Lewis, Outer Hebrides

The south shore of Uig Bay, on the western side of the Isle of Lewis, was the 1831 discovery site of the Lewis Chessmen, the largest and finest group of early chessmen to have survived. The finder, Calum nan Sprot, was terrified by the expressions on the pieces and fled from the spot. The local minister, Alexander MacLeod, had to exorcise the site, then he sold most of them (67 chessmen and 14 plain draughtsmen) to the British Museum for 84 pounds. They are carved from walrus tusk ivory and date from c1150. Apparently 120 pieces from four different sets were found. 67 chessmen and 14 plain draughtsmen are in the British Museum, while 11 chessmen are in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The residents of Lewis are keen to get the pieces back and have been promulgating numerous stories of curses and bad ends on those who possess them. [John Hancox, "British Museum defies Lewis's chess curse", The Guardian (4 Jun 1995)]. The pieces were loaned to the Western Isles Museum in Stornoway in summer 1995, leading to an international chess festival, and the local council has threatened not to return them! [Alex Bellos, "Islanders check chess set's move", The Guardian (3 Oct 1995) 7]

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An extract from The Mathematical Gazetteer of the British Isles created by David Singmaster

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