Anderson: The First World Champion
by Norrie Reid


Andrew (or Andra') Anderson was born in 1799 in Braidwood, near Carluke, and his descendants occupied his red cottage on the Lanark Road, Braidwood, until quite recently. Unfortunately, no photograph or drawing of Anderson appears to have survived. However, a detailed description of him was given by his good friend John McKerrow of Douglas in a letter to the Draughts Payers Quarterly Review in 1895. McKerrow writes:

"I admit I felt a little trepidation as I approached the great man, but I was soon relieved and put at my ease by the open winning smile, which was a peculiarity of his to the last, the quiet unobtrusive manner and gentle tones of his voice and the kind, nay affectionate, way in which he talked to me, an entire stranger, making enquiry as to my health and sundry other matters. Never, surely, was there a more modest, unassuming man than Andrew Anderson. One of those rare characters which we meet with, alas at too long intervals, as we journey through life. I paid particular attention to his personal appearance during my conversation with him and indeed throughout the whole vsit, and his palish, pensive countenance, placid and, as it were, with an air of resigned weariness over it, mild blue eyes, hair of sandy brown "kaimed" over his brow in a primitive fashion which gave him a singularly innocent look, dwells distinctly with me yet. The face was an extremely interesting one, and an exact index to his character, with its short straggling fringe of whisker on each side of a similar hue to his hair. In stature he might be of about medium size, rather slender, with the merest suspicion of a stoop, while his age would be somewhere about forty."

McKerrow recalls this visit as happening in 1830, at which time Anderson would have been in fact only 31.

Why was Anderson, this stocking maker and weaver from Braidwood so important? Most obviously because he was the first World Champion the game of draughts produced, a title which was really his from about 1830 until 1848 when he retired undefeated. After his retirement his valuable services were sought and given as a second and coach to others. His last and most worthy opponent was James Wyllie ("The Herd Laddie") whom he played in five matches. These were:-

1838 in Edinburgh for 10, with Anderson the winner,
1840 in Edinburgh for 40, with Anderson the winner,
1840 in the Clydesdale Hotel for 100, with Anderson the winner,
1844 in Carluke for 130, with Wyllie the winner (this loss, the only one of Anderson's career, is attributed to the death shortly before of his wife Catherine)
1847 in the Robin Hood Tavern of Edinburgh for 40, with Anderson the winner.

A second mark of Anderson's importance is that he did much to bring the game on to a scientific basis via his book The Game of Draughts Simplified and Illustrated published in Lanark in 1848. In material like this his analysis was of the highest standard. Lastly it was to Anderson, along with his friend John Drummond, that we owe the practice of naming the various openings in draughts.

It could easily be claimed that he was the greatest ever player but the lack of detailed information from the 1830's and 1840's makes it hard to be certain. Not many players defeated the great James Wyllie, let alone beat him in four out of five matches! He was, however, a player and author of outstanding ability and fame: as a player he demonstrated fine judgement and excellent analysis; as author, his works, though at times not easy to follow, were always extremely popular.

After his retirement as World Champion he was very popular as a match second and analyst. He also gave up a lot of time to promoting the game at all its levels. His board "always sat on the window sill beside his weaving loom" and he analysed as he worked but was always willing to stop and play a game with any visitor. In 1854 we find him forming the new Lanark Parish Draughts Club. The championship medal for this club came to light over 40 years later in the possession of one William Davie (clothier in Lanark) who passed it to the club in 1896, where it was won that year by Mr Morrison (hairdresser). The medal carried with it an old rule that it "can never be permenantly won and that the holder must be at the Cross of Lanark on the last Friday in April each year at noon, to answer any challenge which may be forthcoming."

Anderson died on 1st March 1861 after a years illness in which he gradually wasted away. He is buried with the rest of his family - father William, mother Mary and son William - in the old cemetary in Carluke. The last immediate relative to live in the Braidwood area was Annie Anderson, MA, who taught for many years in the nearby Carluke High School. Annie, who also had "sandy hair", was most probably Andrew's great grandaughter. His popularity remained even after his death. Stories about him proliferated. Take this example from the Glasgow Weekly Echo of 1894:-

One morning an acquaintance met Anderson dressed in his Sunday garb. "Hello Andra! Where awa' this morning?"
"Man", said Andrew, "I hae been hearing o' a chiel in Baillieston who proudly says he was never beat at draughts, and I want to see what he's like and try if I canno' reduce him to the proportions o' an ordinary mortal...."
Andrew, in the course of time, reached his destination, found the unconquered Bailliestonian, and introduced himself saying that he had heard he was a grand player at the "brod" (draughts board) and that he had come all the way frae Braidwood to have the honour of a game or twa.
"Ye'll ken Andrew Anderson do ye?"
"I'm Anderson"
"Oh! Weel I have never been beat an' ye canna beat me, because I'll no play wi' ye."

No amount of persuasive argument could induce the invincible one to produce the board. Anderson then proceeded to Coatbridge to holiday with his friend Mr Thomas Mochrie, another excellent player.