In the early 1800s, no chess leagues or chess federations existed anywhere in the world. In Britain, particularly in London, masters of the game enjoyed playing one another at various chess meeting rooms. If the masters played amateurs, handicaps were employed. But chess games were not organized, and certainly there were no organizations that helped young players develop their skills. At this time, London and Paris were chess centers, and many skilled foreign players moved to these cities to partake of chess culture. The great names that arose in London were Steinitz, Lowenthal, Gunsberg, Zukertort, and Staunton--Howard Staunton. Indeed, it was Staunton, through publications and promotion, who helped London alone become the world chess center during the Victorian era.
Staunton was, apparently, quite a character--many accounts suggest he was an egotistical self-promoter...and a poor, vindictive loser. His credentials include: chess master, chess newspaper columnist, chess book author, and Shakespearean scholar. For many years, he wrote a chess column for Illustrated London News. This column was considered the most influential chess column in the world. He also wrote books--The Chess-Player's Handbook (which remained in print until 1993!) and The Chess-Player's Companion.
Many developments in chess were happening during Staunton's time. The game, historically, had been a slow affair--with moves having no time limits. If players pondered two hours about where to move a chess piece, that was fine. (Little wonder chess was a gentleman's game. What laborer could afford that amount of free time?) Once tournaments were being organized, the slow-as-molasses moves were out, and time control was in. Initially, hourglasses were used, and 24 moves were demanded within a 2-hour time frame. Later, chess clocks became the norm.
Another major change at this time--and one that Saunton was again involved with--was the design of chess pieces. There was no "official" design for pieces, that is, the pieces had various looks that were not always recognized by players from different countries. As you can imagine, such confusion hindered tournament players. ("Which piece did you say is the rook?")
A popular chess set during Saunton's day was called the St. George design. The design of these chess pieces was quite curvy, resulting in all the pieces looking a tad similar. (Other popular chess sets of the time included the English Barleycorn, the French Regence, and the central European Selenus.) Around 1849, Nathaniel Cook designed a new chess set with pieces that looked more distinctive--and he named the set the "Staunton." John Jaques, a famous sport and game manufacturer in London, produced the chess sets, and, of course, Staunton took charge of PR. In fact, he wrote a pamphlet that was included with each set sold and received royalties from the sales. The Staunton design quickly became the stand for tournaments, and it remains the standard today, around the world.