were to consist of five players and grading restrictions were applied. The Mowatt and Gregory Cups were restored to the league, and the annual Mid-Sussex Jamboree was presented with a new trophy by the Rev. J. A. Bickerstaff.
In the 1968/9 season there were six teams in the league, which was now organized as a single section. Horsham, Crawley B (there was no Crawley A), the Paymaster General's Office, MEL Equipment Ltd, St Francis Hospital and Cuttens Ltd all played each other once. In 1969/70 Crawley, East Grinstead, Haywards Heath, Horsham, the Paymaster General's Office and St Francis Hospital played each other twice.
It was over the next decade that the league transformed itself from a small cluster of clubs to a thriving competition embracing a wide area. This expansion coincides with the chess boom of the 1970s, which was ignited by the Fischer–Spassky match. Six teams in 1969 grew to 33 in 1979. The distances from Haywards Heath increased: Crowborough (12 miles, 1973), Seaford (18 miles, 1977), Eastbourne (23 miles, 1978). The most distant, Hastings Grammar School (32 miles, 1977), had to agree to play all its fixtures away from home.
The league was split into two divisions in 1973, and into three in the following year. In 1978 the third division was subdivided into northern and southern sections. Grading limits were abolished in 1974, and the knockout competition was set up in 1976. The only important structural change since the 1970s came in 1987, when zoning of the third division into northern and southern sections ended, and a fourth division was created.
Thus, by the 1980s the league had taken on an identity very similar to the one we see today, though individual clubs and teams have sprung up and faded away. Various debates about reducing the territory, and reintroducing grading limits and zoning, have dissipated quickly once given an airing.