The Letter Writer: John McKerrow (1816-1910)
by Norrie Reid


John McKerrow, who lived in the "townhead of Douglas", was one of Scotland's strongest players during the mid 1800's. Like many draughts players he was involved in the weaving and cloth trade in and around Lanarkshire. He was a tweed merchant (pedlar) who carried locally produced cloth for sale all over the country. He lived most of his life next to Robert Martins who was also involved in the same business. McKerrow's family, father Alexander and mother Margaret (nee Alexander), seems to have come from the Douglas area. He himself married twice, firstly to Jean Sloan and then Christine Aitken.

John was a master draughts player and twice crossed swords with Robert Martins. Both matches took place in Glasgow: the first in 1858, for the championship of Scotland and England and 100, produced a drawn result, and the second in 1859, for 200, was won by Martins 10-6-36.

He was also highly valued as a match second; even the great Anderson used his services (see McKerrow's account of the Anderson - Wyllie matches in which he acted as second to Anderson). In between times we find him with his pal John Drummond hustling the poor English for money (see the article on John Drummond for more on this).

However the main legacy from McKerrow must be his wonderful letters to the Scottish Draughts Quarterly and Draughts World at the turn of the century. We can only marvel at the quality of these - remember that McKerrow was a working class man of no great education! See his account of the Anderson - Wyllie matches for an example.

John McKerrow died on the 12th of October 1910 aged 84 and is buried in the Old St Bride's Cemetery, Douglas, near to his old friend and opponent Robert Martins.