THE AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP : A Potted History
Part 1 : A controversial beginning
The history of a National Championship for English billiard players covers a period of over one hundred years and is packed with incident,controversy, unusual characters and wonderful achievements. In a series of articles, we hope to produce a brief chronicle which conveys a
flavour of this famous event since its earliest years. We start at the beginning….
With the formation of the Billiard Association in 1885 came the
question of starting “an amateur championship of Great Britain
and Ireland”. The first reference to the subject appeared at a committee
meeting which was held in 1886 where it was decided to proceed with
arranging a contest, but this evidently ran into some difficulty and the
idea appears to have been dropped. It was therefore left to Messrs.
Orme and Sons, a well-known billiard table manufacturer in Manchester,
to take the matter into their own hands, and in 1887 they made
arrangements to stage the first amateur championship of the British
Isles and Ireland. The company provided a silver cup valued at £100,
which they stipulated would become the property of the player who
held it for three consecutive years or won it six times.
Orme & Sons’ Championship of Great Britain & Ireland
The first competition attracted 44 entries who were drawn to compete
at three locations. Players from Northern England (which involved all
those residing north of Warwickshire, and including Ireland) met at
Messrs. Orme and Sons’ rooms, Blackfriars Street, Manchester
between 12th-19th March 1888. A Scottish area qualification was set
up at Dumfries to accommodate the two entries from that country, and
the remainder met at the Argyll Hall, London, between 12th-14th March
1888. Owing to the ownership of the Argyll Hall changing hands whilst
the competition was in progress, the final heat of the Southern division
was played at the Oriental Restaurant, New Bridge Street, Blackfriars.
The winners from the three sections would play the closing rounds at
Orme & Sons showrooms in Manchester.
from the first Championship.
Controversy was never far away from
this event and it started when the winner
of the Southern section, Sam Christey,
was disqualified on objection from one
of his opponents, W. D. Courtney. The
complaint was based on the fact that
Christey had taken part in a tournament
in April 1887 which involved
professional players, and by so doing,
he was no longer entitled to compete in
an amateur event. The tournament in
question had been advertised as “open
to amateurs and markers” who could, if
they chose, play under a pseudonym
and this would not endanger their
amateur status. However, Orme’s
representatives took a different view and
disqualified Christey. The players who
he had beaten in the qualifying section,
played off to determine the Southern
qualifier. Courtney won this section and
progressed to the closing stages.
There was further controversy when
Courtney arrived in Manchester to play
what he understood to be a final heat
against the Northern Champion. It was
only then that he found out that there
were three players still in the competition
and he was drawn to play a further qualifying match against the Scottish candidate. He managed to win
this easily enough, but further complication arose when Sam Christey
also turned up at the venue. Before the final could be started, Christey
raised a objection against Courtney playing in the game, saying that, as
he had beaten him in London, he ought to take his place. However, this
protest was overruled.
All these disputes may have affected Courtney, for he was beaten
comfortably in the final by Mr. H. A. O. Lonsdale who by this win,
became the first Amateur Champion of Great Britain and Ireland on
28th March 1888.
|1888 Mar.||H. A. 0. Lonsdale||W. D. Courtney||500 – 334|
After this, the competition reverted to a challenge basis under the
following conditions. “Any amateur, upon payment of one guinea, can
challenge the holder of the cup, and the game must take place in the nearest city to where the latter resides”. The Champion was bound to
defend his title within three months of receiving a challenge – and these
were not long in arriving!
On 12th December 1888, Lonsdale was required to meet the challenge
of A. P. Gaskell (London) in a game which had been extended to 1,500
up in recognition of the competitors proficiency at making breaks with
the “spot stroke” – at this time the most popular method of break
building. The match took place at Orme & Sons Saloon, Manchester
and Gaskell won by 151 points, with the highest break being one of 75
by the loser.
|1888 Dec.||A. P. Gaskell||H. A. 0. Lonsdale||1500 – 1349|
Mr. Rackets (Boston) was the next challenger for the title, but owing to
illness he was forced to concede the match, which was awarded to
|1889 Mar.||A. P. Gaskell||– declared Champion.|
E. W. Alabone next challenged the holder, and the match of 1,500 up
was played at the Royal Aquarium, Westminster. Gaskell retained his
title by 222 points and had the highest breaks with 94 and 88.
|1889 Jul.||A. P. Gaskell||E. W. Alabone||1500 – 1278|
Within six months Gaskell was in action again to meet the challenge of
Sidney Fry and the match was played at the Prince’s Hall, Piccadilly.
Gaskell retained his title by 105 points and also made the highest break
of 98. Sidney Fry was at this time receiving lessons from the great John
Roberts, who, after finishing his game at the nearby Egyptian Hall,
attended the match to observe the progress of his pupil.
|1890 Jan.||A. P. Gaskell||S. H. Fry||1500 – 1395|
It was a condition of the championship that as soon as a challenge had
been published it was also open to any other amateur to send in his
entry fee and announce his intention to take part. Now three challenges
were received from N. Defries (London), E. W. Alabone (London) and
Harry Hardy (Manchester) who played a round-robin tournament at
The Portman Rooms, Baker Street, for the right to meet the champion.
The games of 1,500 up commenced on 29th April 1890 and the winner
of the eliminating matches was N. Defries who defeated both his
opponents. Defries was a well-known member of John Roberts’ Club
in Gutter Lane where his play was highly regarded. However, he made
no impression in his match against the Champion, going down to a
heavy defeat by 694 points on 1st May. Gaskell made the highest
break with 114 which set a new championship record.
|1890 May||A. P. Gaskell||N. Defries||1500 – 805|
Gaskell had now won the title five times and required just one more win
to take possession of the trophy. Challenges were received from two
players, F. A. Lindner (Birmingham) and W. D. Courtney (London)
and they played off at the Prince’s Hall, Piccadilly on 7th October
1890 for the right to meet the champion. Courtney defeated Lindner by
457 points and the following day met Gaskell, defeating the champion
in an exciting match by 89 points. Courtney had breaks of 111, 89 and
83, while Gaskell had two breaks of 105. There was an unusually high
level of betting upon the game, the holder being a very hot favourite.
When Gaskell took an early lead he was considered such a certainty
that odds of “£100 to a shilling cigar” were offered. One person in the
audience was astute enough to take these odds and was promptly paid
after the match. However, Courtney himself was less fortunate. Having
wagered £5 on the result, he never managed to collect his winnings.
Additionally, on returning to the dressing-room, he found that someone
had stolen his coat, together with a five-pound note which had been in
one of his pockets.
|1890 Oct.||W. D. Courtney||A. P. Gaskell||1500 – 1141|
Following his defeat, Gaskell immediately challenged for the title and
was joined by Sidney Fry, the pair playing for the right to meet Courtney
at Orme & Son’s Showrooms, Soho Square on 14th January 1891.
Gaskell defeated Fry by 208 points making a new championship record
break of 156 in the process. But in the final, which was held the
following day, he could not overcome Courtney who won easily by
529 points, without either player making a century break.
|1891 Jan.||W. D. Courtney||A. P. Gaskell||1500 – 971|
achieving his ambition.
Undeterred by these two defeats, Mr.
Gaskell again raised a challenge as did four
other players: J. A. Pennycuick who made
the long journey from Airdrie in Scotland,
Arthur Wisdom (Southsea), F. A. Lindner
(Birmingham), and a player using the
pseudonym “Ormonde” from London.
The challengers played off to meet
Courtney on a knock-out basis at Orme &
Son’s Showrooms, Soho Square starting
on 13th April 1891. Gaskell eventually
proved the best of the challengers with a
victory over Arthur Wisdom which included a break of 157. In the championship match, Gaskell defeated
Courtney by 312 points making a new record break of 277 and another
of 136. By this sixth victory, Gaskell took possession of the
Championship cup and having achieved his ambition, he resigned the
title in favour of Courtney, playing very little in public after this date.
However, Courtney would never be seen again in the amateur
championship as he also resigned as “Champion” before another contest
could be held and joined the professional ranks.
|1891 Apr.||A. P. Gaskell||W. D. Courtney||1500 – 1188|
Billiard Association Championship of Great Britain
On 21st January 1892, the subject of promoting an amateur
championship was revived in earnest by the Billiard Association. At an
Extraordinary General Meeting, it was proposed that an “Amateur
Championship of Great Britain” be instigated under essentially the
same terms as those operated by the Orme & Sons competition. But
Orme’s were not keen to give up their championship. There had been
lengthy correspondence between the two organisations resulting in a
statement from Orme’s saying that they “could not see their way to
amalgamating their competition with that of the Billiard Association.”
Nevertheless, the Billiards Association resolved to proceed with their
Orme & Sons’ Championship of Great Britain & Ireland
A few days after the meeting of the Billiards Association, the following
advertisement appeared : “Messrs. Orme and Sons have received from
Mr. W. D. Courtney his resignation of the title of Amateur Billiard
Champion. Gentlemen challenging before February 20th will play off
as soon after that date as is convenient to the challengers, and the game
will be played in London.” The tournament commenced on 21st March
1892 at Orme & Son’s Showrooms, Soho Square with the following
players taking part in a “round-robin” contest: J. A. Pennycuick
(Glasgow), Arthur Wisdom (Southsea), “Hazard” (Manchester),
“Osborne” (London). Arthur Wisdom made a break of 225 in his first
match against Pennycuick and another of 241 against “Hazard”. In his
final game against “Osborne” he bettered both of these with a run of
264 to take the title with wins against all his opponents. There was a
balance of 406 points in his favour at the finish of the contest on 26th
|1892 Mar.||Arthur Wisdom||Osbourne||1500 – 1094|
Billiard Association Championship of Great Britain
Meanwhile, the Billiard Association were pushing on with preparations
for their championship. In April 1892, a cup weighing 117 ounces was
selected as the championship trophy and by 4th May, which was the
closing date for entries, six players had been accepted, these being
Messrs. Sidney Fry, E. W. Alabone; A. H. Vahid, H. Clark, J. Barcroft,
and Sam Christey. It may be remembered that Christey, after easily
defeating Mr. W. D. Courtney in the first contest for the Championship
promoted by Messrs. Orme and Sons, was declared a professional and
disqualified. Christey, however, had taken the matter before the
Committee of the Billiard Association who considered that his case
presented “many extenuating circumstances”, and they decided to
reinstate him as an amateur.
The first Billiard Association championship was played at the Royal
Aquarium, London, on a “Standard” table supplied by Geo. Wright &
Co. On 12th May 1892 the competition had resolved itself into a final
match between Sidney Fry and Sam Christey. In the game of 1,500 up
Christey made record breaks of 287 and 297 (98 spots) defeating Fry
by 572 points. Christey was never again challenged to defend his title
and the trophy became his property after three years.
|1892 May||Sam Christey||Sidney Fry||1500 – 928|
Billiard Association : Spot-barred Championship
Sam Christey’s superiority with the “spot-stroke” was so
overwhelming that it quickly became evident that any attempt to take
the title from him would be hopeless. Under these circumstances, at a
meeting of the Billiard Association, held on 13th June 1892, it was
resolved to limit the spot-stroke by instituting a new “Spot-Barred”
Amateur Championship of Great Britain, and another challenge cup
was acquired. This competition was contested for the first time between
15th January and 2nd February 1893, at the National Sporting Club,
London, the six competitors being Messrs. Sam Christey, Sidney Fry,
A. H. Vahid, A. R. Wisdom, J. Barcroft, and W. Bailey. Heats were
1,000-up and the final 1,500-up. In his first round match against Christey,
Arthur Wisdom made a break of 153 and had a session average of 18.55,
establishing a new record. However, Christey, in the last session, had
breaks of 127, 86 and 74, and an average of 13.48 to win the match. The
final was between A. H. Vahid and Sam Christey, with the former –
who was a native of India – gaining an extremely popular victory by
105 points. However, his reign would not last long as on 20th March he
would resign the title having taken employment as a Marker, and
therefore becoming classed as a professional.
|1893 Jan.||A. H. Vahid||Sam Christey||1500 – 1395|
Orme & Sons’ Championship of Great Britain & Ireland
Meanwhile, in the rival championship, Arthur Wisdom had received a
challenge from Mr. Buxton and the match of 1,500 up was arranged to
be played at Orme & Son’s Showrooms, Soho Square at the same time
that the closing stages of the Billiard Association championship was
being decided in another part of London. Wisdom was never in danger
of losing his title, winning easily by 648 points on 1st February 1893
|1893 Feb.||Arthur Wisdom||Mr. Buxton||1500 – 852|
A few weeks after this contest, the rivalry between Messrs. Orme and
Sons and the Billiard Association came to an end when Orme’s announced
that they had decided to bring their Championship to a close in favour
of that promoted by the Association. With this view, their cup, then
held by Mr. A. R. Wisdom, would be contested for outright ownership
on the following rather curious conditions: “That challengers would
meet to decide who should oppose the holder, and the winner of this
competition would play the best of three games of 1,000 up with Mr.
Wisdom. If the Champion won, the cup would become his property,
but if the challenger proved successful, he and Mr. Wisdom would have
to play a final game of 1,500 up.” Sidney Fry and A. H. Vahid (in his
last days as an amateur) were the only challengers, and played a game
of 1,000 up at Orme’s Showrooms, Soho Square, to decide which of
them would play Wisdom. Fry won this match comfortably by 398
points. Fry then defeated Wisdom three times off the reel, 1,000- 989,
1,000-685, and 1,500-1,239 the matches concluding on 16th March
1893. In all these games Fry only made one three figure break (100),
while Wisdom’s best effort was just 114.
|1893 Mar.||Sidney Fry||Arthur Wisdom||1500 – 1239|
Billiard Association : Spot-barred Championship
After the resignation of Mr. Vahid, the Billiard Association’s “spot-
barred” championship remained in abeyance until 21st May 1894,
when Messrs. Sam Christey, Arthur Wisdom, J. A. Pennycuick
(Glasgow), W. J. Austin (Australia), A. Vinson, W. T. Maughan
(Middlesbrough), and H. Mitchell (Blackburn) all entered the
competition which was held at the Argyll Hall, London. The entry of
an Australian player seems somewhat strange for a British
Championship, but being of an international character, it should have
proved a great success. Unfortunately, it was just the reverse, being
little more than a catalogue of misfortunes from start to finish. The
problems started when Mr. Christey had to give the game to his
opponent after the first session, owing to the serious illness of one of
his family. Then Mr. Pennycuick was himself too unwell to play at all,
whilst Mr. Austin, after struggling pluckily against indisposition when
leading Mr. Vinson, became much worse, and was forced to resign the
game. In the final Mr. Mitchell just managed to defeat Mr. Vinson by
the narrow margin of 36 points on 25th May 1894.
|1894 May||H. Mitchell||A. Vinson||1500 – 1464|
The moderate play, and absences due to illness in this championship
probably accounted for the fact that another challenge was issued in the
autumn of 1894. Held at the National Sporting Club, Covent Garden
on a table supplied by Orme & Sons, the heats were 1,000 up and the
final 1,500 up. There were three challengers who played for the right to
meet Mitchell, these were: Sam Christey, W. T. Maughan
(Middlesbrough) and Sidney Fry. The Middlesbrough player beat
Messrs. Christey and Fry in turn, with plenty in hand in each game,
and on 6th December, Maughan went on to take the title by defeating
H. Mitchell in the final. Mitchell made the best break with 92.
|1894 Dec.||W. T. Maughan||H. Mitchell||1500 – 1202|
Mr. Maughan was allowed to rest on his laurels until March, 1896,
when Messrs. Sidney Fry, Sam Christey, Arthur Wisdom, F. B.
Edwardson, and Walter Lovejoy all joined in a challenge against him.
Due to continuing controversy and public debate about the push-stroke
it was barred from the Amateur Championship for the first time during
this contest which was again held at the National Sporting Club, Covent
Garden. These conditions anticipated a general revision to the rules of
billiards which would take place in 1898. Sidney Fry emerged successful
from the preliminary heats and he then defeated Maughan in the
Championship match. Their best breaks were Fry 73 (three times) and
Maughan 72, the wining margin being only 70 points. No doubt Mr.
Maughan would have taken an early opportunity of attempting to
reverse this verdict, but he died not long afterwards.
|1896 Mar.||S. H. Fry||W. T. Maughan||1500 – 1430|
Billiard Association : Amateur Championship
The Championship then lapsed for several years before being revived
by the Billiard Association and played under the new revised rules of
billiards which had now formally barred the push-stroke and restricted
the spot-stroke by introducing the current “two-pot” rule. The
competition was staged at the National Sporting Club in March 1899.
Sidney Fry had held the trophy for almost the stipulated three years
which would have made it his property, some also felt that as the
“spot-barred” championship had been abolished by the introduction
of the new rules, that Fry had a claim to the trophy on these grounds
alone. However, Fry was willing to defend the trophy and seven
challengers played off in heats of 1,000 up for the right to meet him.
They were E. C. Ogden, Sam Christey, Fred Wear, F. W. Payne, A.
Vahid, M. A. Oxlade and Arthur Wisdom. The latter qualified to meet
the holder in the final, and, playing a fine consistent game, beat him by
203 points, in spite of a record break of 168 by Fry.
|1899 Mar.||Arthur Wisdom||Sidney Fry||1500 – 1297|
The National Sporting Club was again the venue the following year, the
challengers for Wisdom’s title on this occasion being Sidney Fry, Walter
Lovejoy, Sam Christey, A. Jordan and F. A. Lindner. Sidney Fry won
through the 1,000-up heats, making a break of 106 in one of his games.
Then a close contest against the holder resulted in Fry being victorious
by a narrow margin of 72 points
|1900 Mar.||Sidney Fry||Arthur Wisdom||1500 – 1428|
Sidney Fry subsequently resigned the championship under the
impression that he would have to travel to Australia before he could
defend it. As it transpired this was not the case, but in his absence ten
competitors gathered at the Gaiety Restaurant, Strand, in a straight
knock-out competition to decide a new holder for the championship
Part 2 : A New Millenium
In the first part of our account we covered the beginnings of the National Championship for English billiard players. The original Orme & Sons
trophy had been won outright by A. P. Gaskell in 1891. This magnificent trophy was capable of holding a case of champagne and was a copy of
the famous Pourtales vase in the British Museum. Their second trophy had become the personal property of Sidney Fry in 1893 when the Orme
& Sons Championship finished. Now the chase was on to take possession the new Billiards Association Championship cup first awarded in 1899.
the 1901 Championship.
Sidney Fry, winner of the Championship in March 1900
resigned the title due to a pending
business trip to Australia. He
subsequently decided to give up
playing billiards altogether in
preference to his new hobby of golf, at
which he also became one of the best
amateurs in the country. His absence
however, would only be temporary
and some years later he would again
take up his cue on his way to setting
new championship records.
To find the new holder for the Billiard
Association Championship cup, ten
players gathered at the Gaiety
Restaurant, Strand, in a straight knockout competition. The heats were 1,000 up and commenced on 21st
January 1901. The competitors were: F. A. Smith, C. D. Macklem, W.
S. Jones, Ernest Breed, Arthur Wisdom, Albert Good, Sam Christey, E.
C. Ogden, Fred Wear and F. Dennis. For the first time, a professional
player was engaged to be referee and this duty was undertaken by John
Lloyd, now nearing the end of a career which at it’s height had seen him
hold the Welsh Professional Championship.
The competition had just started when news came through on 22nd
January of the death of Queen Victoria. The Billiard Association
immediately suspended play in the Championship until after the funeral
which was consequently resumed on 4th February 1901. The final of
1,500 up resolved itself into a match between Samuel Christey and W.
S. Jones. Christey made a break of 110 in this match which was the
highest of the competition, winning by 195 points.
|1901 Feb||Sam Christey||W. S. Jones||1500 – 1305|
famous cyclist, and regularly
entered the Championship over
a period of 30 years.
In 1902 the championship venue moved to Thurston’s Grand Hall,
Leicester Square, and was played between 17th-27th February. Although
the heats remained at 1,000-up the final
was now extended to 2,000-up and
John Lloyd was again engaged as
referee. Nine challengers competed for
the right to met Sam Christey. They
were: Richard H. Fry (younger brother
of the ex-champion), Ernest Breed,
Maurice Fitzgerald (Ireland), B. J.
Monro, Fred Wear, D. Sheppard,
Albert Good, E. C. Ogden and Lewis
Stroud. In his day, Lewis Stroud had
the distinction of being one of the
country’s foremost racing cyclists,
being the English 50-miles champion
in 1893, and at one time held practically
all the tricycle records. He would be a
regular participant in the Billiards
Championship for the next thirty
red-ball break in 1902.
Albert Good emerged as the best of
the challengers and then defeated Sam
Christey by 311 points. Christey made
a break of 122 which was the highest
in the competition. Other century
breaks were made by Good 109;
Fitzgerald 116; and Breed 102.
from Amateur competitions.
Maurice Fitzgerald was a player of
great potential, and although he did not
make a showing in this Championship,
he came to the event as Irish Champion
and with two double-century breaks
to his credit. A charming personality,
he had made himself immenselypopular whilst in England. However, on his way back to Ireland he
stayed at an hotel for a week, giving exhibitions of his skill every
evening, and accepted in return, payment for his accommodation. This
was reported to the Billiard Association who were obliged to disqualify
him from playing again as an amateur.
|1902 Feb||Albert Good||Sam Christey||2000 – 1689|
his first attempt.
Later the same year, the championship was again held at Thurston’s
Grand Hall commencing on 27th October 1902. Using the same format,
eight challengers competed for the right to meet Albert Good. In addition
to Richard H. Fry, they included another member of the Fry family, R.
S. Fry. The remainder of the field were F. H. Price, Bert Moy, Sam Christey, A. J. Browne, C. V. Diehl
and C. D. Macklem. The latter was a
Canadian National who had been
resident in London for some time. He
took part in the Championship on
several occasions before returning to
Toronto following the 1903 event.
In the final match on 5th November
1902, Bert Good successfully defended
his title by comfortably defeating A.
J. Browne who was making his first appearance in the
Championship. In this match Good made an amateur record of 153 from the red ball in a break of 155. He
subsequently applied to the Billiard Association for a certificate, but at
this time they were not disposed to give certificates to amateur players,
and his request was refused.
|1902 Oct||Albert Good||A. J. Browne||2000 – 1669|
The 1903 championship proved to be the most popular since the
inaugural event in 1888, with 18 challengers competing for the right to
met Bert Good. It was again held at Thurston’s Grand Hall between
2nd-21st March 1903, with heats of 1,000 up and the final 2,000 up.
The players were: C. V. Diehl, W. Bradshaw, J. W. Evison, J. H. Morgan(Glasgow), Richard H. Fry, E. E.
Briggs, H. L. Goldborne, Mr. Park,
Arthur Wisdom, Sam Christey, Fred
Wear, Bert Moy, Ernest Breed, W. S.
Jones, H. J. Moore, J. W. Evison and “Jerry” Jeremiah (Wales). In
his opening match against Christey,
Arthur Wisdom made a break of 153
in averaging 18.6 for the afternoon
session, which was a record for the
championship. He proved the best of
the challengers and was favourite to
take the title, partly because Good had
not been in the best of health for some
little time. However, rising to the
occasion, Good secured a useful lead at the end of the first session, but could not maintain the effort in the
evening, as Wisdom averaged 18.0 to take the lead and stay there for the
rest of the match. Good made breaks of 106 and 102, mainly from red
ball play, but could not match the consistency of Wisdom who won by
217 points. The only other century break in the competition was by
Sam Christey who made 127.
|1903 Mar||Arthur Wisdom||Albert Good||2000 – 1783|
Later that year, Thurston’s Grand Hall provided the venue for another
championship which was played between 27th November-4th
December 1903. Due to a family bereavement, Arthur Wisdom was
unable to defend the title and seven players competed to find a new
champion. They were: C. V. Diehl, Fred Wear, C. D. Macklem, Herbert
Moy, Sam Christey, E. E. Briggs and Bert Good.
wearing carpet slippers.
One of the more interesting characters was Fred Wear, who was a good
player with either right of left hand, but never did himself justice in the
Championship where nerves always seemed to overcome him. In one instance after using his handkerchief
to wipe his forehead, instead of
returning it to his pocket, he deposited
it in one of the corner pockets of the
billiard table. Christey won the title
by defeating C. V. Diehl in the final by
686 points, making a break of 125. C.
D. Macklem made the only other
century in the competition with 120 in
one of the earlier heats.
Diehl was a journalist on the staff of
one of the leading newspapers of the
day. There is no doubt that, like many
another aspirant to the Amateur
Championship, he rarely showed
anything like his best form when playing for the highest honour. He stood at the table with his legs more
widely apart than any other leading player, and was in the habit of
wearing a pair of felt slippers when he was engaged in any important
game. This naturally made him the recipient of a good deal of wry
comment, which he always accepted in the most good-humoured fashion.
Although a regular competitor, his appearance in the 1903 final was the
nearest he ever got to the object of his ambition.
|1903 Dec||Sam Christey||Charles V. Diehl||2000 – 1314|
Shortly after his victory, the champion, Sam Christey, decided to resign
his title amid new rumours regarding his amateur status, so in March
1904 eleven entries gathered to find a new champion. These included
Albert Good, V. L. Sim (New Zealand), Walter Lovejoy, Ernest Breed,
Harry Virr, W. Bradshaw, C. H. Mortimer, and Bert Moy.
Ash cue weighing 12oz.
New Zealander, V. L. Sim, had acquitted himself well in exhibition
games with Harry Stevenson when the latter was visiting New Zealand
during one of his numerous tours abroad. His entry came about because
the professional champion, knowing that Sim was coming to England
on business, advised him to try for the Amateur Championship. Unfortunately he had never had the
opportunity to play with anything but
composition balls, which, of course,
was a very serious handicap in a
Championship played with ivories, and
not surprisingly he made an early exit.
Walter Lovejoy was a much improved
player since his previous appearance
in 1900. He averaged 26.31 in the
second session (500 points) of one of
his preliminary matches, which was the
highest seen in the Championship since
records had been taken. In the final heat
he defeated Albert Good making breaks
of 135 and 103 which helped him to a
victory by 269 points. Lovejoy had an extremely unorthodox style of play and used a plain ash cue, weighing
only 12 ounces. Soon after his championship win he resigned the title
and turned professional.
|1904 Mar||Walter Lovejoy||Albert Good||2000 – 1733|
record break but still lost.
The system of challenges was discarded for the 1905 championship
and the present system of annual contests was established. Preliminary rounds were now introduced at regional
venues to ease the difficulty of
competitors travelling to London.
Although invited, Scotland did not enter
any players and qualifying
competitions were held in London,
Manchester, and Dublin. These were
won by Albert Good, George
Heginbottom and A. T. Marsh
respectively. The Competition Proper
was played at Thurston’s, Leicester
Square in March 1905. The final saw
the Manchester cotton-broker,
Heginbottom, make a championship
record break of 174 but Good took the
title for the third time, winning by 261
|1905 Mar||Albert Good||Geo. Heginbottom||2000 – 1739|
caused him to resign and become professional.
Abandoning their short experiment of
regional locations, the Billiard Association
arranged the preliminary stages of 1906
Amateur Championship for March 1906
at Cox & Yeman’s Hall in Brompton Road,
London, with the final moving to the
Argyll Hall. Using a different venue for
the final meant that the champion was
not obliged to play against an opponent
who had the benefit of several preliminary
games on the match-table. However, as a
result of general dissatisfaction with the
arrangements for this Championship there
were only seven challengers for the title
held by Albert Good. Amongst these was Samuel Christey who had managed to satisfy the Billiard Association
regarding his amateur status. The remaining players were W. Bradshaw,
C. H. Mortimer, George Heginbottom, Ernest Breed, A. T. Marsh
(Ireland) and A. E. Mainwaring. Ernest Breed won the qualifying
competition and in the challenge round defeated Good by 380 points
with a match average of 18.6. There now followed considerable
controversy regarding Breed’s status as an amateur player which resulted
in him resigning the title in January 1907 and taking up a career as a
|1906 Mar||Ernest Breed||Albert Good||2000 – 1620|
Championship win in 1907.
For the 1907 Championship regional competitions were brought back and arranged for London, Manchester,
Edinburgh and Dublin (which was the
Irish Championship) and all
commenced in February 1907. The
London Qualifying Competition
resulted in a victory for Arthur
Wisdom. Manchester produced an
unexpected win for Harry Virr over H.
A. O. Lonsdale and in Edinburgh, Mr.
J. F. Lessels was lucky enough to be
unopposed. The Irish Championship
was won by Jack Nugent with a
narrow victory over A. T. Marsh. At
one period of this match the referee
had to ask the audience to stop
smoking for a few minutes, owing to
the cloud of smoke which hung over
the table being so thick that play was
becoming impossible. All four regional winners passed to the competition proper which was held between
7th-11th March 1907 at the National Sporting Club, Covent Garden.
Harry Virr defeated Arthur Wisdom by a mere 16 points before taking
the title by holding off a strong challenge by the Irish Champion, Jack
Nugent, in the final. This time winning by just 14 points!
|1907 Mar||Harry Virr||Jack Nugent||2000 – 1986|
in England to be fined for
‘furious driving’ in a motor car.
In 1908 a West of England qualifying section was introduced and played
at Plymouth. The other regions were London, Manchester, the Irish Championship in Dublin and the
Welsh Championship. These were
won by M. W. Parkyn, C. E. Jenkins,
George Heginbottom and J. M.
Meldon respectively and they were
joined by the Welsh Champion,
“Jerry” Jeremiah. The London
qualifier, C. E. Jenkins, was another
of the more colourful characters to
have graced the championship. He had
been the amateur champion cyclist of
South Wales, and also claimed the
record for the longest authenticated
motorcycle ride (4,600 miles in 52
days) Not least of his achievements
was that he became the first motorist
in England to be convicted and fined
for “furious driving” in a motor car. His best all-round break was 228 although during the 1907 season of
cradle cannons he had put together a run of 1,280 by this means.
The various group winners came together in the Competition proper,
playing off for the right to meet the Champion. It was tacitly understood
that the holder would defend his title in the town or country of his residence. For this reason, the closing stages were held at the showrooms
of Messrs. Sykes, Horbury, Leeds, between 9th-14th March 1908.
George Heginbottom, won through to oppose the holder, Harry Virr of
Bradford, having set a new championship record with a break of 188
when eliminating C. E. Jenkins in an earlier heat. However, Virr retained
his title by 159 points in front of his home crowd despite a strong
challenge from Heginbottom which included another big break of 160.
A contemporary reporter said “the wild scene’s of enthusiasm at the
close were unparalleled in billiard history.” After than match Virr
modestly played down his achievement, saying of his opponent “He is
a lot better player than I am, and in fact, I think, the best amateur who
ever handled a cue.” Virr is probably still the only champion to have
acclaimed his rival in this way. Yorkshire Professional Champion, George
Nelson, officiated as referee after the first day, and acted as general
|1908 Mar||Harry Virr||Geo. Heginbottom||2000 – 1841|
at his first attempt.
In 1909, Major H. L. Fleming became the first player since the inaugural
event to win the Championship at his first attempt. In fact his entry only came about
by the greatest stroke of fortune. He had
been stationed in Calcutta at an Indian
musketry school where he and others drew
a sweepstake ticket for a horse which ran
third in the Calcutta Derby. Each member
of the syndicate profited to the tune of
£600 and it was on the strength of this that
he took a trip back to England and entered
The final stages of the competition were
held in The Mechanic’s Institute, Bradford
which had a capacity for about 1,000
spectators. During the two days play of
the final match, the hall was crowded to excess and an even larger number were refused admission, but Major
Fleming, undaunted by the overwhelming support for his opponent,
completed an amazing win by almost 500 points. In one of the earlier
heats he equalled Bert Good’s amateur record with a break of 153 made
entirely from the red ball.
|1909 May||H. L. Fleming||Harry Virr||2000 – 1501|
As a compliment to Major Fleming, who came from Scotland, it was
decided that the competition proper for the 1910 Championship should
take place at the Imperial Billiard Rooms, Mitchell Street, Glasgow,
commencing on 28th February.
H. A. O. Lonsdale from Manchester (the winner of the inaugural event
in 1888) and Harry Virr (Bradford) were at this time constant opponents
and rivals, but were also great friends. Lonsdale took the defeat of Virr
very much to heart, and felt so confident of his own ability to defeat
Fleming, that he persuaded his friend not to enter their qualifying
section and “allow him to bring the Championship back to England”.
There was quite a good entry which totalled 40 for the various areas.
Three regional groups were set up for the English section in addition to
the Championships of Ireland, Wales and Scotland. In the South of
England Area, Albert Good, a former champion, was compelled to
withdraw owing to the death of his father, but the interest in this area
was nevertheless enhanced by the entry of Mr. E. H. Hinds, who came
from Hong Kong with excellent credentials. These were justified as he
went on to win the Southern Area championship. Lonsdale, in the
absence of Harry Virr, won in the North of England, and they were
joined in the competition proper by C. L. Taylor (West of England), J.
Nugent (Champion of Ireland), R. Blair (Champion of Scotland), and
W. Edgar Thomas (Champion of Wales).
Major Fleming had exercised his right not to play in the qualifying
competition, allowing the others to play-off for the right to meet him.
As he would have been seeded in the opposite side if the draw to
Lonsdale, some thought that this decision was a mistake. Lonsdale
reached the final with the advantage of three matches on the table
before Fleming had struck a ball, and the critics seemed to be justified as
Fleming only began to show good form in the final session, by which
time he was too far behind to affect the result. Thus Lonsdale set the
incredible record of winning the Championship again after a lapse of
almost 22 years!
|1910||H. A. 0. Lonsdale||Major Fleming||2000 – 1882|
THE FIRST “WORLD AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP”
A separate competition confined exclusively to national champions was first proposed in 1922 by Arthur Walker, president of the South African Billiards Association, but it was not until 1925 that the concept began to take shape. The main problems up to this time had been, a) the cost of travel from countries as far apart as Canada, India, South Africa and Australia; and b) the use of the composition ball in all countries except England, which still used ivory for all championship matches. In 1925, The Billiards Association & Control Council (BA&CC) addressed this latter problem by stipulating that the composition ball would in future be used in all English Championship matches. Even though the majority of amateur players in the United Kingdom were by this time using composition, tradition is a difficult thing to overcome, and this particular change caused deep divisions throughout the game in England. Many of the top players refused to enter the 1926 event in protest, including the reigning Champion, Sidney Fry.
At the same time, the BA&CC decided to allow national associations to meet the travel expenses of competitors without compromising their amateur status, so removing both major obstacles. Under these conditions, the “Championship of English Billiards” was discontinued, and a contest to find an English representative was conducted under the title of “English Amateur Championship” The first such contest was to be decided in February 1926 and allowed entries only from English and also—somewhat incongruously—Welsh residents. Scotland and Ireland were now obliged to produce their own Amateur Champion and national competitions were organised to this effect.
The English Championship
This was an era when the legacy of George Gray, the Australian wonder boy, was engrained into amateur billiards all over the World. There being no restriction on red ball play, all amateurs were basing their game on this scoring technique.
The standard of play in the United Kingdom, and particularly England at this time, was possibly the highest in the World, but there was no doubt that Australia and New Zealand also had very capable players. The 1925 championship in England had seen the entry of the New Zealand and Australasian Champion J. R. Hooper, who, playing for the first time with the ivory ball, put up a valiant performance and demonstrated that he could well have taken the title had the event been played with more familiar “compositions”. Perhaps encouraged by this performance, the Australian National Champion, George Shailer made application to take part in the 1926 English championship, but with the change in structure of the competition, his entry was refused by the BA&CC.
During the summer of 1925, a 19 year-old player from Cheshire called Joe Earlam had made a break of 506 with ivory balls in practice at the Runcorn Liberal Club. He had also made a break of 618 with composition balls. It was little surprise then, that Earlam took the 1926 English Championship with some ease, after overcoming his only significant rival, Laurie Steeples, in the semi-finals.
The 1926 Empire Championship
A meeting of the BA&CC on 16th December 1925, formally ratified that an Amateur Championship of the British Empire would be held, involving the national champions of all eligible countries. The event was to be staged at Thurston’s in Leicester Square, London, commencing April 1926. All players would meet each other in heats of 2,000 up, involving four sessions played over two days on a single match table. The Champion would be decided on aggregate points over his four matches. Thurston’s donated a silver trophy and each competitor would receive a gold medal to commemorate his participation. All games were played with “Crystalate” composition balls.
Entries were now received and accepted from the following national champions : Joe Earlam (England); Malcolm Smith (Scotland); George Shailer (Australia); Percy Rutledge (South Africa); Tom McCluney (Nth. Ireland)
Earlam was immediately installed as firm favourite. However, a huge controversy was aroused when he publicly declared his intention to turn professional after the event. Voices were raised in the establishment of billiards, insisting that he be disqualified from the competition on these grounds. Despite the protests, Earlam was allowed to compete.
George Shailer was 45 years-old and came with the track-record of having won the championship of Australia five times since 1913. He had been given six months unpaid leave from his job as a police officer and sailed from Sydney on Boxing Day, arriving in England on 6th February 1926, giving himself plenty of time to become acclimatised. There were no great expectations from the other players, with the left-handed Malcolm Smith being regarded as the most likely to upset Earlam and Shailer.
The competition began on Monday 12th April with the heat between Shailer and Smith, in which the Australian demonstrated his class by making a break of 203 in a comfortable victory. Earlam matched this with a break of 205 in his first game, and by the end of the week it already was apparent that the English and Australian champions were in a class of their own. This was fortunate perhaps, as the draw had been arranged so that they would meet in the last heat, and expectations were high that this would provide the decisive climax to the Championship.
203, 134, 90, 86, 77, 76, 71, 57
75, 62, 55
205, 180, 157, 124, 93, 74, 73, 70, 60, 57, 50
80, 78, 74, 71, 60, 54, 51, 50, 50
74, 69, 65, 61, 51, 50
Earlam completed the second week with a comprehensive victory over the South African Champion who was completely overwhelmed as the young Runcorn player made breaks of 241, 213 and three other centuries to win by 1,242 points. On 21st April, in the second session of his game against Rutledge, Earlam made a sessional average of 83, scoring his required 500 points in six visits to the table. For the full match his average was 35.1 Both of these statistics established new records for an amateur player. His achievements were recognised with a certificate issued by BA&CC.
120, 117, 106, 94, 89, 84, 76, 66, 59, 58, 56, 52, 52
131, 104, 84, 81, 81, 60, 54, 52, 51, 50
241, 213, 145, 138, 126, 93, 92, 79, 78, 78, 69, 69, 64, 56, 53, 53
166, 151, 144, 128, 103, 84, 77, 63, 61
70, 66, 64, 64, 62, 55, 53
With the favourites both registering comfortable victories, the highlight of the third week’s play was a break of 184 by Earlam, made against Scottish Champion Malcolm Smith. This could have been much more, but resuming after the interval on 175 unfinished, with just the red ball on the table, he mistakenly picked his opponent’s ball from the pocket, scoring another 9 points before he was stopped by the referee.
111, 103, 92, 76, 75, 71, 65, 65, 64, 64, 63, 54, 54, 53
94, 63, 62, 52, 51, 50
184, 169, 100, 87, 78, 77, 68, 68, 64, 61, 61, 50
130, 88, 87, 79, 75, 68, 62, 50
142, 108, 91, 76, 72, 71, 61, 57
101, 73, 59, 52, 51, 50
As expected, the final heat between Earlam and Shailer, both undefeated to this point, would decide the destination of the championship trophy. The first session of this contest would prove decisive, as everything seemed to go wrong for Shailer. The interval was reached with the Australian trailing 69-500. From there he played an uphill game, and although improving significantly as the match went on, he was never able to redress this initial deficit. In the final session, while Earlam was completing the 500 points he required for victory, Shailer averaged 32.5 over an aggregate of 654 points, making breaks of 107, 129, 145 and 96. By doing this, Shailer had the consolation of setting a new record for the most centuries made in a session of an amateur championship game. Even so, Earlam made a total of six centuries in the match, with a highest break of 282, to claim victory by 606 points on Tuesday 4th May. This gave him an unbeatable aggregate of 8,000 points for the competition, and secured for him a unique place in history of the game.
282, 181, 138, 138, 112, 109, 80, 75, 74, 73, 64, 59, 53, 51
145, 132, 129, 107, 96, 89, 61, 56, 53
In addition to his gold medal, Shailer received a certificate from the BA&CC in recognition of his record achievement and also an special prize of an inscribed silver teapot, awarded by the Composition Ball Co.
Earlam’s break of 282 proved to be the highest of the competition and his average of 25.6 for his 8,000 points would have done credit to a good class professional of his time. Earlam, received the Thurston’s trophy and a replica which became his personal property.
Although the standard of play exhibited both by the winner and runner- up attained a standard of excellence that had never previously been approached in any amateur contest, there was much speculation that this first championship would also be the last. Public patronage had been very disappointing for all matches except those involving Earlam, making it a questionable proposition from the promoters’ point of view. Interviewed on his return to Edinburgh by The Edinburgh Evening News, Malcolm Smith, the Scottish champion, was of the opinion that the Commonwealth champions were unlikely to be enticed to visit England again. “It is a long and costly journey for these business lads” he said. Despite this, the BA&CC lost no time in announcing that the competition would be held in London the following year.
However, Joe Earlam would not defend his title. He made good his promise to turn professional and, switching back to ivory balls, made his debut in September 1926. Although he subsequently won the 1930 Junior Professional Championship (open to all professionals under 25 years of age) he never managed to establish himself in the top rank of the professional game, and retired from competitive play in 1931.
Shailer, having returned to Australia, would also not compete in the second Empire Championship, being unexpectedly defeated in an early round of his State championships, and thereby failing to qualify.
So, the stage was set for a new Champion to emerge in 1927. But that is another story …
The 1927 World Amateur Championship
The first Championship of the British Empire, which concluded in May 1926 was hailed as a great success with regard to the standard of play, but was nothing short of a disaster in financial terms, with rows of empty seats at Thurston’s match-room for any game not involving the eventual winner, Joe Earlam. It was confidently predicted that this would be the last we would see of the World Championship for at least several years, and with it’s lack of patronage, it was unlikely that London would be the venue should the contest be resurrected in the future.
However, shortly after the conclusion of the Championship, Arthur Walker, President of the South African Billiards Association, made his second visit to London. The first had been in 1922, when he presented the concept of a World Amateur Championship to a full meeting of the Billiards Association & Control Council (BA&CC). His eloquent arguments persuaded the council to lay the foundations for the inaugural Championship, which were realised four years later. Now he travelled half-way around the World once more to see John C. Bisset, Chairman of the BA&CC and ensure that his concept of an Amateur Championship did not die.
Shortly after that meeting the BA&CC surprised everyone by announcing that far from shelving the event it would be held again the following year at Burroughes & Watts´ Hall, in London. Additional conditions confirming the continuation of the Championship were also announced. These stated that after this competition, the event would be held every two years in the country of the Holder and a new “perpetual” trophy would be made. This trophy was to become the most tangible link with Arthur Walker, as he commissioned it’s design and manufacture at a personal cost of 100 guineas.
The task was now to find competitors for the Championship, and as predicted, this proved to be difficult for those countries any distance from England. Arthur Walker, who was a great supporter of Amateur ideals and “a firm believer in the value of billiards as an influence in social life” immediately pledged that the South African Association would send a representative, but it was a different story from the other remote outposts of the Empire.
In Australia, George Shalier, last year’s representative, had been eliminated at an early stage of the New South Wales Championship, with Les Hayes becoming the Australian Champion. However, Hayes, a schoolteacher by profession, was unable to obtain a sufficiently long leave of absence and therefore could not take part. It was a similar story in India where their National Champion, R. M. Geyer, could not make the trip due to “a domestic bereavement.”
The New Zealand Champion, E. V. Roberts, may well have taken part, but a public subscription failed to raise sufficient funds to finance the journey.
In Ireland, Tom McCluney, who had represented the country last year, had taken a job as manager of a billiard room. This act classified him as professional and ineligible to enter the Irish Amateur Championship.
The Irish Association did not offer a substitute.
The competition was therefore reduced to the National Champions of England, Scotland and South Africa, with contests taking place just before the scheduled start of the Empire Championship to find the names of the players to be involved.
In advance of all these National Championships the BA&CC had introduced a important change to the rules of the game which limited consecutive hazards to a maximum of 25. This action had been widely predicted and so came as no surprise. The restriction had first been considered when Australian Professional, George Gray, was displaying the possibilities of red-ball play when he toured England between 1910- 14. His displays were initially hugely popular, but by the end of his visit it was clear that the public would not pay to watch big breaks from the red ball. The professionals therefore, in their own commercial interests, refrained from exploiting the stroke again. However, such commercial considerations did not apply to the Amateur players in England, who readily adopted Gray’s method of scoring.
The red-ball game was significantly easier to play with composition balls than it was with ivories, due in no small measure to the wider throw of compositions bringing more shots within range. When this medium was introduced for the English Championship of 1926, the best players were only too keen to demonstrate what this difference meant in practical terms. The proliferation of red-ball breaks in the Championship made it apparent to the BA&CC that the game was in danger of stagnating by it’s overuse. The new rule was therefore the first instance in billiards history where amateur proficiency had directly resulted in the official limitation of a stroke.
The South African Championship
The South African Championship was the first to be decided and it came as something of a surprise to observers in England when the news came through that Percy Rutledge, who had represented South Africa in the previous Empire Championship, had lost his title to former South African champion, Allen Prior. Despite being behind for most of their match, Prior finished strongly to regain the title by the narrow margin of 13 points in their match of 600-up.
The Scottish Championship
The Scottish Amateur Billiard Association had held out against the introduction of the composition ball when England made the switch in 1926, but this year decided by a narrow majority to discard ivories. The fact that the Empire Championship would be played with Crystalate balls was the deciding factor in this decision. Played at the North British Station Hotel, Edinburgh, there was a record entry of 19 players. From these, Malcolm Smith emerged victorious, taking his third title on 5th March 1927, by defeating W. J. Cairns 2000-1577 in the final.
The new hazard limit was seen as a significant handicap to the best red-ball exponents, but in the absence of the 1926 Champion, Joe Earlam, who had now turned professional, it was another red ball player William McLeod, winner in 1923 and 1924, who was generally regarded as favourite to carry off the English title. However, this prediction proved inaccurate, as McLeod was defeated by Horace Coles in the quarterfinals. Coles, who had been the only entry from the Cardiff qualifying area, went on to contest the final where he was to meet Laurie Steeples. On the way he made a break of 233, which was the highest of the Championship and an Amateur record under the new rules. Laurie Steeples, from Dalton Brook, near Rotherham, had won the UK Boys’ Championship in 1923 and 1924 and having just passed his eighteenth birthday, was playing in only his second English Championship. Even though defeated in 1926, he had shown his potential with a break of 377, which was an Amateur record for red-ball play. Now, in sight of his greatest achievement, Steeples retained his composure to win the final match 3000-2449 on 19th February, becoming the youngest holder of the English Championship.
Wales had traditionally played as a qualifying section of the English Championship, but Horace Coles also held the title of Welsh Amateur Champion at this time, and now his name was put forward as an entry to the Empire Championship as the representative of that Principality. His admission brought the number of contestants to up to four.
The 1927 British Empire Amateur Championship
Played at the Burroughes Hall, Soho Square, London, the competition was again contested on the “American”, or League system. Each match was 2,000-up played in four sessions over two days. The “Crystalate” brand of composition balls was used and the newly introduced 25 hazard limitation was applied.
The first match on the Burroughes & Watts match table commenced on Monday 7th March 1927 and brought into action the South African Champion, Allen Prior, and the Welshman, Horace Coles. Allen Prior had arrived in London on 28th February and was assiduously practising within an hour of his arrival. Modest and unassuming, he gave no clue to his abilities and he was certainly not considered to be in with a chance before the start of the competition. However, this was to change in the very first match when he provided the first upset of the competition by defeating Horace Coles. Prior’s great height (he was about 6ft 5in) gave him the appearance of having a rather cramped style. He was also a slow, extremely careful player, but a very accurate potter, seldom missing a chance which could be said to be reasonably on. This combination was too much for the Welsh representative who went down to a 467 points defeat.
|Allen Prior (South Africa)
133, 101, 92, 88, 84, 81, 80, 72, 71, 56, 54
|2,000||(13.98)||Horace Coles (Wales)
77, 72, 68, 61, 58
Laurie Steeples staked his claim as tournament favourite by making a break of 236 against the Scottish Champion, which established a new Amateur record under the 25-hazard rule. Malcolm Smith was the sole survivor from the inaugural Empire Championship and hung on well to the English Champion, a break of 158 being the highlight of his match. However, the English youth was too strong and won by a margin of 562 points. In this match Steeples also made record averages of 38 and 45 in two of the four sessions
|Laurie Steeples (England)
236, 180, 138, 103, 99, 79, 78, 77, 61, 58, 50
|2,000||(20.40)||Malcolm Smith (Scotland)
158, 61, 60, 56, 52, 51
In the third heat, Horace Coles put his earlier defeat behind him to overcome Smith who nevertheless received praise for his tenacity, earning him the sobriquet of “the plucky wee Scot.”
|Horace Coles (Wales)
164, 89, 88, 72, 68, 64, 58, 58, 50
|2,000||(15.03)||Malcolm Smith (Scotland)
85, 82, 80, 70, 58, 51
At the start of the second week of competition, Horace Coles who had been involved in the first upset of the tournament, was now instrumental in providing the second, as he narrowly overcame the challenge of Laurie Steeples. Considering that Steeples had comfortably defeated Coles only a few weeks previously in the English Championship, this loss came as a major surprise.
|Horace Coles (Wales)
124, 79, 72, 69, 68, 66, 63, 56, 53, 53, 53, 52, 52
|2,000||(11.17)||Laurie Steeples (England)
156, 106, 86, 84, 79, 70, 63, 59, 54, 52, 51
During the course of the Coles v. Steeples match, the new Amateur Championship trophy was exhibited for the first time at a luncheon given in honour of the four contestants at Frascati’s Restaurant, Oxford Street, and it brought forth unqualified admiration. Numerous designs had been submitted by several of the leading firms of silversmiths, but the final selection went to the Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Co, Regent Street which was declared at the time to be “the finest ever awarded in connection with billiards”.
Malcolm Smith, looking for his first win in the tournament, again struggled to keep up in his match against Allen Prior. The South African made four century breaks with a best of 184 to hold off the determined Scotsman and win by 384 points.
|Allen Prior (South Africa)
184, 116, 110, 101, 73, 72, 69, 58, 57, 56, 55, 54, 51
|2,000||(16.00)||Malcolm Smith (Scotland)
90 75, 68, 53, 51
A win for Steeples from the final match against Prior would have resulted in a three-way tie and the need for a play-off to decide the Champion. This complication was avoided when Prior produced his best game of the tournament to defeat Steeples, taking the title in convincing fashion on Saturday 19th February. Although Steeples was not in the best of health during the closing stages of the competition, there was a feeling that it was entirely appropriate for the new Championship Trophy to return to South Africa, the home of it’s donor, Arthur Walker.
|Allen Prior (South Africa)
168, 147, 131, 87, 83, 82, 71, 69, 67, 66, 63, 54, 54, 53, 52
|2,000||(21.27)||Laurie Steeples (England)
164, 153, 139, 79, 72, 68, 61, 56
Horace Coles was runner-up and received an elegant silver rose-bowl which was presented by the Composition Billiard Ball Supply Co; who were manufacturers of the Crystalate ball.
Prior left for South Africa the following week, on Friday 25th March. Two days earlier, he had been entertained to dinner at the Café Royal, with many distinguished guests which included Professional Champion, Tom Newman. A photograph of this dinner party, showing the trophy at the centre of the table, appeared in Friday’s Daily Mirror. An enterprising newspaper-boy, recognising Prior on Waterloo Railway Station drew his attention to the article and was rewarded by a large number of sales to the Champion and those assembled to bid him farewell.
Two years would pass before the best amateur players would again gather to contest the British Empire Amateur Championship in Johannesburg and for the first time, a World Billiards Championship would be decided outside England.
1800 – 1899
Professional players in the early part of the 19th century tended to be employed as Markers in public billiard rooms or subscription rooms (private clubs). Alternatively, and perhaps more commonly, they would be “hustlers” who frequented these rooms looking for money matches with gullible patrons. As a result billiard rooms were generally looked upon as gambling dens and not to be frequented by the better class of person, although there is plenty of evidence that subscription rooms in particular were attended by people of all ranks, including the nobility.
As the only way to make a decent living at billiards was to play money matches, most “professional” players tried to disguise their skill rather than display it, so as not to frighten off a prospective victim or to have the handicap of conceding start to a lesser player. Many players would additionally use a pseudonym in order to reduce their exposure to publicity, for to become known as a good player could result in an end to their livelihood. These players have often been recorded in history by these pseudonyms, with their real identity forever a mystery.
The first professional player to achieve universal recognition for his outstanding ability was John Carr. John, generally known as “Jack” Carr began life poor if not honest, and as a youth filled the humble capacity of junior “boots” in the Grand Pump Room Hotel, Bath then much frequented by the bucks and beau’s of the period, not to mention the sharps. Going round early one morning to collect boots, Carr heard a heated conversation going on in the apartments of the well-known Mr. Beau Brummell. That celebrated gentleman was then going pretty strongly, it being before he “took the knock,” and his argument was with no less a personage than His Royal Highness the Prince Regent. They had just finished playing hazard with Charles James Fox, the great statesman-gambler, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and the discussion was on Beau Brummell’s claim that he would find a marker in Brighton able to beat all the markers in Bath, “one down the other to come on”, for 1,000 guineas. Carr heard no more, but this was enough for him to realize the great possibilities of a billiard marker. The following day should have been his day off, but, to the amazement of the hotel marker, he made a voluntary offer to remain in and help in cue-tipping. The following week he even more generously helped to mark the games, and two months later he helped the marker out with his boxes and the day afterwards helped himself to the marker’s job.
Carr was later employed as a marker for Mr. John Bartley, who was proprietor of the Upper Rooms in Bath. When business was slack Bartley and Carr used to amuse themselves by placing the red ball on the centre spot and attempting to screw into one of the middle pockets without bringing the red into baulk. It should be remembered that with the solid list cushions and course cloth, the table which was much slower than its modern counterpart. In addition, the leather tip for cues had only recently been introduced to England and players were only starting to come to terms with the possibilities it afforded.
For a long time Mr. Bartley was the only person who could achieve this feat and at last he confided to Carr that it was accomplished by striking the cue ball on its side. This well chronicled story is generally regarded as evidence that John Bartley discovered “side”. However, articles appearing in 1806 indicate that these effects were known at that time. This was well before the invention of the leather tip when chalk was applied to the plain wooden tip. No doubt the effects achieved by Bartley would have been more dramatic with a good tip, but it would explain why Bartley was so reluctant to make any claim to be the inventor of the effects which Carr would exploit so successfully.
Carr recognised its potential immediately and once the “secret” had been revealed to him he proceeded to develop the skill, rapidly overtaking the ability of his instructor. He regularly mystified the patrons of the billiard rooms with the performance of apparently impossible, shots with utmost certainty, time after time. To disguise his technique and maintain his secret, Carr would always aim his cue at the centre of the cue ball, only changing direction at the instant prior to contact.
Seeing an opportunity for easy money, Carr informed the patrons that the stokes could only be accomplished by use of his special twisting chalk, which he would supply as a powder in small pill boxes, for half-a-crown. If this had been the first time chalk was used then perhaps the purchase could be considered a wise investment, but the pill boxes were filled by grinding the sticks of white chalk which were freely available in Mr. Bartley’s billiard rooms. In fact the use of chalk to prevent miscues had been common knowledge for some time and billiard room proprietors chose to supply sticks of chalk rather than have players grind their cue tips into corners of the ceiling or walls. Mr. E. White, a contemporary of Carr, in referring to the use of un-tipped cues at that time, recommends that the point of the wood should be made rough with a file or “rubbed over with chalk”. This single venture of Carr was perhaps the greatest testament to his skill as a salesman and gives an insight into his entrepreneurial flair.
Unfortunately for Carr, in addition to his talent for making money, he had an equal ability to lose it just as readily through an incurable addiction to gambling and in particular to a fondness for a game of “Hazard”. After a particularly bad run of luck, Carr decided that a change of scenery would be appropriate and embarked on a trip to Spain. The Spanish game at this time was essentially the same as that played in England with the exception that five wooden pegs were also placed on the table and additional points were scored for knocking these over. Carr’s business instinct was well founded, as he beat all comers in the Spanish billiard halls. He made a tour of all the principal towns, amazing all who saw his exhibition of the “side twist”. However, Spain was even more amply furnished with billiard rooms than England, and although he managed to amass a great sum of money, he lost it as quickly as it was acquired.
He was eventually required to return to England in rather abrupt circumstances arriving in Portsmouth almost penniless. Despite his evident appearance of poverty, a visit to a local billiard room managed to find an opponent from whom he was reputed to have won the sum of £70. Carr proceeded to use some of the money to equip himself in a suit of clothes more befitting a gentleman and returned to the same billiard rooms the next day. His gullible opponent of the previous day was there and not recognising Carr in his new clothes, promptly challenged the stranger to a game, with of course the same result. After the game the gentleman expressed the opinion that he was truly unfortunate to have met two such good players on successive days. Carr then enlightened him of his mistake, thanked him for his money, and bid him good day.
In 1825 news came to England that in Cork there was a player named Jerry Flanagan who had accomplished the unprecedented feat of pocketing the red ball ten times in succession.
Some young bloods brought him to England and on 17th February 1825 Carr was matched to play best of five games, 100 up, against Flanagan who used the pseudonym of “The Cork Marker” for 75 guineas at the Four Nations Hotel in the Opera Colonnade, London. Carr won the first three games, 100-92; 100-49 and 100-75 to win the match. In the second of these games he astonished all present by making a run of 22 consecutive spot strokes. The feat was considered exceptional, although the editor of Annals of Sporting and Fancy Gazette which reported the match, makes comment that he had seen Carr previously make a run of 35 consecutive hazards.
“The ‘Cork-Marker’ made good play at starting, the first game being most beautifully contested and eventually won by Carr; his opponent, however, being within eight points of the 100. Certainly Carr was never in finer play; the execution was brilliant, and he made short work of the match, winning the first three games, and rendering further contests on the part of the ‘Cork Marker’ needless. The room was crowded by the billiard sporting world, and at the conclusion of the match Captain S-, Carr’s backer, challenged the metropolitan table, on behalf of his protégé for 100 guineas. In the second game Carr made 22 hazards off the red ball on the spot successively. Twenty-two! Indeed! We have seen him make 35 in succession off the red ball-Annals of Sporting and Fancy Gazette ”
An offer was immediately made by his backers to meet all comers for 100 guineas a side. Carr is regarded by many to have established himself as the first professional champion with this victory. There is no evidence that Carr was universally superior to all other players, apart from the willingness of his backers to support him. But perhaps this in itself is enough to justify the claim.
Edwin “Jonathan” Kentfield
However, Carr’s tenure of the “championship title” did not last very long. Shortly after he issued his challenge in 1825, it was accepted by Edwin “Jonathan” Kentfield. But Carr was fêted and treated altogether too kindly and on the eve of a match against Kentfield, he died. In the absence of any other challengers, Kentfield assumed the title of Champion which he would retain unchallenged for almost 24 years.
[It is known that Kentfield had played at least one game against Carr previously at Brighton, defeating him 100-99, as this is mentioned, without further context, in Mardon’s book “Billiards” published in 1844]
Edwin Kentfield, better known as Jonathan, was born in Yorkshire although he spent most of his playing career in Brighton. He was a man of refined taste, very fond of gardening and other country pursuits. Generally not the type of person that would be expected to frequent the confines of a billiard room.
During his time as Champion, Kentfield was proprietor of Subscription Rooms in Manchester Street, Brighton and spent a great deal of his time developing ideas for improving the equipment and tables used for billiards. In this he was supported by John Thurston who operated his own firm of cabinet makers who had switched to the exclusive manufacture of billiard room furniture in 1814. Indeed, this appears to have been Kentfield’s main contribution to the game, as his record as a player, barely merits his retention of the Championship title for so long. However, John Thurston had a high regard for Kentfield’s advice which he turned to great commercial advantage, developing his company into the leading English manufacturer of billiard tables and accessories. The association of Kentfield and Thurston was very important to the improvement of playing conditions over the following years and Kentfield’s subscription rooms were always equipped with the latest innovations.
[Mardon suggests that Kentfield’s Room had only one table]
Kentfield was adept at the spot stroke, but did not generally approve of its use or consider it to be true billiards. His preference was the in-off game played at gentle strength. To restrict the spot stroke he developed a table with Thurston which had very small pocket openings and it was on this table that Kentfield always practised. One of the patrons of his Subscription Rooms described it as follows “The table is extremely difficult. It is perhaps the fastest in England and has pockets of the smallest dimensions. The spot for the red ball is barely 12″ from the cushion, the baulk circle only 18″ in diameter and the baulk line only 22″ from the bottom cushion”.
It is difficult to gauge the ability of Kentfield compared to the Champions who succeeded him, as the equipment and playing conditions, even in Kentfield’s “state of the art” billiard rooms, were much inferior to those found later in the century. Games also tended to be of much shorter duration, commonly being no more than 24 up. This gave little scope for Kentfield to demonstrate his ability to compile large breaks, although it is recorded that he would regularly complete a game of 24 up at a single visit.
But if conditions were bad for Kentfield they must have been many times worse in most public rooms at the time, where a game of 24 up would have been considered a true test of a player’s skill. There is however a record of Kentfield having made a break of 196 and a run of 57 “spots”, but it can safely be assumed that these breaks were not made on his special table with the 31/4″ pockets, and additionally, there is no record of him having played against any significant opponents.
Regardless of any comparison of his ability to later players, there is no doubt that he was held in the greatest respect during the period of his “reign” as champion. During this time he helped to introduce the slate bed, rubber cushions, finer bed-cloth, and an increase in the size of balls from 1 7/8″ to 2″. All of which were sure to have appeared in his Rooms in the 1830’s.
John Roberts Senior
While Kentfield was consolidating his position as Champion in Brighton, a young Lancashire player called John Roberts began to make a name for himself.
Born in Manchester he spent some time in Oldham, then while still in his teens he moved to Glasgow around 1844 and it was here that the first stories arose of his big-money matches. He narrowly lost a match against professional player John Fleming, who was also a well known billiard table maker from Edinburgh. The match was 500 up for £100, which was a very substantial sum in those days. With the scores at 485 all, Fleming fluked a six shot after missing the cannon he actually tried for, and subsequently ran to game.
In 1845 John Roberts moved to Manchester where he became Marker of the Billiard Room at the Union Club, where he stayed for the next seven years. It was here that he was taught the “spot stroke” by Mr. Lee Birch who was regarded as one of the best amateurs of his day, and who had seen the stroke played in London during a visit to the capital. Roberts realised that an enormous advantage could be gained by any player who could master it and devoted many hours of practice exclusively to this stroke. It was to be Roberts skill with the “spot stroke” which would raise his game above all other professionals at that time.
Continuing with his money matches, Roberts defeated Tom Broughton in a match of 500 up for £100 in Broughton’s home town of Leeds. Although a second encounter had been arranged for a venue in Huddersfield, Broughton preferred to forfeit his guarantee of £10 rather than risk so large a sum again.
Kentfield’s long and tranquil reign ended in 1849 when Roberts arrived at his Subscription Rooms from Manchester with £100 note and the intention to test himself against the best player in England.
Roberts own account of events, given in his book published 20 years after this meeting, was as follows “I remember perfectly my first meeting with Kentfield. It was in the beginning of 1849 at Brighton where I went on purpose to see him play. On entering his rooms I met John Pook, who was at that time the manager. After sending up my name, Kentfield came in and inquired my business. I told him that I was admitted to be the finest player in Lancashire, whence I had come to find out if he could show me anything. He inquired if I wanted a lesson. I told him I did not and asked him how many in 100 would be a fair allowance from a player on his own table to a stranger, provided they were of equal skill. He replied 15. I told him 20 would be nearer the mark, but I was content to try at evens. He said ‘if you play me it must be for some money’ on which I pulled out a £100 note and told him I would play ten games of 100 up for £10 a game. He laughed and said I was rather hasty and eventually we knocked the balls about and then commenced a friendly 100 up on level terms. He had the best of the breaks and won by 40.
In the second game I pulled off a few North Country shots and won by 30, but he secured the third. Then he put down his cue and asked if I was satisfied he could beat me. I said ‘No, on the contrary, if you can’t play better than this I can give you 20 in 100 easily.’ He replied ‘Well, if you want to play me you must put down a good stake.’ I asked how much and he answered £1,000. I said ‘do you mean £1,000 a side ?’ Upon which he told me he thought I was a straightforward fellow and he would see what could be done. He then sent Pook back to me and I explained to him how things stood. He replied ‘You may as well go back to Lancashire, you won’t get a match on with the Governor’. I tried afterwards to arrange terms but he never would meet me.”
Although it may appear bold for Roberts to express his superiority having lost two games in three, it is likely that the match had been played on Kentfield’s “special” table with 31/4″ pockets and Roberts’ opinions were based on his chances playing on an “ordinary” table. In the event, Roberts’ challenge was never met by Kentfield who had been undisputed champion for almost 30 years. He obviously felt that he had much to lose from the challenge and preferred to be known as the “Retired Champion”. So in 1849 John Roberts assumed the title of Professional Champion and began a dynasty which would reach into the following century.
At this time it was doubtful that the title of Champion would have provided Roberts with any significant financial advantages as he would have found it difficult to obtain matches for money and anyone he did meet would have expected to receive a sizeable start. Probably as a means to capitalise on his title, Roberts promoted a series of exhibition matches with other leading players. This also had the effect of increasing the popularity of the game as such events were practically unknown before his initiative.
Within 12 months Cook had improved to such an extent that he scarcely play two games of 1,000 up without making a break in excess of 300. As a result, his challenge for the title in the Autumn of 1869 became inevitable. Roberts took some time in responding to the challenge and it was known that some of his friends tried to convince him that he had nothing to gain from the match and should retire undefeated.
As Roberts contemplated his response, Cook continued to demonstrate exceptional form. On 26th October 1869 he increased the record break with 361 (112 spots) against John Roberts Jnr at Manchester. In another match against Roberts while in Manchester he made breaks of 329; 243 (78 spots) and 311 (99 spots). At this time Cook was playing so much better than the younger Roberts that he would beat him three games out of four.
To complete the year Cook extended his record break to 394 (112 spots) in a match against John Roberts Jnr at the Maypole Hotel in Nottingham on 28th December 1869.
The Professional Championship (February 1870) – First Contest
Eventually Roberts agreed to meet Cook for the championship in a match of 1,200 up for a £100 a side, at the St. James Hall, Regent Street. The date set was 11th February 1870.
As Kentfield and Roberts had held the title for almost 50 years between them without ever playing a Championship match, there was great public interest in the announcement. At this time there was no governing body for billiards and several variations to the rules existed between billiard rooms around the country. It was therefore agreed that a committee would be established to draw up a set of rules specifically for the championship. This committee was selected from those deemed most likely to compete for the title and representatives from the three leading billiard table manufacturers Cox & Yemen, Burroughes & Watts and Thurston’s. John Roberts (Champion) took the chair of this committee, the other players being William Cook, Joseph Bennett, John Bennett, and Tom Morris. It was agreed that the table manufacturers would provide the championship trophy and take turns to supply the match table. The committee met at Bennett’s Rooms to draw up articles for the championship and Alfred Bowles & William Dufton were given the task of making preliminary arrangements for the match.
However, Roberts was well aware that the young Cook (he was still only 20 years of age) was currently the best player of the “spot stroke” in the country and to reduce this advantage it was arranged to play on a modified table. Roberts convinced the committee that the truest test of a champion would be a table which required the greatest accuracy in the playing of hazards. Drawing on his experience with the special table developed by Jonathan Kentfield for this very purpose, he proposed that a virtual replica was constructed by Thurston’s for the match. A model was set up for the players to try. Cook made a sequence of 30 spots and gave his approval for the design. However the cut of the pockets was again changed before the match with the result that the spot stroke became virtually impossible. The pockets of this “Championship Table” were 3″ wide instead of the then normal 3 5/8″ and the Billiard Spot would be nearer the top cushion (121/2″ instead of 131/4″) designed to limit Cook’s superiority. The baulk-line was set at 28″ from the bottom cushion and the radius reduced by 11/2″ to 10″. Despite his input to the committee decisions, young Cook evidently did not fully appreciate that the smaller pockets would handicap him to a greater extent than his opponent who did not rely so heavily on this specialist stroke. Conditions were also laid down that the winner must respond to future challenges within two months and any player who held the championship for a continuous period of 5 years would retain the trophy.
Although he was champion, Roberts was not favourite for the match. Cook’s brilliant play in recent months had encouraged the gambling fraternity to back Cook regardless of the type of table to be used. “Bells Life of London” reported “Many considered the result a foregone conclusion for Cook, nevertheless it began at the outset to excite the most lively interest. When the match was announced the odds laid on Cook were 5-2; but after Roberts had subsequently defeated Joseph Bennett at the Prince of Wales Club, with the spot stroke barred, the price fell to 9-4 and 6-4 was accepted in some quarters at the beginning of the week in consequence of Cook having come off second best in more than one of his late exhibition matches.
So brisk was the demand for tickets, of which 500 were initially issued at £1 each, that the players were obliged to engage the larger room at St. James’ Hall. They were thus able to accommodate another 300 and yet from the commencement of the week no tickets were available from advertised sources and enterprising speculators, who bought up two or three dozen with a view of making a quick profit, were able to command exorbitant prices. In fact it no sooner emerged that the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) would witness the match than the tickets, even the back seats, rose immediately in value and seats in the front row were being offered at £5 each.
From 7 o’clock the hall began to fill and soon every seat was occupied with some spectators in the farther seats coming equipped with opera glasses. It was estimated that over 1,000 people had crammed into 800 seat venue. Extraordinary precautions were in place with the entrance to the grand hall being barricaded and police stationed at all the pay stations. The table was in the centre of the vast hall with a cordon of scarlet rope about three yards all around. In one corner was placed a chair which would be the official post for the referee. Interestingly, the referee for this match was Joseph Bennett who would himself become Champion later that same year. Outside the rope the tiers of benches began sloping up to the galleries and constructed to reach up and beyond the ordinary balconies.
The spectators included representatives of all the leading sports with a significant number of bookmakers and general racing fraternity having secured positions immediately surrounding the table. A private box had been allocated to the Prince of Wales at the left hand corner of the chief balcony.
It was common practice in those days for bets to be shouted across the room with odds given and wagers taken not only on the outcome of the match, but often on the result of individual strokes. Indeed, it was by no means unusual to stop an important money match to enable all the bets to be recorded to the satisfaction of the spectators.
Shortly after 8 o’clock the spectators began to grow impatient and calls for a start to the match resulted in the appearance of William Dufton who informed the assembly that the players were only waiting for order and they would make their appearance. He was followed by an official who proceeded to weigh the balls. He managed to keep the crowd quiet as he cleverly managed to spin out this operation for a full ten minutes. However the fascination of watching the perfectly balanced scales raised and lowered eventually gave way to impatience once more and the noise from the hall became louder than ever.
When the players eventually made their appearance at 8.15 pm they were received with enthusiastic cheering. Although both were dressed in black and were without jackets, the portly figure of Roberts’ contrasted very much with Cook whose extreme youth surprised those who had not previously seen him play. Roberts, as usual, was wearing his wide brimmed felt hat.
William Dufton then commenced a brief address in which he announced an interval of a quarter of an hour at the completion of the sixth hundred and gave the assembly some advice on the best means of regaining their seats should they have cause to vacate them. This latter remark caused some unintentional amusement, as with over 200 people standing it was clear to all those present that the chance of regaining a vacated seat would be practically nil.
With at least two thirds of the company smoking, the atmosphere soon became painfully close and oppressive, but with perfect order having been attained with some difficulty, the match started at 8.27 pm.
Shortly after the start the Prince of Wales and his party arrived so quietly that for some time their appearance was unnoticed. The only ladies present were the wives of Cook and Joseph Bennett who were accompanied by several female friends. The young Cook more than once looked up and smiled in confidence at his partner.
The tight pockets of the match table quickly made their effect on the game with both players testing this handicap by attempting reds from the spot. When Cook first gained spot position he was greeted with a round of applause, but he could not fulfill the expectations of his supporters, making only five in succession before breaking down. The Prince of Wales watched this with the greatest interest and there was a general feeling of disappointment when the break came to an end. The red ball needed to be played with the greatest of care or it did not go in. In addition, possibly due to the change in the position of the spot, when the red was made, position for the next stroke was invariably lost. As a result, early play was very close with several small breaks from both players.
Cook’s bearing during the play was reserved and modest, while Roberts performed in his usual jaunty fashion, constantly offering to back himself. Roberts paused early in the match to hand £10 up to Mr. Steel who was seated several rows from the front and had offered Roberts £20-£10. Shortly afterwards one of Cook’s supporters placed £200 to £100 on his man and Steel not relishing this bet too much attempted to lay it off in smaller amounts.
The players were level at about 450 when Roberts got in. With Cook’s ball and the red almost touching, he quietly dribbled them down the table making six or seven very pretty cannons in succession. He followed this with a regular ‘gallery’ stroke, potting the red at tremendous pace, the cue ball striking several cushions before making the cannon. This shot fairly brought the house down for the first time in the match.
The interval was taken at 10.45 pm with Cook holding the advantage 625 -521. During the interval £100-£40 was offered on Cook, but found no takers. It was generally considered that to this point Roberts had played in too off-hand a manner, giving way to a number of indiscreet shots and showing too little respect for his opponent.
With the resumption of play at 11.20pm, they moved along evenly until Cook was 701 to Roberts’ 593. Directly afterwards, Cook with a series of strokes (some of them the most delicate strength) produced a break of 80 points. At the conclusion of this magnificent performance the clapping of hands lasted for two or three minutes, the Prince of Wales joining heartily in the demonstration.
The jaunty air which many though affected Roberts in the early stage of the play had quite disappeared and he now strained every nerve to catch his youthful opponent. With such steadiness did Roberts now play that in spite of a dashing 63 from his opponent, he immediately responded with a break of 62, his best in the match. At 12.50 am the game stood 1,016-899 to Cook, but at this point Roberts turned the game which had run in favour of Cook until this point. He put together breaks of 39, 31 and 41 to take the lead at 1,041-1,037. The excitement at this point knew no bounds, the company being scarcely diminished in numbers and each stroke was loudly applauded, with the betting reduced to 5-4 and evens. Still Cook’s nerve did not fail and while Roberts contributed 7 and played for safety the youngster made 26 and 31 to take a crucial lead 1,132-1,083. Then, starting with a fluke cannon Cook put together an unfinished break of 68, the winning stroke being a losing hazard off the red into the middle pocket.
So it was that at 1.38am and amidst great jubilation from his many supporters, William Cook was proclaimed the billiard champion of England by margin of 117 points. Roberts was bitterly disappointed at his defeat but recovered himself after a little while, receiving much support from his friends who crowded around him to offer their consolations. The Prince of Wales meanwhile, had retired at midnight having expressed the opinion that he would have preferred to see the larger breaks which could be achieved on “ordinary tables”
Cook was awarded with the new championship trophy which had been purchased at the cost of £120. Half a dozen gold enamelled Maltese crosses, at a cost of £5 each were also manufactured, one of which will be given to every holder of the Championship.
Roberts’ son, who also attended the match, had these comments about his fathers defeat “In vain his friends put before him the value of retiring with an unbeaten record. He knew as well as anyone what Cook’s abilities were and could not disguise from himself that it was by no means an easy task. The offer made by Lord Dudley, while the match was in progress, to give my father £1,000 in the event of him winning, rather upset his play for a time and I have little doubt that it defeated its own object by making him too anxious to win. If my father had won this match he would probably have retired. If he had not done so he would only have been putting off the evil day as he must have been defeated within a very short time. After the match he had the intention of trying to regain his title, but his play got worse and with Cook and myself improving daily, he soon saw it would be useless to make the attempt. Had he taken the advice of his friends and retired without playing Cook, he would now, doubtless, be quoted by competent authorities as the greatest billiard player of any time.”
The loss of the Championship marked the effective end of John Roberts career. Although he still played in public for several years and recorded the occasional success, he eventually faded from the scene as he was overtaken by the new wave of younger players.
The Professional Championship (April 1870)
Cook was immediately challenged by Roberts Jnr to a match for the Championship with a friend in the North of England promising to put up the required £100 stake. After an initial scare that his backer would not be able to come up with the money, the match was eventually arranged for 14th April 1870, again at the St. James’ Hall. It was played under the same conditions as the first championship except that the match was reduced to 1,000 up in an attempt to avoid another late finish.
The game was in its early stages when an unusual incident occurred. Roberts was into a break of 22 with the scores standing at 123-122 in his favour when he played for a cannon by gentle strength off the top cushion. Cook thinking that his opponent had not scored walked up to the table. Roberts claimed a cannon and Cook appealed to the referee who asked the marker, who had also been unsighted. As Roberts was standing in front of the referee during the shot it was impossible for him to decide without an appeal to the spectators sitting at the spot end. To this end Cook, urged by some of his supporters, refused to agree, arguing that the game should be restarted or the whole audience questioned on the point. Roberts, who declared that he had scored, refused to do this and the referee proposed a toss of a coin to resolve the matter. The players agreed and Cook winning, followed on with the balls in the position which they were left. Evidently with the intention of gaining nothing from this advantage, he played the balls for safety, which was greatly appreciated by the audience who gave him tremendous applause. The Sportsman Newspaper subsequently took a poll of several impartial witnesses, sitting in the best position for seeing the stroke and they unanimously declared that Roberts had made the cannon.
With the game standing at 714-299 to Roberts, Cook improved his position with a break of 22 but according to the Sportsman Newspaper he “continued to be unfortunate. Either the white found a pocket or one of the balls remained in baulk.” Roberts seeing how things were going took a bet of £100 to £10 from a spectator that he would win by 500 points. But Cook soon after this ran up a break of 53 and Roberts lost his wager. However, Cook manage to score just 522 before Roberts reached game. Exclusive of the interval and the time occupied by the dispute, the match lasted just 3 hours and four minutes. Speaking of Cook the Sportsman said “At the outset he looked haggard as if travelling and too much play had done him no good. When the pinch came and his physical powers were called on, he gave way altogether and only made 100 while Roberts was making 250.”
The Professional Championship (May 1870)
Immediately after his victory, Roberts was challenged by Alfred Bowles and the match took place on 30th May 1870. There was always some doubt as to the ability of Bowles who was generally considered to be 300 in 1,000 inferior to the elder Roberts. The strength of his game was in cannon play and it was probably the small size of the pockets on the championship table which lead him to think he had a chance of winning the match. St. James’s Hall was again the venue, but this time the smaller of the two halls was used. The lack of public interest reflecting anticipation of an easy victory for Roberts. At the outset the betting was 10-1 on the Champion and before the score had reach 300 one spectator unable to secure a bet, offered 20-1 against Bowles, which was immediately taken by Roberts! The match was a pedestrian affair with Roberts taking an early lead and never loosing it. Although the cannon play of Bowles drew much applause, his hazard play was poor and although he improved somewhat after the interval, Roberts seems to loose interest in the contest and in winning by a comfortable margin of 246 points, he did not produce anywhere near his best form. This was reflected in the time taken to complete the match which lasted 4 hours 45 minutes. The best breaks were 57 for Roberts and 47 for Bowles. After this match Bowles seemed to accept that he could not win the championship, for he never challenged again.
The Professional Championship (November 1870)
Roberts was challenged for the title again in 1870. This time by Joseph Bennett and the match was played at St. James’s Hall on 28th November 1870. Prior to his championship challenge, Joseph Bennett had played in a series of matches at the Palais Royal and the standard of play he exhibited gave his backers increased confidence and moreover he showed greater facility at spot stroke striking than he had ever previously shown.
The match was played on a table built for the occasion by Cox & Yemen of Brompton Road which as described as “a beautiful specimen of their handicraft” William Cook officiated as referee and the marker was C. Stanton.
There appeared to be almost as much interest in this match as the first championship between Roberts snr; and William Cook. During the progress of play there was much excitement and an immense amount of money was wagered at all sorts of prices. For some time prior to the match Roberts had been favourite at odds of 5-4, but fine form displayed by Bennett, who had been playing with Cook the previous week on a championship tables at his own rooms, caused him to have many supporters.
Although play was scheduled for a 7.30 pm start, the crowded state of the hall delayed the start until just before 8.00 pm. Play progressed slowly but at the interval Bennett had gradually forged ahead and offers of 7-4 against Roberts found few takers. With the scores standing 718-553 to Bennett, the balls which had broken badly for Roberts throughout the evening, now lay more favourably, and pulling himself together he gradually reduced the gap with his opponent. The supporters of the champion were now in ecstasies and so well set did Roberts appear, that it seemed he would snatch the match out of the fire. But Bennett played coolly and with small breaks reached his ninth hundred 136 points ahead of Roberts. With neither player making any significant contributions from this point, Bennett held his lead eventually winning by 95 points. Major Broadfoot observed that “Bennett with repeated safety misses and double baulks, fairly wore down his opponent.”
After the match Roberts considered that Bennett’s victory was very much in the nature of a fluke and was more due to him having become careless in his play which had deteriorated due to keeping late hours and not taking care of himself generally, than due to the excellence of Bennett’s game. He said that “the strength of Bennett’s game lay in his losing hazard play and though he played what may be described as a splendid mathematical game, he ought not to be classed with those players who have the resource to make a game for themselves when they get into difficulty.” Bennett always regard this win as his greatest achievement and in later life he took out a standing advertisement in the “Sportsman” newspaper which proclaimed him as “The only man living who beat John Roberts for the Championship”
So it was that after 50 years without a match for the championship, 1870 saw four such contests which produced three different champions.
The Professional Championship (January 1871)
Roberts lost no time in challenging Bennett for the championship and the match was once more held at St. James’s Hall on 30th January 1871. Roberts was supremely confident that he would reverse the result of the previous match and this was reflected by the pre-match betting which had him a 6-4 favourite.
The table on this occasion was provided by Burroughes & Watts. Bells Life says “It is one of the most elegant tables we ever saw, treated in decorative gothic manufacture of handsome walnut wood, suitably relieved by ornaments and friezes of light oak, elaborately carved forming a very pleasant combination. The bases of the legs are of walnut, surmounted with richly cut walnut columns and oak niches in which are carved lions supporting shields. The panels are alike varied and full of detail. One of Burroughes & Watts improved illuminated marking boards was used on this occasion. The marker was Mr. C. Stanton.
Bells Life reports the match “The room was very full but not so uncomfortably crowded as on their previous meeting. A great deal of speculation took place on the event, Bennett having many supporters at even money. Notwithstanding that, Roberts had been playing with Cook in Manchester on one of Messrs Orme’s championship tables and had made break of 91 which was the largest break hitherto attained with the small pockets. Bennett who has been unwell for some time, was not up to his usual play, the dash and exquisite manipulation of Roberts almost put him in the shade.”
It was realised shortly after the start that no referee had been appointed and a foul stroke claimed by Roberts was waived in his opponents favour under the circumstances. A well known amateur player was appointed to the office and no further incident occurred to mar the progress of play.
At one point in the match Bennett had his cue knocked out of his hand by a passing waiter just as he was about to make a stroke. Some of Bennett’s backers subsequently asserted that this was done intentionally although it was more probably the result of carelessness.
During to progress of the game Bennett complained that he was playing with a lighter ball than that used by Roberts and it is to be regretted that it was not discovered before the game commenced. Ivory is such a difficult material to deal with that it is almost impossible to avoid such problems. When the balls came to be weighed during the interval, Bennett’s conjecture was found to be correct, there being a discrepancy of 240th part of an ounce. This however, was not considered sufficient to cause a change of balls and the game continued with the original set.
With Bennett trailing 262-173 Bell’s Life report “Roberts whose luck had deserted him for some little time the placed 55 to his account followed by 24 and 26 and presently 33, reaching 401 while Bennett had only gone as far as 199, and offers of £50 to £10 found very few takers.” The game progressed with Roberts gradually drawing further away from Bennett, eventually completing the win 1,000-637 in the relatively fast time of three hours twenty two minutes.
The Professional Championship (May 1871)
It was largely because of the recent poor results by Roberts that Cook started clear favourite when the two met for the championship on 25th May 1871. The venue was again St. James Hall and the match was 1,000 up. The Referee was John Bennett and the marker Mr. T. Hubble.
At the interval Cook was 150 points ahead, but Roberts passed him in the 620’s and the scores remained close thereafter. As with their earlier championship match, there was once again a dispute over a cannon made by Roberts. The referee being unable to decide put the matter to a show of hands from the audience, which resolved the matter in Roberts favour. With the game called at 925-921 to Cook, Roberts took the advantage by establishing a lead of 985-965. At this point he was faced with what seemed to be an easy screw cannon which would leave the balls together and winning a virtual certainty, but he missed the shot and left the balls in perfect position for Cook. This was considered all the more incredible because this type of shot was seen as one of Roberts’ greatest strengths. Amidst scenes of great excitement and encouragement from the capacity audience, Cook proved equal to the occasion and scored the necessary 36 points to land the championship by only 15 points.
The period between 1871-1875 was undoubtedly the zenith of Cook’s career, when he could defeat all comers on any type of table. The strongest part of his game was undoubtedly his delicacy of touch. He was not attracted by the forcing hazards played at “railroad speed” so appreciated by audiences. More than any other player at that time, he seemed to realise the rewards of gently nursing the balls and bringing them together, which he could achieve time after time, with perfect strength.
The Professional Championship (November 1871)
Cook next defended the championship against Joseph Bennett at the St. James’ Hall, Regent Street, on 21st November 1871. It was on the same day that Cook’s wife gave birth to their first son. Attendance was greater than at any championship match apart from the first, when Cook had played Roberts Sen. Large placards had been posted around the building announcing that no betting was to take place. Consequently the traditional shouting of bets across the room was absent. In a slow match, the scores remained close
for much of the game, but towards the end Cook forged what seemed to be a conclusive lead of 919-839.
Bennett, whose game had been deteriorating to this point, then rallied and amongst much excitement made a break of 93, which was the highest seen in the Championship to that date. However, Cook replied with a 40 to retake the lead and with an unfinished break of 38, took the championship be a margin of 58 points.
The Professional Championship (March 1872)
On 4th March 1872, Cook played Roberts once more for the Championship. The match again took place at St. James’ Hall, Regent Street and drew a particularly large attendance. John Bennett was the referee and the marker Mr. W. Hunt of Southsea.
Roberts recalls he was “dead out of form on that occasion, while Cook was in very good trim.” Roberts best break was 47, but Cook made the first ever Championship century with a break of 116. When this break stood at 84 Cook brought the balls together near the left hand top pocket and played a sequence of twelve nursery cannons, finishing with an eight shot and a double baulk. When the interval was called at 9.35pm, Cook was leading 501-385. Cook maintained his lead to the end, winning by 201 points. The effect of the championship table on the use of the spot stroke may be gauged by the fact that Cook in winning this match made only one spot hazard!
The Professional Championship (February 1874)
On 24th February 1874 Cook again played Roberts for the Championship, at St. James’ Hall, the pair having been regular adversaries in exhibition matches since the time of the previous contest. The referee was Mr. T. Cook who spotted the balls in addition to officiating and the marker was Mr. D. Ingarfield. At the very start of proceedings Cook made a break of 121, commencing with a difficult cannon and breaking down with an attempted screw back into baulk for another cannon. He gained spot position twice during the break, but only attempted to hold the position for two or three shots on each occasion. This break set a new record on a championship table. Amidst great applause Cook then went further ahead with breaks of 82 and 40, the scores being called at 244-18 in favour of Cook. Although Roberts responded with some fine play which was loudly applauded by his supporters, by the interval Cook held a 537-397 lead. Cook had the best of the running after the interval and completed his victory by 216 points, just before 11.00pm.
The Professional Championship (May 1875)
The next challenge to Cook’s championship occurred on 24th May 1875 and was again made by Roberts. On this occasion the match was played at the Criterion and was as usual 1,000 up, the referee being Harry Evans and the marker D. Ingarfield. Obviously impressed with the arrangements, one journalist reported that the seats for spectators were covered with cushions “for the first time in recollection”.
Roberts started the match well, taking an early lead and at the interval the score stood at 518-375 in his favour. At this point bets were laid of 7-4 on Roberts, although the takers would soon experience some worrying moments. After the interval Cook opened up with a 52, but Roberts immediately responded with 42. Cook’s cannon play then came to prominence and with several beaks in the 30’s and 40’s he took the lead for the first time. There was tremendous cheering from Cook’s supporters when the score was announced at 582-596. However, Cook was having difficulty in containing Roberts who was performing some excellent hazard play and was trailing 844-811 when breaks of 30, 39 and 40 took Roberts well clear. Cook was unable to close the gap on this arch-rival, losing the match by a margin of 163 points. Up to this point Cook was widely regarded by public opinion to be a far better player than Roberts on both “championship” and “ordinary” tables, being the holder of the highest breaks on both types of table. However, this loss to Roberts marked the turning point in both their careers as Roberts would confirm his supremacy and forge clear of his closest rival and all other players.
The Professional Championship (December 1875)
This period had seen a general a decline in public interest for exhibition matches. However, this was not evident when Roberts played Cook once more for the championship on 20th December 1875. The room at St. James’ Hall was packed throughout the match although the presence of the Prince of Wales would certainly have helped box office sales.
There was much complaint from the press due to the absence of reserved seating and the poor lighting. The reporter from Bells Life commented on the conditions of the match by apologising that he was unable to give a description of the “beautiful strokes made by each player, but the room was so dark, the only lights being over the table, that we were not able to write a line, more especially in the ‘black seats’ usually afforded to the press on these occasions.” Many reporters did not manage to gain access to the match at all and with those that did unable to take detailed notes, many newspapers failed to give any account of the match.
The game itself was very closely fought with the lead changing hands regularly. Cook was in front 505-478 at the interval but Roberts with a fine break of 51 eventually took the score to 936-817 in his favour and appeared secure. Cook however was not finished and with the aid of a 38 break pulled up to 961-865, But this was to be his last score as Roberts finished the game at his next visit, winning by 135 points at 11.20pm. Roberts best break was 85 and Cook’s 54 .
The following year Cook wanted to play again for the championship, but as Roberts was intending to leave on a tour of Australia on 6th April 1876, he declined the challenge. Roberts having failed to meet the original condition that the winner must respond a challenge within two months, Cook assumed the title of champion.
The Professional Championship (May 1877)
Prior to his return Roberts had issued a challenge to Cook who had assumed the championship in his absence. Roberts arrived back in England on 6th April 1877 having made about £7,000 from his Australian trip. Although Roberts had beaten Cook in the last two championships, Cook was well fancied, having recently made a break of 156, the highest ever seen on a championship table, during a match for £400 against Billy Moss (Manchester).
The match was played on 28th May 1877 at the Gaiety Restaurant. The room was generally considered too small to meet the needs of the occasion and the heat was so intense that it was uncomfortable for spectators and players alike. Due to Roberts refusal to allow the usual facilities to the press, the match did not receive the coverage which it may normally have expected.
In the match, Roberts took an immediate lead, with the best of the running and some observers remaking that Cook was not looking himself. However, Cook put together a fine 59 break, including a series of nursery cannons and several brilliant hazards, and when the score was announced at “204 all” it was greeted with a loud cheer. When Roberts was leading 515-496 Cook proposed an interval due to the oppressive heat. Roberts whose turn it was to play, did not agree and went on to make a break of 35. When Cook took the table and was also into a small break Roberts himself suggested an hour’s rest. Cook consented without finishing his break and went into the interval at 10.20pm with the score standing at 621-501 to Roberts. Some thought this gamesmanship on the part of Roberts for after the interval Cook never had a look-in as Roberts extended his lead with a break of 118 which was the highest ever made in the championship and this put the game beyond Cook’s reach. Roberts won the match by 221 point at 11.55pm. Bell’s Life reported “the popularity of Cook is so great that if good wishes could have ensured success, the result of the contest would have been different. Cook played nervously and though at time played brilliantly, he seemed to be labouring under the knowledge that he had more than met his match.”
Towards the end of 1877 Roberts left for an extended tour of India and Australia. With the tacit approval of Roberts, Cook claimed the championship by issuing a challenge on 2nd May 1878 and receiving no response within the statutory two months, the title and the cup was passed to him. However, in August of that year Cook left to join Roberts on his tour, and resigned the title, returning the cup to the Billiard table manufacturers who had donated it. The title was held in abeyance until another match could be arranged.
Cook returned to England on 26th January 1880 from Australia, having travelled there from India and separating from Roberts. The tour had not proved to be a financial success as he was unable to find any Australian opponent capable of giving him a worthy match even when conceding 600 in 1,000. As a result, most of his exhibitions were against Yorkshireman Louis Kilkenny who had also been on tour in that country.
John Roberts returned to England in May 1880 and Joseph Bennett immediately issued a challenge to play for the Championship. However, Roberts withdrew his claim to the title in favour of Cook and arrangements were made for a match between these two later in the year.
The Professional Championship (November 1880)
The match for the Championship between Cook and Joseph Bennett was arranged for St. James’ Hall on 8th November 1880. The stakes were £200 and the match, as usual, 1,000 up. It was to be one of the most exciting and closest championships ever seen.
Bennett took an early lead and aided by an opening fluke added a break of 77 to establish a lead of 242-127. At this point there was some dispute over the balls which were changed, but Bennett continued to increase his lead, aided by some general good fortune. At the interval the match stood 508-386 in Bennett’s favour. Bennett maintained his lead to 795-698 the luck remaining with Bennett and against Cook. At this point however, Cook made an excellent break of 107 which took him in front for the first time and with the scores standing at 938-864 to Cook, the betting was odds on for Cook and the match seemed to all present to be effectively over. Bennett however, not to be deterred, continued the match with impressive calmness and resolution. He first made 15 leaving the balls so safe that Cook was forced to play a miss. Then, aided by a fluke, made 37 followed by several small breaks which took the score to 993-941 in his favour. Cook appeared to have a chance but when he had made just 6, the balls were left touching and had to be spotted. This was too much for Cook who added only a few more before Bennett made the points he needed, so regaining the title he held for a mere 2 months some 10 years earlier. The match was completed in 4 hrs 8 minutes, which was almost exactly the same time as Cook and Billy Mitchell had taken to play 2,000 up on an Ordinary table the previous month.
The day after his championship match, Cook played an exhibition 1,000 up against Roberts on the same table at St. James’ Hall. In the course of the game he made a break of 165 which at that time was the highest ever recorded on a championship table. Shortly after this Cook and Roberts left on a tour of India billing themselves as “Ex-Champions”.
The Professional Championship (January 1881)
On 12th January 1881 at St. James Hall a Championship contested was begun between Bennett and Tom Taylor. The match did not command much public attention, for although Taylor was recognised as a capable player he was not regarded in the same class as Bennett who had regularly been conceding 50 points in 500 to the same player in handicap tournaments for several years.
The match was played on a Burroughes & Watts table and started 20 minutes after the advertised time of 7.00pm. Bennett began by displaying the same good fortune that had assisted him to take the championship from Cook. In trying for a cannon he put his opponents ball down and after potting the red gave a miss in baulk, shortly afterwards fluking a white loser. But Bennett did not capitalise on his fortune and the scores remained level to the first 100. However, a break of 125 by Bennett, a new record for the championship, opened a gap of 375-129. At this point the balls were changed at the request of Taylor and the improvement was immediate with his next two scores being 79 and 40. Taylor continued to improve and took the lead at the interval, which was taken at 10.00pm. Play resumed after only 20 minutes in an attempt to compensate for the slowness of the play and the players remained level for some time until Taylor, starting with a lucky 5 shot, rattled up a 53 break followed by a 23, 37 and 16, and looked like going away from Bennett with the scores standing at 678-554 in his favour. The play continued in a very cautious manner and some of the spectators were evidently getting tired of the constant misses and double baulks. At length an opening came for Bennett who drew within 77 of his opponent with the score at 703-626. Further breaks of 70 and 45 Bennett took the lead 743-728.
Licensed premises at that time were obliged to close at 12.30am and with this time fast approaching and the careful tactics of both players being unaffected, it soon became apparent that the match would not be finished. Time was called with the scores at 976-882 to Bennett with Taylor in play on 26 with the balls well placed. The referee, J. H. Smith then arranged for the match to continue at 3.00pm and on resumption Taylor only managed to add 2 points to his break. Bennett then tried for a cannon, missed, but fluked his own ball into the centre pocket and scored the remaining 22 points to take the match 1,000-910.
Shorter’s aborted challenge
Fred Shorter then challenged Bennett for the title and the match was arranged to be played on 13th April 1881 at the St. James Hall. Shorter had made a deposit of £10 but failed to make good his final stake money and so at the last minute forfeited the match. However, as expenses had to be met Bennett offered to play Shorter in a non-championship match, offering 100 points start in 1,000 up with the gate money being split between the players (as was normal at that time). The match was played on the same night and venue proposed for the Championship and Shorter actually won by 193 points although the match was exceptionally tedious with neither player showing good form.
Cook reclaims the title
At this time Delabois Richards looked as though he would be the next challenger for Bennett’s title. Richards was displaying sustained good form, typified by a defeat of Billy Mitchell in a level match of 1,000 up on a championship table during May 1881. Unfortunately, before arrangements for a championship encounter could be concluded, Bennett suffered a severe carriage accident causing him to be disabled for a considerable time. Bennett was very fond of riding and driving, in both of which he was an adept, although that did not prevent his being thrown out of a trap. He broke his arm in two places and never really got sound again. Indeed, he always believed that this led up to the paralysis, which eventually caused his death many years later. Upon his return to England in September 1881, Cook challenged Bennett for the Championship, but Bennett felt that he was insufficiently recovered from his accident and the title passed by default to Cook.
John Roberts asserts his superiority – Cook remains Champion
January 1882 saw a significant turning point when John Roberts, for the first time, conceded Cook points in a match of 5,000 up at the Palais Royal. Allowing his opponent 500 start he won easily by 1,658 points for the significant sum of £1,000. This match clearly established Roberts as the leading “all-in” player of the time although some speculation remained that Cook could still mount an effective challenge at the “spot barred” game, or on a championship table. Roberts thereafter called himself “Champion of the World” and although Cook then challenged Roberts to play for the Championship shortly after this defeat, Roberts wrote to the Sportsman newspaper stating that he had no intention of ever again playing for the cup.
The Formation of the Billiard Association
Sunday 1st February 1885: Following the publishing of a critique on the existing rules by Alf Burnett, a journalist for The Sportsman, he and Peter Jennings contacted the professional players to see if they could be brought together with a view to revising the current rules. On 1st February 1885 a meeting was called at the offices of the Sportsman newspaper to discuss the formalising of a common set of rules for the game. It was attended by most of the leading players and trade representatives with Mr. A. H. Collis-Orme chairing the meeting. Here it was proposed by the Chairman that an Association be formed.
At this stage there was still no though of forming an Association and it was only after a suggestion by Mr. Collis-Orme that this was agreed. Hardly underestimating their own importance the full title given to the association was “The Billiard Association of Great Britain and Ireland, India and the Colonies”.
A group of players were charged with producing a set of rules which would become the standard for the game. The players involved were John Roberts Jnr (Chairman) John Roberts Sen; William Cook; Joseph Bennett; Fred Bennett; W. J. Peall; Billy Mitchell; John North; Tom Taylor; Joe Sala and George Collins. The Billiard Association, as it was known, met week by week in a room set aside for them by Messrs. Bertram & Roberts in the dining gallery at the Royal Aquarium. The task was eventually completed on 21st September 1885 and the new rules were published shortly afterwards
Sydenham Dixon, then on the staff of The Sportsman newspaper, which was the prime mover behind the formation of the Billiard Association. His proprietors backed him, his many friends helped and in this the first example of billiards government was set in motion. From the first however, this thinly disguised “newspaper control” was opposed in quarters that mattered.
The predominant influence still maintained over the new association by the Newspaper would soon result in an irrevocable split with John Roberts, who would refuse to recognise the authority of the Association for the rest of his life. However, in its earliest days, Roberts comforted by his prominent position in re-drafting the rules now decided to play for the Championship again. He issued a challenge to Cook who had been allowed to hold the title for over three years. As Cook failed to respond within the stipulated time the title and trophy was passed to Roberts in February 1885.
The Billiard Association Championship (April 1885)
Apparently regretting letting the trophy slip so easily from his grasp, Cook immediately issued his own challenge. This was immediately accepted and a match was arranged for the end of March 1885.
The format of the championship had been changed under the new Billiard Association rules to 3,000 up played over three days and the venue was set at the Argyll Billiard Hall, (previously known as the Palais Royal) Argyll Street, London from 30th March-1st April 1885.
Roberts had been suffering from an attack of Malaria which had prevented him from touching a cue for a week prior to the match and he was reduced to hobbling around the table during the match itself. Indeed, at one point it seemed as though him might forfeit rather than appear in such discomfort.
Roberts’ lack of practice was particularly evident, but Cook played no better. Both men continually failed at the simplest of shots, and the spectators must have wondered that they were not watching an amateur game. Cook was the first to make a significant break with an effort of 84, breaking down at a difficult red winner. This seemed to inspire Roberts who replied immediately with a 67 break and worked steadily to overhaul Cook finishing the first day 1,000-971. Play on the second day started dreadfully slowly again. But the Roberts started to display some form. A 50 break was marred by his missing a simple losing hazard into the middle, but on his opponent failing to score, he made a break of 129, which was a championship record. Cook’s best on the second day was a 67 break, but at the close he was still right behind Roberts at 2,001-1,929. On the final day Cook moved in front 2,570-2,531 with three breaks over 50, the closeness of the game compensating to some extent for the generally low standard of play and the final day was very well-attended. Roberts however, responded with his second century of the match, a break of 123, and drew steadily ahead, with Cook having little run, until he was at 2,905-2,723. Although Cook made a valiant effort to recover, he was eventually beaten by a margin of 92 points.
The Billiard Association Championship (June 1885)
Immediately following the conclusion of the Championship match with Cook, Bennett, who now felt sufficiently recovered from his accident, challenged Roberts for the championship and the match of 3,000 up was arranged at the Royal Aquarium, Westminster for 1st-4th June 1885.
Bennett, who was still not in the best of health, did not start the match well, and in contrast to his some of his previous championship matches had little luck. Each time he seemed about to make a break the balls ran awkwardly and the first day finished 751-182 to Roberts. The second day started no better for Bennett, with Roberts first visit producing a break of 109, finishing with a double baulk. This was followed by an 83 break and further breaks of 121 and 127 unfinished concluded the second day’s play with Bennett trailing 1,500-422. The third day saw Roberts take his unfinished break to 155, a new championship record. Bennett however played much better and contributed several breaks over 60 including a best of 92. Roberts, however, in fine form himself, finished the session with a break of 147 bringing his lead to 2,259-1,029. With Roberts’ position appearing secure, the final day of the match was not well attended. The pattern of the match was duly followed with Roberts making a best break of 82 while Bennett only managed a 28 break. Roberts retaining the title with absurd ease, recording a final score of 3,000-1,360. Another Championship record set by Roberts in this match was a sequence of sixteen spot strokes.
This was to be the last match played for the Billiard Association Championship until the rules were changed in 1892. As Roberts was not called upon again to make a defence within the mandatory five year period, the trophy became his property in February 1890. This also saw the end of the Championship table, which was not used for matches again, except by special agreement.
By this time Roberts had discarded the “all-in” game, first brought to prominence by his father and played “spot-barred” in all but a few matches after this date becoming the acknowledged master of this type of game, while W. J. Peall, who claimed to be “Champion of Ordinary Billiards”, and Billy Mitchell, became acknowledged masters at the unrestricted “all-in” game.
Unofficial “All-in” Championship (October 1887)
In early October 1887, W. J. Peall and Billy Mitchell played a match at the Royal Aquarium which was billed as the “All-in Championship” although it carried no official recognition as a championship match. However, these two players were unquestionably the greatest exponents on the “spot-stroke”, Peall having set a new World record with a break of 2,413 just a few months previously.
Mitchell appeared to be heading for defeat as he came to the final day of the 15,000 up match almost 2,000 points behind Peall. But with almost consecutive breaks of 349; 297; 265; 141; 288; 644; 801; 349; 912 and 53 unfinished, made an aggregate of 4,427 to win the match by 1,267 points. Mitchell had earlier recorded a break of 1,117 against breaks by Peall of 1,159 and 1,086.
These performances show the stark contrast between the “all-in” matches being played on ordinary tables at this time and the contests on the “Championship” table, which by the nature of the high scoring involved were invariably fought over tens of thousands of points.
Unofficial “All-in” Championship (March 1888)
Mitchell and Peall contested their second unofficial “All-in Championship” at the Royal Aquarium between 12th-17th March 1888. Peall started favourite having recorded a break of 1,314 against Fred White in the week prior to the match.
He found no difficulty repeating the feat against Mitchell winning by no less than 8,247 points, though Mitchell was playing well. His best break was 2,031, containing 633 consecutive spot-strokes, a record then, in its way. He also made breaks of 1,498, 1,203, 1,192, 1,125, 957, 956, 928, and other huge runs.
George Wright & Co – Championship of the World Tournament (January 1889)
With the Billiard Association Championship remaining dormant, Messrs. Geo. Wright and Company, the well known firm of table makers, introduced and promoted a “Championship of the World Tournament,” and presented a Silver Cup, value £100, to be played for in heats of 1,000 up, “all-in,” the cup to become the property of the first winner of three tournaments, and in addition the winner of each tournament to receive a gold medal.
This was commenced at the Royal Aquarium on January 14th, the following players taking part:-W. J. Peall, Hugh McNeil, Tom Taylor, John Dowland, Billy Mitchell, Fred White, George Collins, and Fred Bennett. The tournament eventually resolved itself into a fight between Mitchell and Peall when they met in their particular heat. Mitchell, however, proved to be in extraordinary form, for soon after the start of the game, with his score standing at 13, he secured position for spot play and ran right out with a splendid unfinished break of 987 (319 spots), leaving the scores: Mitchell. 1,000 Peall, 20; and he finally won the first tournament and became “Spot Stroke Champion” on January 28th, 1889.
George Wright & Co – Championship of the World Tournament (February 1890)
The second Championship Tournament was won by W. J. Peall on February 25th, 1890, at the Royal Aquarium, the following players taking part in heats of 1,250 up:-Billy Mitchell, W. J. Peall. John Dowland Fred White, George Collins. Hugh McNeil, Harry Coles, and Fred Bennett. The issue once more was decided in the heat between Peall and Mitchell, the former made breaks of 416 (137 spots) and 531 (176 spots) to win 1,250-121.
George Wright & Co – Championship of the World Tournament (February 1891)
The third and final “Championship of the World” tournament promoted by George Wright & Co Championship was played at the Royal Aquarium on May 30th, 1891, and won once more by W. J. Peall. Four players only competed on this occasion-W. J. Peall, Billy Mitchell, John Dowland, and Charles Dawson-in heats of 2,500, up.
Mitchell and Peall played off, and in the first half of the game Mitchell only scored 78 points. Peall made breaks of 773 (256 spots), 390 (7, 28, and 90 spots), and 655 unfinished (214 spots); Mitchell made a break of 650 (213 spots). Scores: Peall, 2,500; Mitchell, 776.
Billiard Association Billiard Championship (1892)
The Billiard Association, recognised that this situation regarding the “spot-barred” and “all-in” games could not easily be resolved and at their meeting on 28th April 1891 decided to take action. Seeking to reconcile both parties, they decided to stage both a “spot-barred” and “all-in” championship, both for professional and amateur competition. The first of these contests being scheduled for the following season. In addition, the Billiard Association abolished the “championship” table with its 3″ pockets and adopted the dimensions of an ordinary table with pocket openings of 3 5/8″ as the “Standard” for all future championship matches.
But Roberts sabotaged their plans by declining to play in either of these championships and in April 1891 left for a tour of South Africa and Australia. As a result, and despite the best plans of the Billiard Association, the new competitions became meaningless in the view of the general public.
Not to be deterred by the absence of Roberts, the Billiard Association went ahead with their Championship matches. The first to be played was the “All-in” Championship which was officially called the “Billiard Championship” had eight entrants including, W. J. Peall, Billy Mitchell and Charles Dawson. The competition was staged at Orme & Sons Showrooms, Soho Square and was concluded on 9th April 1892.
The Championship cups were given by the proprietors of The Sporting Life, The Sportsman, and two or three of the billiard-table manufacturers. These gentlemen met, and various silversmith’s submitted designs for cups to cost about £100. Messrs. Carrington’s, of Regent Street, offered them a cup which was not a new one. It appears that it was originally given as a £250 prize for something connected with stag-hunting, and the jewellers had bought it back. It was such a bargain that it was purchased at once and allocated for the Billiards Championship For both championships, cups would become the property of the player winning three times in succession, or six times in all, or holding the title for three consecutive years.
A condition of the championship was that a new cloth should be fitted each day, as it was considered that tracks worn in the nap from repeated potting from the spot, made the stroke easier. The heats were 5,000 up with Peall drawn to play Charles Dawson in the first round with Mitchell receiving a bye. In the event Peall disposed of both Dawson and Mitchell with ease, the scores being 5,000-1,699 against Dawson and 5,000-1,755 against Mitchell. In this latter match Peall made a break of 2,099 unfinished. Peall’s supremacy with the spot stroke remained unchallenged over the next three years and the championship trophy became his property.
Billiard Association Spot-barred Championship (1892)
The “Spot-barred” championship attracted five entrants and was played at Thurston’s Showrooms in the Strand on 25th April 1892. Heats were 4,000 up. The entrants, each staking £100, were Billy Mitchell, W. J. Peall, John North, William Cook and Harry Coles.
Peall was defeated by 140 points in the first round by Harry Coles, who turned in one of the best performances of his career. Billy Mitchell defeated William Cook and John North received a bye. North then defeated Coles and met Mitchell in the deciding tie. Mitchell won by the comfortable margin of 3,000-2,697 to take the title of “Spot-barred” Champion. [19 p.97/145][1 p.136][06b p.7]
Billiard Association Spot-barred Championship (1893)
On 25th February 1893, Mitchell was required to defend his Billiard Association “Spot-barred” championship against John North at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly. Mitchell managed to retain his title very easily with breaks of 236; 231 and 212. North’s best break was 190 and the final score 9,000-6,525 to Mitchell.
Billiard Association Spot-barred Championship (1894)
Mitchell was challenged for his Billiard Association “Spot-barred” Championship title by Charles Dawson and the match took place at the National Sporting Club, Covent Garden, on 13th January 1894. Mitchell retained his title over a week’s play with the final score being 9,000-8,163. Mitchell made twenty seven breaks over 100, with the highest being 306, and Dawson had nineteen century plus breaks with a best of 257. Mitchell not only took the stake of £100, but also took possession of the trophy having won it three times in a row.
Mitchell’s Championship cup was later pawned to Tommy Mander, who kept the Green Dragon in Fleet Street, and years afterwards it became a challenge trophy for the Press Billiard Handicap and the last winner was Mr. J. H. Warland of The Sportsman. It was left in charge of the firm who gave the use of the hall the competition was played in. They got into difficulties and the Official Receiver came in and captured the cup, which has not been heard of since.
The Billiard Association Championship : 1899
In new rules which came into operation on 1st October 1898 the Billiards Association finally accepted overwhelming public opinion and barred the push stroke. The rules now stipulated that “If the striker push his ball, or strike it more than once, he cannot score, such stroke to be a foul”. The Spot Stroke was also effectively banned by the adoption of a rule which stated “After being pocketed from the billiard spot twice in consecutive strokes by the same player, and not in conjunction with any other score, it shall be placed on the centre spot”. The rule was something of a compromise over the most used “spot-barred” condition previously applied on a voluntary basis. This allowed only one pot with the red returned to its spot and the stipulation that a different scoring stroke be made before another pot red.
The player most adversely affected by the new rules was W. J. Peall. His invincibility with the spot stroke vanished overnight when the Billiards Association introduced their “spot barred” rule. But Peall never complained, having previously recognised the damage caused to spectator interest and typically putting the best interests of the game ahead of his own. In fact Peal supported the change and voted for the new rule.
Soon after issuing the revised rules, the Billiard association announced an open championship. The terms of the competition were that the game by 9,000 up, played on a “Standard” table, each competitor to stake £20. The winner would receive three quarters of the stakes, a gold medal from the Association and £100 per annum so long as he held the championship. The runner-up would take one quarter of the stakes and the gate money (after deducting expenses) would be shared equally between the finalists.
In the first contest Billy Mitchell, John North and Charles Dawson were the only entrants, but Mitchell later withdrew leaving North and Dawson to fight for the title. The match took place at the Gaiety Restaurant, Strand from 9th-14th January 1899 and Dawson proved an easy winner by 4,285 points.
Walter Albert Lindrum: His Life and Times
The Golden Age of Billiards
“Lindrum to billiards is what a Shakespeare is to literature – one of those rare beings, gifted with supreme genius who only appear once in the history of a nation. I think the Lindrum period will go down to history as the golden age of the game.” – John C Bissett (Chairman, BA&CC) 1933.
In the beginning
Walter Lindrum was born to a family of billiards champions at Kalgoorlie on 29th August 1898. On the night of his birth his father, Fred, won a billiards money match and at a double celebration later it was suggested that the newest Lindrum, the first to be born in Western Australia, should carry the initials “WA”. The infant was duly christened Walter Albert and it was in the billiard saloons of the local pubs that he grew up.
Professional at thirteen
As a boy he played billiards wherever his itinerant family roamed. Walter’s father was a very hard task-master, insisting that Walter practised up to 12 hours a day. He converted the boy from a natural right-hander into a left handed player after an accident when 3 years old, in which he had lost the top joint of his index finger on his right hand. Walter’s role model was his elder brother Fred, who became professional Champion of Australia in 1909. Following closely in his brother’s footsteps, Walter’s first professional game came two years later when he was 13 years of age.
The red ball game
The accepted scoring technique at this time was red-ball play with the centre pocket in-off suiting the consistent throw of the composition balls used in Australia and New Zealand. Exponents like Fred Lindrum and more particularly the youthful prodigy George Gray, astonished the billiards world by the size of the breaks which were being made. The inconsistent roll and throw of the ivory balls used in the England made the red ball game an unprofitable technique, as both these great Australian exponents discovered when they visited England. At this early age Walter had a natural dislike for the red ball game and made many fine breaks by concentrating on all-round play.
At the outbreak of the Great War, the Lindrum family were at the London Tavern, Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, where father Fred ran three billiard tables on a first floor room which had its own entrance. Here, Walter would practise from 9 or 9.30 a.m. until 11.30 a.m. when he would help his father prepare for the mid-day rush. One of Lindrum’s contemporaries, Vincent J. Giuliano recalls – “From marking Walter’s private practice, I was the only person outside the immediate Lindrum family, Fred, senior and junior, Walter’s mother and sister Violet, who knew that late in 1914, in practice Walter was frequently making breaks of 1,000 and over. He would compile these from top of the table play (postman’s knock) and strings of nursery cannons.”
With all eyes focused on the red-ball play of Fred Lindrum and George Gray, Walter gradually succumbed to the lure of the consecutive red losers. He quietly continued to practise with this style and his improvement was rapid. At the age of seventeen, playing against the young New Zealand Champion, Clark McConachy in Sydney, Lindrum made breaks of 785 (twice), 766 and 704, returning an average of 78.0 for the two week match.
The professional circuit in Australia was relatively small at this time, and it was inevitable that the Lindrum brothers would be matched against each other. In 1921, Walter began to record some notable victories over Fred to the extent that opinion became split as to who was the better of the two players, but Walter would never play his brother for the Championship of Australia, even when he had established himself as much the better player.
By 1921 his highest recorded break was 802 and of his nursery cannons it was written “Close cannons in the centre of the table come as easy to him as cushion cannons do to the greatest English exponents. He just chases them along with gossamer touch, and has scored at the great pace of 100 in 3½ minutes by this method.”.
Lindrum defeats Stevenson
The highlight of the Australian season was undoubtedly the regular visits from English professional players, who would discard the use of their favourite ivories and meet the Australian professionals using the composition ball. During the summer of 1922, Walter, now 23 years old, had his first chance to show his worth against ex-professional champion Harry Stevenson. Although past his prime, Stevenson had been one of the great champions and was still highly regarded in the game. In a two week match of 16,000 up, Lindrum defeated Stevenson by a massive 9,455 point margin in Sydney averaging 77.3. This included an Australian record break of 1,417 spread over three sessions, and which, with the exception of two cannons, was made entirely from ball play.
However by this time, the paying public had turned against the red ball game. During the first four days of the match people were turned away and the hall was so crowded that the players could hardly get around the table. By the end of the first week there were only a handful of spectators and they were heard to grumble at the amount of red ball play. Many of Lindrum’s own supporters felt that he would have achieved the same result with his top of the table play and were disappointed that he resorted to the red ball which had been seen ad- nauseum in Australia over the previous twelve years. Stevenson subsequently cancelled three further games which had been arranged with Walter Lindrum stating that he would only play him “at billiards played with three balls”.
Of course the Australian public had no doubt that Walter was at this time the best player in the world – at least, with the composition ball. However, the recognised champion was Willie Smith who remained firmly in England and although offers were made and challenges issued, all attempts to bring the two together ended in failure.
By 1923, Walter Lindrum’s dominance of the game in Australia meant that few players were willing to meet him and consequently big matches were few and far between. On the fourth day of a match against veteran professional Albert Williams in Sydney, Walter was due to attend a birthday party and rattled off his session points of 666 in just 45 minutes. Williams added himself to this list of disgruntled opponents when, after the match, he was quoted as saying “No more Walter Lindrum for me, thank you”.
Records tumble against Falkiner
In 1924, Lindrum set a new record against visiting English professional Claude Falkiner, by completing an average of 108 for a two week match of 16,000 up. With both players making breaks over the thousand mark, (Lindrum made 1,219 and Falkiner 1,001) this also constituted a new record. During their time together, Falkiner tried to persuade the young Australian to return the England with him, but was unsuccessful. Falkiner’s skill with the nursery cannon was much admired in the English game and some years later, Walter conceded that he had been given many useful tips on this aspect of the game by Falkiner.
Falkiner returned to Australia the following summer and was matched against Walter in Perth. At his second visit to the table, Lindrum, with a series of nursery cannons and top of the table, ran to 292 before losing the white ball. Undaunted, he created a new Australian record by carrying the break to 1,879 from the red ball.
With the emphasis on providing attractive matches in order to earn a living, the Australian professional scene was becoming stagnant, as an extract from a periodical of the time indicates : “Practically the only two players in the [Australian] game are the Lindrum brothers, who give an exhibition now and then to tired spectators, owing to the pair being unequally matched. Walter appears to improve at each visit to the billiard table “.
Smith refuses Lindrum’s challenge
With opponents becoming difficult to find, Walter turned to the New Zealand Champion, Clark McConachy and in an endeavour to revive interest in professional billiards, arranged a series of exhibition matches. Walter additionally made another challenge to Willie Smith “to play for the world’s championship of English billiards for £1,000 a side” offering Smith £200 as expenses to travel to Australia. Smith refused, commenting that “(1) Lindrum says nothing about coming to England ; (2) £200 is £70 less than actual travelling expenses ; and (3) nothing is said about share of the “gate.” Smith’s counter- proposal was for a £1,000 a side match in both countries, “gate” to be equally divided, or alternatively, 60% to the winner. Typical of all previous exchanges, nothing was resolved.
The frustration felt by many of his supporters is summarised by this comment made about Lindrum in 1927 : “How this young man has wasted his opportunity. That he has all the real skill of the great player there is little doubt. But that great skill lacks the ambition which every young Australian should have, to reach the top rung of his profession. Having no local opponent worthy of his cue, he has been filling in his time issuing challenges and counter challenges to Willie Smith, which, like the snows of winter, melt to vapour when the spotlight is directed on them.”
Meanwhile, Lindrum continued his exhibition matches against McConachy, now frequently making four-figure breaks. In June 1927 he claimed a “world’s speed record” when at Melbourne, in an unfinished break, he scored 816 in twenty-three minutes. By this time Lindrum had abandoned red ball play almost totally, and had adopted nursery cannons as his principal scoring technique.
Willie Smith comes to Australia
However, things were about to change, as arrangements to bring Willie Smith to Australia eventually came to fruition. Smith had been under contract to Burroughes & Watts for some years and was now authorised by them to go to Australia and conclude provisional negotiations intended to bring Walter Lindrum back to England for the 1929-30 season. In this objective he was successful, and contracts were exchanged to bring back not only Walter Lindrum, but also the New Zealand Champion, Clark McConachy. Lindrum would probably have been encouraged by the recent decision of the English professionals to discard the use of ivories and adopt the composition ball as a standard for their matches.
Although Smith had not entered the Professional Championship since 1923 he was generally accepted as the best player in England and certainly regarded as the “Champion” by the Australian public. Smith adopted the “all-round” game as practised by amateur players, but to a level never seen before, or since. His refusal to build big breaks by reliance on any of the specialist techniques made him extremely attractive to watch. There was therefore, intense interest in the meeting between him and Walter Lindrum.
Lindrum v Smith
The first historic meeting took place on 1st July 1929 in Melbourne. In a game which was closely contested, it was Smith who made the first thousand break with an effort of 1,058. It was one of the finest all-round breaks ever seen in Australia and at its conclusion the game was held up for several minutes by the enthusiasm of the spectators. But Lindrum gradually drew away from Smith in the match and with his best break of 991 on the final day, eventually secured victory by 24,234-22,147. This was the first time Smith had been defeated in a level game for over two years.
With just one day to rest, the second leg started at the YMCA in Sydney on 15th July 1929. The two week match attracted such attention that every session was packed beyond it official capacity of 750. On the afternoon of the third day Lindrum played out time with a break of 1,434 giving a fine exhibition of nursery cannon play. Smith immediately followed with a break of 1,383 made with his usual all-round style. With breaks of 995 on the penultimate day and 1,028 on the final day Smith clinched the match by the score of 23,446-22,317. At the close Lindrum was in play with an unfinished break of 701 which had taken just 34 minutes.
Smith continuing his tour, showed exceptional form in a two week match in Sydney against Clark McConachy, when he made an Australian record break of 2,030.
Public demand was satisfied when Smith and Lindrum agreed to play a deciding match in Sydney which started on Monday 12th August 1929. The Sun newspaper had donated a trophy for the winner and Lindrum’s girlfriend, Rosie Coates, who had met with a serious motor accident at Melbourne two months previously, had travelled to Sydney to watch the match. Rosie had been Walter’s girlfriend for two years and had been his companion during several of his exhibition matches in New South Wales and Victoria.
As the match started, Smith, playing his very first stroke let drive at a forcing cannon, and half-an-inch of the cue which he had used for 28 years, went up the table after the cue ball, hit the cushion, and was picked up in the third row of the audience. He realised at once that the match was lost. Despite playing well with his spare cue, Lindrum was consistently the stronger player and steadily built up a commanding lead.
However, this ill-fated match would witness even more tragedy before its conclusion. During the week, Rosie Coates was taken ill and admitted to hospital. On the Thursday evening Lindrum visited his girlfriend in hospital. She was concerned that Walter was neglecting the match due to worry over her condition, and she asked Walter to make a 2,000 break specially for her. Lindrum had never before made a break of over 2,000 but the following day, exploiting every stroke known to the game, he occupied the table for 102 minutes in making a break of 2,002. It was the best made by an Australian in Australia, although Smith’s 2,030 remained as the official record. As Lindrum neared the second thousand the excitement was intense, and at 1,998 a long white losing hazard brought out a roar from the gallery; “He’s missed it,” as the white ball lingered on the pocket and then fell in. He was given a rousing reception on the termination of this colossal effort.
With just one day remaining, Lindrum held an unassailable lead of 2,123. But the match was never finished. That evening Lindrum visited Rosie in hospital where he found that her condition had worsened. Lindrum left briefly and returned with an Anglican Minister who performed a marriage ceremony at the bedside. Tragically, just a few hours later, on the morning of 24th August 1929, Rosie, who was just 20 years old, died of heart failure. The game was abandoned with Smith technically being awarded the match on forfeit. But Smith would not accept this and insisted that the trophy be awarded to Lindrum. The match averages at the time it was abandoned were Lindrum 114.6 and Smith 102.7.
Lindrum, was understandably upset at the death of Rosie and confided in his niece Dolly that he was considering abandoning his intended tour of England. However, contracts had been signed and in September 1929 Lindrum, Smith and McConachy left Australia for England on the SS Cathay.
Lindrum arrives in England
On Saturday 12th October 1929 a new epoch in English billiard history was marked by the arrival in London of Walter Lindrum, who was accompanied by Clark McConachy, Willie Smith and Lindrum’s manager and brother-in-law, H. Morrell. After a reception by Burroughes & Watts the Dominion players moved up to Glasgow where they were matched against each other in order to become acclimatised to local conditions before being required to face any of the English “big guns”.
Lindrum’s record season
Lindrum then began a series of games against Willie Smith at various Burroughes & Watts match rooms around the county, and from this point the word “record” seemed to appear in every match report. At Leeds the Australian established a new record by making a four-figure break in each of three consecutive sessions and incidentally made his twelfth break over a thousand in his first three matches.
Playing first at various provincial centres, it was November before Lindrum made his debut in London, where he was again matched against Smith. His eagerly-awaited arrival aroused tremendous enthusiasm, and daily, large crowds besieged the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, to see the brilliant young Australian perform. They were not to be disappointed as during the match Lindrum completed a sensational feat by making a break of 3,262. It greatly exceeded any break he, or another player of the day had previously approached. When he passed Smith’s existing World record of 2,743, his opponent came forward and generously congratulated him. The break was concluded when, during a delicate run of nursery cannons, the ball was deflected by a hair from the table brush. For the match, Lindrum averaged 186 and Smith 147. Although Lindrum relied heavily on nursery cannons during his record break, it should be remembered that the rules actually restricted direct cannons to a maximum of 35, so the break would have to be continued by striking an intervening cushion. In addition to his record break, Lindrum made five others over the thousand mark, and inflicted the third consecutive defeat on the previously invincible Willie Smith.
Speaking of Lindrum’s technique, Willie Smith said – “Lindrum is the super cannon player to an extent which makes the limit of 35 cannons ball-to-ball look ridiculous. The cushion is a fourth ball to Lindrum. He is never in danger of losing position through having to play on to a cushion first. He makes this contact as easy as playing direct on to the ball. With his all-round skill, he can beat us all practically as he likes”.
A Slight Error
Of course sometimes Lindrum may have been given a little help by Markers who were not exactly accustomed to adding up big breaks. An error against McConachy to the extent of a thousand points was discovered in the afternoon session of his match with Lindrum at the Memorial Hall, London, on 11th February 1930. Lindrum called attention to the scoreboard, and the referee made matters right by ordering that another thousand should be credited to McConachy.
1930 Professional Championship
Despite expectations that all the World’s great players would at last compete in the professional championship, politics once more conspired against this ideal. Lindrum, Smith and McConachy were under a one-season contract to Burroughes & Watts and could not play on another makers’ table without their consent. However, the BA&CC had already made a commitment to hold the championship final stages at the match hall of their great rivals, Thurston’s. Burroughes & Watts having paid a substantial sum to bring the Dominion players to England were obviously not happy at the prospect of their rivals obtaining a marketing advantage which would result if Lindrum made one of his record breaking achievements on a Thurston table. This appeared to be the crux of the problem although additionally, Smith had for many years campaigned against the Thurston’s match room because of its limited seating capacity. The BA&CC stood firm behind their arrangements for the venue, and entries from the three players generally regarded as best in the World, were not forthcoming.
The “Big Five”
Of the rivals to Lindrum, McConachy and Smith, Joe Davis (Official Champion) and Tom Newman completed what the press had begun to call “the big five”. It was noticeable that Joe Davis at this time began to play nursery cannons to a much greater extent than ever before, while Newman, who had always been adept at this aspect of the game also utilised the technique at every opportunity. Both Davis an Newman were to get a chance to play Lindrum during his tour – and he defeated them both.
Although Davis lost his contest against Lindrum by some 3,000 points, he set a record for the highest losing score in a two week match with a total of 26,172 points. The combined aggregate of the two players was 55,228 for the 48 hour match, which was also a new record. For the whole match the averages were 147 and 132 respectively.
Lindrum’s other records included the highest break ever made in Scotland (2,140) and the highest aggregate for a one week (24 hr) match when he scored 19,781 against Willie Leigh at Sheffield.
Although Smith had managed to inflict a couple of defeats on Lindrum, he was again on the receiving end when the Australian set another record aggregate of 30,817 during the fortnight [48 hrs] match against him at Manchester. In this match he made 10 breaks over 1,000 with a highest of 2,419. This break was also the hundredth he had compiled of over a thousand during the course of his career.
Another double-thousand came Lindrum’s way in his match against Tom Newman when he made 2,053 in winning comfortably by nearly 5,000 points. Newman, who was by no means playing badly, was sufficiently inspired to make his own personal record break of 1,765.
March 1930 saw Lindrum’s final match of the London season and he was once more opposed by Smith. In a remarkable game, the Australian jumped off at the start, and, displaying more concentration than in any of his preceding games, daily added to his lead, to win ultimately by the colossal margin of 21,285 points. Lindrum’s performance set records galore as he established new figures for: – the highest individual aggregate, (36,256), the largest winning margin, a record match average (262), and a record number of four-figure breaks (11). Although Smith was so decisively beaten, his actual play was of really excellent quality, considering the long periods of enforced idleness he experienced. For the whole match he returned the excellent average of 109 per innings.
Lindrum then went to Ireland, playing two 1 week matches against Newman. In Dublin Newman managed to inflict a surprising defeat by the narrow margin of just 190 points. This was only Lindrum’s fourth defeat of the tour, the others having been at the hands of Smith (2) and McConachy. This concluded Lindrum’s first tour, during which he established yet another record by making a total of 67 breaks in excess of 1,000.
Lindrum left for Australia on 10th April 1930, leaving behind a string of new records, and a promise to return next season and enter the Championship. In fact arrangement were already in hand for himself and McConachy to meet Davis and Newman in a series of matches, which would unfortunately exclude Willie Smith owing to the latter’s continuing contractual obligations to Burroughes & Watts. The tour ended with bitter attacks from Lindrum regarding the financial arrangements which were directed at both Burroughes & Watts and Willie Smith.
Shortly after Lindrum’s departure, Joe Davis continued to show his improvement at the nursery cannon game in retaining the Professional Championship, during which he set a new record break for the competition with 2,052 made on 7th May 1930.
Lindrum arrived back in Melbourne on 12th May 1930 and played no significant matches before his return to England for the new season. The new promoter of this event was W. A. Camkin, who telephoned Lindrum in Australia to discuss arrangements. On coming to the phone Lindrum informed Camkin that he was currently practising hard and had actually been at the table when the call came through being engaged in break which had just passed 2,100.
Lindrum’s second tour of England
When travelling by train between Marseilles and Northern France on his return to England, Lindrum sustained a blow from a falling suitcase which dislodged three teeth. On his arrival in London on Saturday 13th September he obtained dental treatment and was ready for play in his first scheduled match against Claude Falkiner on the Monday. Conceding 8,000 points start in a two week game and playing for the first time on the new “Janus” cotton cloth, he evidently experienced some difficulty in coming to terms with the “napless” surface. Spectators rolled up in numbers, anticipating a four-figure break from Lindrum, but in the event it was Falkiner who provided the spectacle, making a break of 1,130 which was his first thousand break made in England. Even so, this did not prevent Lindrum from winning by over 9,000 points, averaging 125.5 for the match. Lindrum was a great fan of cricket, and he and Don Bradman were regarded as equally great sporting celebrities of the day in Australia. Bradman, who was touring with the Australian team, attended several session of Lindrum’s match at Thurston’s.
News of the World Trophy
29th September 1930 saw the start of Camkin’s “Empire Tournament” for which the News of the World had donated a Gold Cup. As a measure of his admitted superiority, Lindrum was required to concede 7,000 points start to all the other players – who otherwise played from scratch – in time limit matches of 42 hrs lasting a fortnight. Matches were played on the new “Janus” cotton cloth and with all the top players taking part, this event was the focal point of the professional season.
The tournament supplied some sensational performances, not least of which was when Newman (rec.7,000) defeated Lindrum by 1,080 points in Liverpool. This was despite Lindrum making a break of 1,826 which was the highest ever seen in that city.
The ease with which Lindrum subsequently disposed of the improving Joe Davis was a surprise to many people who felt that the 7,000 start would be too much for the Australian. In the event he caught up the start in the first four days and went on to win by 4,500 points averaging 191 for the match.
In his match against McConachy, Lindrum established a new record when he made five four-figure breaks in consecutive sessions, the highest of these being 1,875.
Record 3,905 break
In December 1930, in his last scheduled match of the tournament Lindrum made a World record break of 3,905 against McConachy surpassing his own record made the previous year. Proceeding with an unfinished break of three, Lindrum occupied the table for the whole 1¾ hrs of the afternoon session, raising the break to 2,378 unfinished, and incidentally creating another record for the number of points scored in a session. In the evening he continued to score at a rapid rate, when having lost the white in reaching 3,905 he set up a double baulk. The break occupied a total of 3 hrs 5 minutes play. Playing wonderful billiards, he followed this with breaks of 2,331 and 1,137 made in consecutive visits, and had two others over the thousand during the match. Over the second week of the match Lindrum had an incredible average of 313, and having conceded 7,000 points start, he won by almost 6,500. Telegrams of congratulation included one from his father who tersely cabled just two words : “Wonderful Performance”.
Lindrum takes the News of the World trophy
As the competition finished in a three-way tie, an additional play-off round was arranged on a knock-out basis. In the final, Lindrum took the Gold Cup, by defeating Newman (rec. 7,000) by 8,400 points. In this victory, Lindrum included breaks of 2,835, 451, 1,796 and 2,583 in successive visits. Match averages of 248 for Lindrum and 169 for Newman set yet another record. The number of people wishing to see the match would have filled the Thurston’s match hall ten times over. Thousands of people crowded Leicester Square and at the end of the game, when Lindrum emerged with the trophy, he was given a rousing reception by his many admirers.
1931 Professional Championship
The anticipated entry of Lindrum for the Professional Championship was again thwarted by a dispute over the playing arrangements.
With both Lindrum and Davis performing almost exclusively on the “Janus” cotton cloth, they were upset at the BA&CC decision not to use it for Championship matches, and refused to enter the competition. They were joined in the boycott by Newman and the closing date passed with Willie Smith being the only entry. The 1931 championship was therefore abandoned and the title declared vacant.
A full schedule
The People newspaper of 4th January 1931 gave some idea of the railway travel that Lindrum was called upon to undertake:
“On Monday he played at Hastings and on Tuesday at Brighton, and from there travelled on to Nottingham to oppose Tom Dennis in a two day match. He left Nottingham on Thursday at 1 a.m., arriving in London at 4 a.m. Leaving London at 10.35 a.m., he arrived at Plymouth at 2.35 p.m., and there a car conveyed him to Liskeard in Cornwall, about 25 miles away. After playing there, afternoon and evening, he caught the midnight from Plymouth back to town and the same morning went to Preston in Lancashire to play afternoon and evening sessions.”
A match before the King
On 19th February 1931 Lindrum accepted an invitation to give an exhibition for the King and other members of the Royal family at Buckingham Palace. This was not only a great honour for Lindrum, but also for the game of billiards. As a momento, the King presented Lindrum with a pair of gold and enamel cuff-links bearing the royal monogram. These cuff-links formed part of his essential attire for the remainder of his playing career.
Return to Australia
Following another successful English season, Lindrum returned to Australia on 21st April 1931 accompanied by Tom Newman, whom he would engage in a series of exhibition matches.
In one of his first games against Newman in Sydney, the ease with which Lindrum gained nursery cannon position, and, with his tap, tap, tap, added points at bewildering speed, amused the onlookers, who laughed outright. Even Lindrum joined in, and was so convulsed at one stage that he had to support himself on the table.
All Australian attendance records were broken at his next match with Newman at Melbourne. Following on to Adelaide they found the match-hall full to capacity, and huge crowds standing outside in the street wishing to gain access. The game was abandoned after the first day and restarted at a larger hall. The spectators were not disappointed with the play as Lindrum made a break of 1,004 in just 33 minutes, beating his previous best time of 37 minutes to reach four figures. He also set a new Australian record with a break of 2,609.
Short English season
Lindrum and Newman arrived back in London on 11th December 1931. Arrangements had already been made for the pair to depart for a tour of Canada and the United States in February, which precluded any chance of their participation in the 1932 Championship.
With just a couple of months in England, Lindrum once again engaged all the top players. By now he was giving a customary start of 7,000 to all comers in his two-week matches. Although not always successful, he was never heavily defeated from this concession which was generally regarded as the measure of his superiority over the other members of the “big five”.
In a match against Newman on 6th January 1932, Lindrum set a World record with a run of 284 consecutive cannons, taking the balls past five pockets.
World record break
Playing against Davis at Thurston’s, Lindrum made his World record break of 4,137 occupying approximately 2 hours 35 minutes. Taking possession of the table at 4.15 pm on Tuesday, January 19, Lindrum scored 701 unfinished in the half-hour that remained of the session, and, continuing the break in the evening, carried it to 3,151 unfinished, the time for this number of points being 2¼ hours. He was thus within striking distance of his existing record, and there was much resultant enthusiasm among billiard lovers, hundreds being unable to secure admission to the hall on the following afternoon. Upon arriving at the scene, Lindrum expressed himself as feeling fit and confident, but wished he had a better shot to resume with. The position of the balls required a narrow middle-pocket pot red – not quite straight from any part of the “D” – with the white hard under the top cushion near the spot. Lindrum made the winner perfectly, and from that point he was apparently the least concerned person in the room. Hundred after hundred accrued, and it soon became certain that Lindrum would set up new figures, and when, at length, his own record of 3,905 was passed, the spectators released their pent-up feelings in a prolonged burst of applause. Lindrum was not allowed to proceed until he had responded to calls of “speech,” and in a few words he modestly said he was gratified at having beaten his own record, which was only possible with the assistance of the very friendly welcome and appreciation he always received in London. The break ended at 4,137 in the course of which, Lindrum had scored no fewer than 2,590 points by means of cannon sequences.
Upon the completion of the break, Davis congratulated his great rival and immediately settled down to establish a further record by playing out the remainder of the time with a break of 1,131, which he carried to 1,247 in the evening before failing at a forcing loser. When he reached four figures, Davis was complemented by Lindrum, and acknowledging the plaudits of the onlookers, remarked, “Well, I’ve had a good tutor, anyway.” Never before had 5,384 points been scored, by orthodox billiards, in two hands. Despite Lindrum’s remarkable performance it was Davis, assisted by 7,000 points start, who won the match by 1,251 points, averaging 162 for the fortnight. Lindrum averaged 206.
Lindrum in the USA and Canada
In February 1932, Lindrum and Newman departed for a tour of Canada and the USA. With all eyes on the Australian, it was in fact Newman who hit the headlines first when he set a Canadian record with a break of 1,335 while playing Lindrum in Toronto.
Crossing the border, Lindrum established a record break for the USA with 1,072 made in Detroit. He later extended this to 2,711 during a match in New York.
Lindrum and Newman arrived back in England on 3rd May 1932 with Lindrum almost immediately continuing on to Australia. From a financial viewpoint, the tour had been something of a financial disaster. The attendance at the USA matches was particularly disappointing and an overall loss was made by the players.
The Baulk-line Rule
By this time all the leading players, including Lindrum, recognised that some further restrictions were required to the cannon game in order to revive public interest. To this end an approach was made to the governing body and on 31st August 1932 the BA&CC introduced an “experimental” rule requiring the cue ball to cross the baulk line
at least once in every 100 points. This was developed in an effort to counter the growing domination of nursery cannon play by all the top professionals, not only Walter Lindrum. Since his first appearance in England, Lindrum had invented and perfected the greatest and most classic example of break-building ever seen. He set out to make thousand-break billiards the rule instead of the exception, and achieved this by an incomparable exhibition of billiards genius both in conception and execution.
1932 News of the World Tournament
The News of the World offered to promote a tournament under the new baulk-line rule and invitations were accepted by Lindrum, McConachy, Newman, Davis and Smith.
Lindrum arrived in England on 22nd September 1932 promising to give the new rule “a fair trial”. This trial lasted just two weeks during which he played a match against Newman. Unable to make a thousand break, he expressed his dissatisfaction with the rule, and in this he was supported by his opponent. The promoters of the News of the World tournament promptly dropped the baulk-line rule from their conditions for their event, substituting a limit of 75 cannons. Willie Smith withdrew from the tournament in protest.
Shortly afterwards the BA&CC responding to pressure from the professionals, modified the baulk-line rule to enable a crossing every 200 points, and under this restriction Lindrum made his first four- figure break in a two week match against McConachy.
It was now agreed that the News of the World tournament would be played under this revised rule with Lindrum conceding 6,000 points to all his opponents. But, the combination of learning a technique to overcome the new restriction, and the large start, proved too much for Lindrum who failed to win any of his matches.
However, by 27th Feb 1933 he had obviously made some inroads to this problem as on this date he made a break of 1,164 which included a run of 529 consecutive cannons, taking the balls on 2¼ complete circuits of the table, and incidentally crossing the baulk line every 200 points. This was a record under both the new and old rules. Even so, he lost the match to Davis (rec.6,000) by 701 points.
The 1933 Professional Championship
Withdrawing their objection to the woollen cloth, Lindrum, Davis, Newman and McConachy all entered the Professional Championship of 1933, making it the most representative entry for more than ten years. The competition was played at Dorland Hall, Lower Regent Street between 1st-26th May 1933 under the new baulk-line rule.
Lindrum’s first round match was against Newman. By now Lindrum had mastered the baulk-line rule making it a part of his game and easily overcame the Englishman’s challenge.
In the Final he was matched against Davis who had previously defeated McConachy. The majority thought Lindrum was sure to win, only asking themselves how many he would win by. In the event, the question should have been by how few? – For he only beat the Chesterfield man by 694 points at the end of a ding-dong fight which could have gone either way. Lindrum made the only four-figure breaks of the championship with runs of 1,578 against Newman – which qualified as a record for the Championship under the new rules – and 1,492 and 1,272 against Davis. Lindrum’s average for the two week final was 92.
Performances over the season demonstrated that Davis, Newman and McConachy were all continuing to improve their game and making up lost ground on Lindrum, although there was no doubt that he still stood supreme in the sport.
New records in South Africa
After the championship, Lindrum and McConachy left for a tour of South Africa and India before returning to Australia. During his visit to South Africa he claimed a new World record for fast scoring when he completed 1,000 points in 28 minutes in Johannesburg.
World Championship for Australia
Although promising to return to England for the 1933-34 season, Lindrum’s departure would prove to be the last this country would see of him.
Lindrum contended that he should be allowed to defend his title in Australia and refused to return the Championship trophy to the BA&CC when requested by them to do so. The reaction of the BA&CC was to inaugurate a United Kingdom Professional Championship for the English players. Meanwhile, the English press generally regarded the incident as nothing more than a “publicity stunt” on behalf of the Australian. However, the BA&CC eventually gave in to Lindrum’s demands and agreed that the next World Championship would be held in Australia. They additionally agreed that the event would be postponed until September to coincide with the Melbourne centenary celebrations. The only challengers were the New Zealand Champion, Clark McConachy and Joe Davis, who in the interim, had won the United Kingdom title.
With Lindrum playing a series of exhibitions against McConachy and Davis in advance of the main event, expectations where whetted by the unexpected victories of both of these players in two-week matches against the Australian.
1934 Professional Championship
With Davis receiving a bye, Lindrum defeated McConachy by 1,108 points in the qualifying round.
Lindrum’s match against Davis was one of ever-changing fortunes as Davis again came tantalisingly close to lifting the Championship and thereby changing the course of billiards history.
Davis was just 466 points in arrears going into the final session, but a break of 702 by Lindrum, near the end, clinched the match for him by 855 points. Lindrum was the only player to make any breaks over a thousand in the competition, with three against Davis, including a best of 1,474.
After this Lindrum was never again challenged for the title, which, without the financial incentive to resurrect it, became dormant until he relinquished it in 1950.
Lindrum now contented himself with exhibition games and made many charitable appearances – especially during the war years – which earned him an MBE, and then an OBE in 1958. As one of Australia’s greatest sporting heroes, many people felt he should have been awarded a knighthood, and in fact, shortly before his death plans were in place to bring this into effect. However, before arrangements were complete, he was taken ill whist on holiday at Surfers’ Paradise and died on Saturday 30th July 1960. He was 61 years old.
During his career he made 711 recorded breaks over a thousand, and marked his place in history as the greatest billiard player the game has ever seen.
The Lindrum movement
With the balls bunched near the top cushion, in the vicinity of the right-hand top pocket he quickly and deftly steers them along the top cushion, taps them past the facing top pocket with effortless ease, takes them a little way down the table, then makes them stop while he scores his dozen or more of exquisite kiss- cannons which barely change the position of the balls. On he goes, the flow of his ball control unchecked by the semblance of a mistake in positional play. At last, having collected his two hundred or more of points by a close-cannon display unrivalled in rapidity of execution, he brings the balls to the middle pocket. Then he takes them away from the cushion, plays a deft mid- pocket in-off, and at once changes the character of his display.
Continuing from hand, a simple in-off white soon sends that ball to the centre of the top cushion, or nearly so. A pot red into the same middle pocket is handled with consummate mastery, which leaves ideal spot-end position when the red is spotted. Lindrum then exploits the alternating red-winner- cannon movement until he sees a chance to get the, balls together again almost where his break began. This completes “the Lindrum. Movement”, but not his break – that may run into thousands before a mistake destroys the harmony of the movement and all is over.
Memories of Walter Lindrum in Singapore
“I was in Singapore from May 1956 until January 1971 and had the great privilege of meeting Walter Lindrum when he was there in 1957. I watched him play at the Singapore Badminton Hall and he also went on to play in Kuala Lumpur during the same tour. As far as Walter’s exhibitions in Singapore were concerned, I understand that he had, not only his own set of balls, but also his own cushions’ as well. Whereas, in the days when many clubs didn’t have air conditioning – the Badminton Hall certainly didn’t – many players used talcum powder to ease the cue on the bridge hand. Walter used a damp handkerchief which he said was much better. Powder made a real mess of the cloth, particularly when used as liberally as some did. Most of the tables in non air-conditioned clubs had under slate heating of some sort as the humidity was always very high. To watch Walter performing under those conditions at the age of 59 was a wonderful experience which I shall never forget.”
Tom Reece’s ‘Record’ Break
The largest break ever recorded at English billiards was made by Tom Reece when over a period of five weeks in 1907, he amassed a total of 499,135 points by means of the anchor, or as it was quickly christened, the “cradle” cannon. It was a culmination of a unique contest between the professional players of the day to establish a record which would last for all time. In this Reece has, in all probability, been successful.
The Anchor Cannon arrives
The introduction of the anchor cannon to the English game seems to have come from America. At least, the possibilities where known to have been demonstrated by Frank Ives during a visit to London in 1892 when he stayed with J. P. Mannock at the Victoria Hotel. Mannock subsequently published details of “kiss cannon” techniques in his book “Billiards Expounded” in 1904.
However, the possibilities were not developed and exploited to any significant extent in the English game until 1907. In January of that year several prominent members of the billiards community received a mysterious note suggesting that if they attended a match between Walter Lovejoy and Cecil Harverson, at Cox & Yeman’s Brompton Road Hall, they would see something out of the ordinary. Lovejoy had been secretly practising his technique to gather the balls and hold them in what would become known as the “cradle cannon” position. In a rather inauspicious debut, Lovejoy took several days to secure and hold the position long enough to make a break of 603 which established a new record run of 283 consecutive cannons. A modest effort by later standards, but sufficient to attract the attention of all the top players who quickly set about eclipsing Lovejoy’s performance.
Hat-box to the rescue
Reece was one of the first to get into the action. In February he set the first of a series of records with a break of 1,825 in a match against Mel Inman at Thurston’s. It was customary after each session of a match for the referee to lift the balls, carefully marking their positions so that they may be accurately replaced. Now they were faced with a new situation. With the three balls so closely together, and a record break in progress, it appeared almost sacrilegious to disturb them. The referee suggested leaving them, but Inman protested. Ultimately a hat box was placed over the three balls, the room cleared, and the doors locked until the evening session was ready to commence. On this occasion, Reece was unable to hold the position and although he made another break of 1,269 in the match, his constant attempts to regain the “cradle” position allowed Inman to win the match by more conventional scoring techniques.
Let battle commence
By this time the race was well underway, with new records being established by various players almost as frequently as matches could be arranged. In March, Lovejoy, whose personal record break had been 463 just a few months earlier, set a new milestone with a break of 2,257 against W. Pindar at Hull. In the very same week, Reece extended the record to 4,593 and the following week Charles Dawson set a new standard with a break of 6,245 unfinished.
By April 1907, each succeeding week saw records increase. Dawson again extended the record with a break of 7,184 at Liverpool, while Scottish Champion, Tom Aiken just failed to pass this mark during the same week in Edinburgh, completing his 16,000 up match with a break of 7,172 unfinished.
Dawson sets record with 23,769
To accommodate further attempts, the length of the games were extended in a manner undreamed of a short time previously. Prior to this date, the number of points that any pair of professional players would contest, ranged from 6,500 to 9,000 for a week’s match, and 14,000 to 18,000 for a fortnight’s game. The advent of the ubiquitous “cradle” cannon however, upset all preconceived notions of what could be taken as a reasonable length. Dawson was the first to try to score an unprecedented 25,000 points over a week from 15th-20th April against Lovejoy. Dawson had publicly remarked that he could obtain position for the cradle cannon almost at will, and seemed to be justified when he obtained the desired position on the first evening of the game. From this point Lovejoy played the part of a spectator as Dawson placed all other records in the shade with an unfinished break of 23,769.
It now became a race for supremacy with regard to the biggest break, among the professional experts. But this was not left to their performances on the table alone. It was a battle of wits as well as of cuemanship. If it were only a question of who could make the bigger break, then that point would be easily decided – but there were other issues to be considered. There was a widespread opinion that the end of the “cradle” cannon regime was in sight, and a general expectancy that moves would be made to ban the stroke. Now, timing became a factor.
A race between Reece and Cook
Tom Reece and Joe Chapman, in a thinly disguised record attempt, announced a match of 150,000 up to be played over the course of a week at Birmingham. Reece occupied the table for most of the six days, compiling a new record break of 40,001 unfinished. The objective achieved, and with another attempt booked for the following week in London, the match was abandoned on 1st June with Reece still over 100,000 points short of his target!
As Reece’s break concluded, William Cook, in a match at Thurston’s, was in play with 30,000 unfinished. This match with Alec Taylor was also scheduled for 150,000 up but was spread over two weeks. This helped Cook to pass Reece’s effort and further extend the record to 42,746. This concluded on 4th June when to everyone’s surprise, Cook failed to cannon by the merest shade. Although he later regained position, the match was abandoned on 8th June with Cook barely one third of the way to his required total.
Tom Reece’s record break of 499,135
Meanwhile, with Cook’s game still in progress, Reece and Chapman had moved to Burroughes & Watts, Soho Square, for the ultimate effort which commenced on Monday 3rd June 1907. The announcement of a match for an incredible 500,000 up over a period of five weeks required no further advertisement that this was to be yet another “cradle cannon” exhibition, arranged for the express purpose of enabling Reece to build up a mammoth break.
By now the very name of the “cradle cannon” conveyed a suggestion of something farcical to billiard players and even those people outside the game. Both Burroughes & Watts and Reece had set their minds on putting up an unbeatable record while there was yet time, as it was now an open secret that the rules of the game would shortly be amended to ban the stroke.
The first week …
If Chapman was to spend most of this match as a spectator, he at least had much the better of the opening session, putting together some useful breaks and aggregating 878 points to Reece’s 483. In the evening, however, Reece monopolised the table almost entirely, and after contributions of 219 and 101, obtained the anchor position and was still engaged on an unfinished break of 2,031 at the close of play.
Reece continued the break though the scheduled sessions of Tuesday and Wednesday, and in view of the abnormal number of points to be scored, decided to play an all-night sitting. Commencing at 11.15pm he continued to score (with occasional intervals for rest) until 5.15am the following morning, during which time he increased his break by 20,000 points. During the afternoon session he added another 8,000 points and scored 3,000 more in the evening, the break at the close of play having passed the record of Cook, set just four days previously, having reached the total of 44,135 (unfinished). By the end of the week, the Oldham professional was scoring faster than ever, aggregating 11,000 points on the Saturday afternoon and 6,000 at night, thereby bringing his break to the grand total of 90,135 (unfinished).
The second week …
Messrs. Burroughes and Watts found it necessary to admit the public free after some days’ play, and to maintain interest, a game of Snooker was introduced following the afternoon session. With Reece scoring regularly at the rate of 10,000 points a day, the Thursday afternoon saw a four-handed game of Snooker played, in which Cecil Harverson and the Australian Champion, Fred Weiss, also took part. At the end of the second week the great break amounted to 150,135 (unfinished) the daily games of snooker providing the main highlight.
William Jordan was the referee and he must have been heartily sick of the task long before its conclusion. He made the best of his ordeal, however, placing a chair at the side of the table, close to the corner pocket where Reece had the balls set, and sat there closely watching each thousand points being scored. It has often been hinted that Reece must have missed making some of the cannons, but Jordan’s reputation was such that nobody considered he would ever countenance an infraction of the rules and would have been alert to detect any fault.
The third week …
Reece took Monday off to “fulfill a prior engagement” but was back into action the following day, adding a further 9,000 points to his total. By way of variation, the afternoon snooker games with Chapman were replaced by a game of Indian Pool of 200 up. In order to make up time, four sessions were played on the Wednesday resulting in the addition of 20,000 points to Reece’s aggregate. A press report covering a session on Thursday 20th reflects the nature of play :
“There were fourteen spectators, in addition to the marker, and the game proceeded as follows :
8.00 p.m. Reece resumes after bowing in recognition to a lukewarm reception. Then the tap-tap of the cannons, at the rate of about one to every two and a half seconds, is heard.
8.02. Three people walk out as Reece takes a rest after making fifty cannons.
8.04. Another fifty cannons are scored, and with a deep sigh Reece chalks his cue.
8.06. Fifty cannons added and a stray enthusiast enters on tip-toe.
8.08. Marker; with a tired voice, announces another hundred points have been scored.
8.10. “The break has reached two hundred thousand points, gentlemen” from the marker, a notification which causes a few spectators to put their hands together. Two of them prepare to leave, and noticing this Reece says “All gentlemen may stand as close to the table as they like.” By way of a diversion and doubtless glad of the change, Reece gives a little demonstration to prove that each of the object-balls revolves once [around it’s axis] in every five or six hundred cannons. This is more interesting than the actual play in the so-called match. In answer to a question as to how the one-stroke exhibition affected him Reece remarked, “It makes me rather stiff standing in one position all the time, but I mean to stick to it, if possible, to the end.”
8.20 The ten minutes interlude over Reece commences upon his two hundred and first thousand to a company reduced to ten plainly tired watchers.”
An all-night sitting on Thursday helped Reece to add 20,000 points. By the end of the week his break had reached 262,135 (unfinished).
The fourth week …
Reece was now scoring at a rate of 20,000 points a day, but it was still felt necessary to play another all-night session on the Wednesday which resulted in a similar increase to the total. Chapman continued to be called into action for afternoon games of Indian Pool, in which he was generally successful. Friday saw Reece in top gear as he scored at an unusually rapid rate, making 10,000 cannons in two hours and fifty-eight minutes. By the end of the week the break stood at 402,135 (unfinished).
The fifth week …
By now, Reece had his target firmly in sight and had reduced his daily contributions to a regular 17,000 points. Chapman was invariably successful at the games of Indian Pool, but might otherwise have stayed at home, as on Saturday 6th July, Reece easily scored the 12,000 points required to take him to game, running out the winner by no fewer than 449,074 points. The full break amounted to 499,135 and included 249,552 anchor cannons, being still unfinished when game was reached.
At the conclusion Messrs. Burroughes and Watts presented Reece with a cheque for £125 and a gold watch suitably inscribed, and if only in terms of a feat of endurance, nobody would argue that he deserved it.
When Reece later appeared before the committee of the Billiard Association to apply for a certificate for his break, he admitted that a portion of the break had been made behind locked doors when the public did not have access to the hall. After consideration it was decided not to give official recognition on the grounds that it would set a precedent for any player to have locked himself in a room, with one witness, and make claim to a record. This left Cook’s break of 42,746 as the highest official break made during this short season of cannon play.
“Cradle” Cannon Barred
At a special meeting of the Billiard Association on 2nd September 1907, it was resolved that “the cradle cannon be barred”. No agreement could be reached at this meeting on the actual definition of a cradle cannon, and it was left to the referees to determine its application. However, it had the desired effect and brought to an end this unique period of billiards history.
The rule was soon modified to allow no more than twenty five consecutive “ball to ball” cannons. This would still allow a longer run of cannons if the cue ball was played against a cushion before completing the score (a loop-hole which would be exploited by Reece some 20 years later) but for now both players and spectators had seen enough of the “cradle-cannon” and had no desire to see further demonstrations. For the 1907-08 season it would be a case of “normal service resumed” and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
The Game of Billiards
The Proprietor’s Address
THE GAME OF BILLIARDS has some general claims upon the attention and patronage of the public, which it becomes the proprietor of this Treatise humbly to advocate and explain. It affords a recreation, which, with the exception of Chess, it the only one usually (would that it were invariably so), played FOR ITS OWN SAKE, and not for the pecuniary gains it may afford. It is the triumph of skill; and the player should never seek any other reward for his victory. It thus becomes a recreation of the mind, in its purest sense; relieving those whom the fatigue and anxieties of a life of business may have harassed or exhausted, by the introduction of a new train of ideas, of a gently exciting, but highly pleasurable nature. The over strained bow will break, and the over tasked powers of the most gigantic mind, to whatever branch of science or literature those powers may be applied, must sooner or later, sink under the unmitigated pressure of continued application. Hence, in all countries, and in all times, statesmen, scholars and divines, no less than men of fashion or of business, have indulged themselves by some mode of relaxation most congenial to their taste, or readiest to their reach; and, when practicable, made it an integral part of their every-day economy.
It is scarcely necessary to enumerate the almost endless catalogue of diversions to which mankind have thus Retaken – some in their nature harmless; – others, of doubtful character: – but many, it is to be feared, positively injurious, or at least, frivolous and unmanly. Suffice it to say’ that Billiards’ both as a mental and physical exercise stands foremost in the class of unexceptionable amusements, and that many of the best and wisest men have selected that noble game, as affording at once the most innocent, rational, and exhilarating relief from the severity of studies which otherwise would prove exhausting to the spirits, and destructive of the vital system. By thus rendering bodily exercise, or temperate and rational recreation subservient to the higher purposes of life, by giving, as it were, a proper direction to means that are to accomplish great ends, not only is the animal body maintained in vigour, but the mind is so. refreshed and revived, as to be enabled more readily and successfully to grapple with the loftier objects of its pursuit.
Again. The pleasure which results from Billiard-playing cannot, as in the case of chess, be said to partake of a selfish character. chess is a solitary and a silent game. It is, indeed, the mathematics of the mind-the encounter of two master spirits- but it calls forth neither the muscular energy of the one, nor the physical prowess of the other; -and a mere looker-on, unless a very skillful player, can take but little interest in a game of an indefinite and often of a protracted duration; or in the progress of moves which he can seldom foresee or understand; and which if foreseen, can be easily counteracted: whereas, in Billiards, the spectator will soon become as much engaged as the player, and a general interest will thus spring from a source unpolluted by any of those degrading passions which games of chance too often engender.
Nor is the health of the body, which the exercise of Billiards is so well calculated to promote, to be slightly regarded. Upon an average, a player while thus engaged will walk between two and three miles an hour, to say nothing of the numerous muscles which will, in turn, be called into action, but never be allowed to remain long on the stretch, since the attitude is constantly changing, and every member is successively and alternately put in motion. For such reason it is, that Physicians consider Billiards, in point of salubrity, as preferable to every other species of in-door exercise; for, while it affords healthful action, not partially, but generally, to the animal frame, it imparts to the mind a gentle exhilaration, which sustains, without exhausting, the vital powers. Where it necessary to support the views thus offered, the testimonies of some of the most eminent of the medical faculty might be adduced. The Billiard Table has indeed of late become one of the instruments of cure in establishments for the recovery of patients mentally affected; amongst which may be enumerated those of Doctors Sutherland and Warburton, of London; and Fox of Bristol; and the game has been as strongly recommended by Doctor Paris, of London; and by other Physicians equally eminent for the cure of diseases affecting the health of the body.
Haying thus briefly, but he trusts with all plainness and honesty, recorded his conviction of an amusement, censured he is aware by some, and unappreciated or misunderstood by others -a conviction not hastily arrived at, but one which is the result of many years reflection and experience-the proprietor of the following Treatise must be allowed, in conclusion, to congratulate the lovers of Billiards, upon the appearance of a work, in the production of which he has spared neither labour nor expense; and which, as compared with publications of a similar kind, he has no hesitation in pronouncing unrivalled for its utility and completeness; and in point of originality and research, without a parallel.
14, Catherine Street, London, September, 1839.
BILLIARDS is a game of amusement which may lay claim to some antiquity, if any inference can be drawn from Shakespeare, [Anthony and Cleopatra; Act ii. Scene 5.] who makes Cleopatra exclaim, “Let us to Billiards!” [This was probably a kind of Fortification Billiards.] Now, unless we accuse our great dramatic poet of a gross anachronism, the game must at least be as old as the battle of Actium, which was fought 31 years B.C. At all events, we may conclude that Billiards was in his time regarded as of ancient origin. The first table we hear of in Europe was introduced into France, about the year 1580, which was only 28 years before the play of Anthony and Cleopatra was written, but it is most probable that the game was introduced into Europe long before that period.
It may, perhaps, appear extraordinary that this game should, for such a number of years, having been played without receiving the least improvement, it being only within the last fifty years, that any suggestion for rendering it more perfect has been advanced. This, however, will cease to be a matter of wonder, when it is known, that the game was usually played with the mace, or with cues that were perfectly flat at the point, and sometimes tipped with ivory, so that a central stroke alone could be accomplished; so long, therefore, as the ball could be struck only in the centre, improvement could not be expected. About fifty years ago it was discovered, that if a cue were cut obliquely at the point, or rounded a little on one side, so as to present a broader surface to the ball, it might be struck below the centre, and this strange instrument was then adopted for occasional strokes, and obtained the name of JEFFERY. About the close of the last century, it was ascertained, that if the point of the cue were rounded, much advantage would be gained by increasing its striking surface. A few years after this, (somewhere about the year 1807), the leather point was introduced, since which period the game may be said to have gradually become more accomplished.
The introduction of the RED Ball is of recent date. Formerly, the game was played with two WHITE balls only, and the sole object of the player was to pocket the ball of his adversary, and keep his own OUT of the pocket. The first who scored twelve was then the winner. As soon as the Red Ball was introduced, the players, thinking probably that the game might too rapidly run its course, played alternately, each without any regard to the success or failure of the previous stroke of his antagonist. This was entitled the “WINNING”, in contradistinction to the “Following’ Game, to be hereafter described. The “WINNING AND FOLLOWING” Game was subsequently introduced, in which the player FOLLOWED his stroke after winning; but in all these games the player lost by pocketing HIS OWN ball, whence the term “Losing” hazard, which at once distinguished it from what is called “WINNING” hazard and which consists in pocketing either the red ball, or that of your adversary. Next came the “WINNING AND LOSING” Game, which may be said to be a combination of the other two, for the player now scores EVERY THING he pockets.
Although a thorough knowledge of this game, like all other human attainments, can be acquired only by practical experience, yet the beginner may greatly facilitate his progress, by a scientific acquaintance with his tools, and the manner in which he is to direct them. The following preliminary remarks will therefore be acceptable:-
The Game of Billiards is played upon a table of oblong shape, the dimensions of which are generally twelve feet, by six; although they are not unfrequently constructed in sizes of six, seven, eight, nine, and even ten and eleven feet in length, the width being always one-half of the length. It is surrounded by an elastic band or “CUSHION,” and at each of the corners, and in the middle of each side, are placed netted pockets, for the reception of the balls, the opening of which is about three inches and a quarter. The balls are made of ivory, and vary in diameter from one inch and seven-eighths, to two inches, and weigh from four ounces, to four and a quarter: they should be made of ivory (that from the Cape of Good Hope is the best), be very white and close “grained’ and well seasoned. At the lower end of the table two feet six inches from the inside of the cushion, is a line technically termed the “BAULK LINE, (see FIG. 1, PLATE V.), in the centre of which is a semi-circle of ten inches radius, from any part of which the player is at liberty to commence his game, but he is not allowed to place his ball beyond the area of the semi-circle. At the upper end of the table, and in its centre, at a distance of two feet six from the end of the cushion (see FIG. 2, PLATE V.), is a point called the “SPOT,” on which is placed the red ball for the WINNING Game. In the same line, seventeen inches farther on (see FIG. 3, PLATE V.), is a second spot, for the red ball in the WINNING AND LOSING Game.
There have lately been introduced by Mr. Thurston, of Catherine Street, some important improvements in the manufacture of these tables, both with regard to the BED, and the CUSHIONS. The bed, instead of being constructed of wood, is now generally made of slate, by which not only is the velocity of the ball increased, bet the direction of its path more correctly ensured. The cushion is also now fabricated of Indian Rubber, from which the ball rebounds with greater rapidity and precision. It is, however, necessary to notice an objection which has been urged against this latter invention-viz., that in frosty weather, the caoutchouc will lose much of its elasticity; but this difficulty may be obviated by preserving the temperature of the room [Since the above was written, Mr. Thurston has obtained Her Majesty’s Letters Patent for the application of the Vulcanized Indian Rubber to the Cushions, which material retains its elasticity in the coldest temperature.] or the cushion may be taken off and placed before the fire. In warm climates, no such inconvenience can exist. In speaking of the improved table, we should not omit to notice the revolving light contrived by Mr. Thurston. Its position and effect are strikingly indicated in the frontispiece which accompanies this volume.
We next proceed to give some general directions on the following most important subjects:-
- On the position of the Player.
- On the position in which the Cue should be held.
- On the method of forming the Bridge.
- On the method of striking the Ball.
- On the direction of the eye in striking.
- On the selection of a Cue.
- On the leather Point.
- On the method of affixing the Leather Point.
This is a matter of the very first importance, for should the beginner take a wrong position, he will not readily be able to correct it. He should stand firmly on the right leg, (if a right handed player), with the left a little bent, and the trunk nearly erect, or not more inclined forward than may be necessary for the left hand to rest with ease upon the table. This position should be steadily preserved until the stroke has been completed the body remaining unmoved, the arm being the only part that should be brought into action, during the act of striking. (See PLATE I.)
The cue should be held in the right hand, nearly horizontal, about four or five inches from the butt end, although this must in some measure be regulated by the length of the cue. It must not be grasped tight, but held moderately loose in the palm of the hand, with the wrist turned a little outward.
In order to form with the hand a rest for the Cue, technically termed the “BRIDGE,” the wrist and fingers only should rest upon the table, so as to form a hollow in the palm while the thumb, being raised above the knuckles, will form a groove between them for the reception of the cue, which must be allowed to pass to and fro freely through it. In this position (see FIG.7, PLATE II.), the hand should be slightly pressed upon the table, so as to secure its steadiness during the act of adjusting and completing the stroke. The space between the bridge and the ball should be about six inches.
It is scarcely necessary to observe how much importance attaches to this circumstance. A Player may take the right position, hold the cue correctly, and thus far perform all that is required, and yet he may be unable to strike a ball with firmness and with truth: and for this simple reason, that, in the act of striking, he draws his cue back, say one inch, instead of six, so as rather to make a sort of PUSH at the ball, instead of a firm and distinct stroke. His first endeavour should be to place the point of his cue to that part of the ball he intends to strike, then to draw it back about six inches, keeping it at the same time as horizontal as possible, and with a rectilinear motion to force it forward with a kind of jerk, taking care also to strike the ball where he takes aim, or he will fail in his object. This is perhaps, one of the most difficult things for the learner to overcome, and even old players, who have acquired considerable knowledge of the game, have fallen into an error of this kind, and felt surprised that the ball did not return from the cushion in the direction they had expected, and probably condemned the cushion for a fault which was entirely their own. The necessity of keeping the cue in a horizontal position cannot be urged too forcibly, for if the right hand is too much elevated, the ball will jump, and the stroke fail. In PLATE VI., the proper, as well as the improper position of the cue in striking is represented. In the former case the ball will run smoothly along the table; while in the latter it will rise from it, although almost imperceptibly: this will more readily occur when the ball is struck in the centre, or a little above it.
Let the player first stand to his ball, and before he takes his position for striking, cast his eye to the object ball, that will enable him to accomplish it correctly; then he must place his cue to that part of his own ball which it is his intention to strike, in doing which, his eye will necessarily rest upon it; after which the sight must be steadily directed to the object ball, and there must it rest until the stroke has been effected; for when the eye is suffered to wander from one ball to the other, the vision becomes distracted, and the power of correctly directing the hand is lost.
In the choice of a cue, much will depend on the fancy of the operator: some prefer light, others heavy ones; some small, others those which are large at the point, and so on; but the cue to be recommended should be four feet eight inches long; of moderate weight, say from fourteen to sixteen ounces; half an inch in diameter at the small end, and about one inch and a half at the butt. It should be formed of fine, straight, cross-grained, well-seasoned ash, rather stiff, or with very little spring in it.
Different opinions have been held upon this subject. Some have preferred double leathers on the cues, and others single ones, but the best players have generally decided in favour of the latter. Should however, the former be selected, the under one should be very hard, and the top one soft; such an arrangement is perhaps, the best for preserving the cue, and is very well adapted for certain strokes, but it cannot be depended upon when the ball is to be struck at a distance. Soft sole leather, or saddle flap, is an excellent material for points; but the author has found, for single points, nothing better than old harness or strap, provided the leather be not too old, which would render it hard and useless.
There are several methods by which the leather point may be affixed to the cue, as by common glue, Indian glue, and other kinds of cement: but the following is the most expeditious :-
Let the point of the cue be filed perfectly flat, and the leather be equally smooth, the latter somewhat exceeding in size, the surface to which it is to be applied. Then take a piece of shell-lac, and fuse it in a flame, taking care that no grease from a candle or lamp reach it, by which its adhesive quality would be destroyed; while in a state of fusion, apply a portion of it to the point of the cue, and hold it again in the flame (not so long as to ignite it, but merely to ensure its perfect liquefaction), then place the leather on it as quick as possible, and press it down close to obtain perfect contact. In about a minute, the cue, thus armed’ is to be placed on a board with the point downwards, and the leather cut round with a sharp knife, or chisel, and finally trimmed with a file; after which, it will be ready for immediate use. By such a method, the leather point will frequently be found to stand a considerable time. Other cements may answer the purpose equally well, (for instance, Indian glue, in consequence of its elastic property, will last as long, and perhaps longer than the brittle shell-lac); but their application is less expeditious. The following is the method to be pursued when the latter is preferred. Let the Indian glue be dissolved in the steam from the spout of a tea-kettle, although in this case several hours are required before it becomes dry. In other respects the process already described is to be followed, care being always taken to insure a perfect contact between the leather and the wood.
A few miscellaneous remarks shall conclude our preliminary directions and instructions. The mode of acquiring a knowledge of the angles of the tables, like the true position of the person, is of the first importance to the young disciple. He is ever to bear in mind, that THE ANGLE OF INCIDENCE IS EQUAL TO THE ANGLE OF REFLECTION. The remembrance of this law will be found essential to him in all DOUBLES, and in making such CANONS from the cushion, as do not require the side stroke; and indeed, in those even that do require it, this knowledge will very materially assist him, (see PLATE III), and it may be here observed, that different strengths (MOMENTA) will be productive of different angles, for a ball may run in the same direction to a given point in the cushion, but return from it at an angle varying with the force of the stroke. (See PLATE IV.) [This may appear somewhat contradictory; but it is to be remembered that, in consequence of the elasticity of the cushion, the ball when struck with great force, alters, for the instant, its CONTOUR, and thus give rise to new forces, the effect of which will be a more acute reflection.]
When a ball, or other spherical body, is propelled upon a level surface, it has two motions imparted to it, one progressive, the other rotary; now the marvellous diversity to be observed in the course of billiard balls, may principally be referred to the power which we possess, by means of a round leather-pointed cue, to influence at pleasure the latter of these motions. If the ball be struck a little below the centre, its revolving motion will be for a time, as it were, suspended-and during this interval, should it come in full contact with another ball of equal weight, it will communicate its strength (MOMENTUM) to that ball, and become itself stationary: but should the ball be struck, considerably below its centre, its revolving motion will be in a contrary direction; or in other words, in its progress forward, its rotary motion will be the same as if it were running backwards, the
whole of the rectilinear strength having been thus imparted, the contra-motion will prevail, and the ball return in a direct line. It must be observed, that in playing this stroke, as also in striking the ball ABOVE the centre, the revolving axis will be horizontal: but if the ball be struck on the side, then it will be perpendicular to the plane of the table; and hence it is, that the side stroke can carry the ball to a greater extent than that made either above or below its centre. [The latter clause of this sentence, namely, ” that the side stroke can carry the ball to a greater extent than that made either above or below its centre,” is not clearly expressed; the meaning intended to be conveyed is this:-that the effect of the side stroke, will continue longer in the ball; and that the rotary motion (not the ball itself) can be carried to a greater distance, in consequence of the ball running on its vertical axis.] There is less resistance to the ball when running on its vertical axis, than when the axis is horizontal, and hence, also, arises the difficulty of conveying the TWIST, or low stroke, to the object ball at a distance, for unless a considerable force be imparted to it, it will lose its power before it can reach the object ball.
It will be seen in PLATE II. FIG. 1, that there are seventeen different points, or sides, [It may, perhaps, appear strange to speak of the SIDE of a spherical body; but, as the ball presents itself to the player, it may be considered as a disc. rather than a sphere. Some of the colloquial expressions used at Billiards, may sound oddly to the ears of the philosopher, but, being in constant uses they could not, with propriety, be exchanged] at which a ball may be struck by the cue; and each point, when struck, will give rise to a different motion. By reference to the diagrams, FIGS; 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, the student will learn the meaning of the terms, “FULL BALL;” “THREE-QUARTER BALL;” “HALF BALL;” “QUARTER BALL, and “FINE BALL.”
The proper position for the ball on the spot is illustrated by PLATE VII. It is either 1, 2, or 3. If the ball be at 4, the hazard MAY be made, but the position will be lost, or can only be recovered by a double in the middle pocket, or going round the table. The best position is when the ball is situated at 1 or 3. If it be at 1, after striking the ball; cushion at 5, and return to the same place again; or otherwise at 6, and go on to the same position on the other side. If the ball lie perfectly straight, it should be struck at point 9 (see FIG. 1, PLATE II), and made to recoil in a direct line to the same position. If it lie only a little to the left of the line, the ball should be struck at point 8 (see FIG. 1, PLATE II.), and played very slow, so that it may take up the same position on the other side, which is marked 7. in the diagram. But the learner will profit but little by any printed instructions with regard to
this particular ball, in which every sixteenth of an inch affords a different position, and to play which well requires considerable practice. At the same time, to a good player it is most material, and by far the best position on the table, since a great many hazards may be made from it in succession.
PLATE VIII. exhibits the effect of the side stroke in playing at the cushion. If the ball be played to the centre of the top cushion, and struck at point 1 (see FIG. 1, PLATE II.), it will, by a rebound, return in the same line; so, again, if it be struck at point 2 (see FIG. 1, PLATE II.), it will return at point 2; if at point 3 (see FIG. 1, PLATE II.), it will return at 3; and if the ball be struck on the corresponding points of its opposite side, its path will consequently be in a contrary direction.
We have now put the learner in possession of every species of information which can be considered of an introductory and preliminary kind; but before we pass on to unfold the various games of Billiards, and to elucidate some of the many difficult and almost endless strokes of which each game is susceptible, we would urge upon him to re-peruse the preceding pages, and to familiarise himself with every position and direction therein set forth.
Billiards & Snooker (1937, 1948 ed)
MY journalistic friends are fond of referring to me as “the veteran,” and everybody knows what Tom Webster has done to my likeness. I suppose, therefore, I may be allowed to adopt a tone of patriarchal reminiscence in speaking to keen amateurs about young Horace’s helpful book.
I first saw a billiard table in 1892, and that was at my father’s club at Twickenham; which is going back a bit, isn’t it? I played my first professional match with John Roberts at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, in 1899. In looking backward, I have no doubt that public attendance at matches is much bigger than it ever was in my early days, and more people play billiards now, not to speak of snooker, than ever before.
John Roberts, in my opinion, was the greatest showman I have ever seen in the game. Not only was he a great player, he was a wonderful personality. When I first played him in 1899, composition balls were just being brought on to the market. I was beaten, never having seen a composition ball before. But after that I played Roberts many games with ivory balls, and he never beat me. But he was a nice player to play against. He never complained about the tools, and so on. The only time I ever heard him go off the deep end was an occasion when the attendance was not good.
Times have changed. In our game they have changed for the better on the whole. I admire the younger generation of players, and among them I have no doubt -and my opinion is supported by many good judges- that Horace Lindrum has an unrivalled record for his age. In the whole of my career I have never heard of any young player of his age-which was then twenty-four- show such all-round mastery, with breaks of over a thousand at billiards, and in snooker such breaks as his 131 official break and his 135 and 141 unofficial breaks early in 1937, not to speak of his more recent achievements. In my view, when he is not playing so much snooker he will become still greater at billiards than he is already.
So far as billiard breaks are concerned I really think that the modern composition balls are easier than the old ivories to play with. Having had so long a spell of playing with ivory balls I still find it difficult to play with the composition balls, but this does not apply to the young exponents of the game, and in spite of my own handicap I am a believer in the composition ball.
During my career in billiards all kinds of freak shots have been brought out and have duly passed away in the broader interests of the game. Among the early ones that mattered was the spot stroke. Most of the professionals were playing it, and making big breaks with it, but there was only one really great spot stroke player That was W. J. Peall, who stood out by himself, his record break being 3,304.
Then came Reece with the anchor stroke. He first exploited this against your humble servant ! That was in 1907, at Thurston’s. He made breaks of 1,200 and 1,800 during the match of 16,000 up for £100 a side. But I saw that really huge breaks might be made with it, and sure enough Reece in an exhibition match later wound up with a break of 499,000 ! Hard luck for the half million? But think of the effect upon the game. Wisely this stroke was barred, and a new rule was introduced that after thirty such cannons the player must hit a cushion before scoring another cannon.
Reece then adopted a new stroke, called the pendulum stroke, which he was said to have discovered, though I have heard that it was in fact discovered by a marker.
By a curious coincidence the pendulum stroke also was first tried out on me by Reece. He at once began making breaks of over 1,000 with it, and it was soon barred, causing the rule to be made that after thirty-five cannons the player strikes the object ball first, then a cushion, and cannon. But this did not prevent great cueists from making big runs of nursery cannons, against which fresh legislation was made to check the tendency to monotony. That belongs to our own days, which are so full of fine talent and marked by ever growing popularity for the green table.
THE NEW POCKET HOYLE
COCKING, HORSE RACING.
RULES AND PRACTICE,
As admitted and established by the first
Players in the Kingdom.
WITH A VARIETY OF NEW IMPROVEMENTS
By CHARLES JACKSON, ESQ.
Printed for W. Taylor, Russell Court, Bridges
Street, Covent Garden.
BILLIARDS is the most elegant game in the world; it exhibits wonderful variety, and requires most exquisite feeling and skill to form a good player. This is principally to be acquired by practice: but the following rules will not only materially assist the learner, but also enable him to play the good game, and not a speculative one; for caution in this, as well as in most other games, insures success. Billiards is highly entertaining, and gives to the body a gentle exercise: it has therefore become so much the fashion amongst gentlemen, as to be considered boorish to be a novice in it. Unfortunately, the natural result of this is, that the sport itself has become a principal means of subsistence amongst sharpers: for there is scarcely any billiard Room that is not daily attended by professed gamesters.
It is their office by insidious and deep play to strip the young player of his cash. It becomes his duty, therefore, being a mere proficient, to know his antagonist, or to play for a stake of no moment. For the object of sharpers is to conceal their play, which they very successfully do by constant practice, and thereby acquire a dexterity that is the more difficult to detect. The scoring with them is not made by the full, fair, and easy strokes, but upon those that require a cant from the opposite angles of the table, and other deep minutiae, in order to delude the young hand and strip him of his bets. It is highly proper, therefore, to warn the admirers of this game of these snares, that they may, at any rate, play on equal terms, as well as to enjoy the pleasures of this first of all delightful recreations-the game of Billiards.
The game of Billiards is played by two or four persons upon a table of an oblong shape in this country; but in some parts of the continent on an oval or round one. The common table is from eight feet to twelve feet long, and from four and a half to six feet in width. It is furnished with six pockets, four at the four angles, and one in each side of the middle of the table; it is covered with a cloth, and the ridge or cushion which is raised around is stuffed. The baulk means that part of the upper end across which is drawn a line, and in the centre of which is a ring or semicircle, from which the ball is struck in beginning the game.
The cue and the mace are both used in striking the balls, but the former is mostly so, and is greatly superior to the mace, and all good players adopt it.
The mace is a rod long and slender, with a blunt and large piece of mahogany or other wood fixed to the extremity. The cue is a stick round and long, tapering like a cane, being thick at one end and narrow at the striking point, which is round and smooth.
Three balls are usually played, (but in some games more are used). Two are white (one of which has a spot, and is termed the spotted ball); the other is red.
Mr. Hoyle says that practice and observation will teach the learner how to hold his mace or cue; but I shall here briefly state what is my opinion relative to this most important of all the points to be attended to. In order to form a bridge to rest the cue upon, in the act of aiming or striking, let the fingers and wrist only rest upon the table. The fingers must be so turned outwards as to form a hollow in the palm; and yet the thumb to be raised above the surface of the knuckles; thus there will be a level made which is to receive the cue between the thumb and fore-finger. There should be a distance of half a foot kept between the hand and the ball. The thick extremity of the cue should then be so held between the fingers and thumb of the right hand as to be able to strike with sufficient force, and yet to combine a free and easy motion, and of tolerable extent also. The cue should be at the point chalked to prevent its slipping, and must be placed towards the centre of the ball in taking aim; and some withdraw the cue a little, and depress it towards the cloth before they finally complete their stroke.
As to the mace, the broad part should be very critically placed to the centre of the ball. The upper part of the mace or stick is to be directed toward the shoulder when the ball and the mace are pushed onwards with the same impulse. For otherwise, a foul stroke is made when the ball is struck, instead of pushed onwards by the mace, besides there is some danger of breaking the instrument.
General Observations on the Game. Of Terms used.
The player’s object is either to propel one or other of the balls into a pocket, or to strike the red and the adversary’s ball at one stroke, and thus obtain a carom.
The term of a hazard means when one or both balls lie in that manner as render one or both of them liable to be pocketed. A red hazard means when this ball only is liable to be pocketed. A white hazard is when the two white balls are in that situation. A winning game hazard is when the red or white ball being struck at enters a hole. A losing game hazard is when the striking ball is pocketed off either of the balls struck at. The two balls being both struck by the striker’s ball, is called a carom, or carambole.
Principles of the Game.
A variety of objects present themselves in adapting the game to practice. The principal minutiae may be considered thus: The delicacy of strength required in each particular stroke; the precise regulation of the striker’s eye; and the mode of striking. All practice must essentially depend upon the due observation of these points. The eye must not be suffered to wander too much from the striking ball to the object ball, or vice versa, for it will distract the attention if the stroke is not completed after a careful observation of the position of the ball to be struck at, and having at once adapted the cue to the playing ball. The motion and action of the body is of considerable consequence. A graceful elegance is not difficult to be acquired, and does much more than that bustling impatient mode very often witnessed in a billiard-room. The left foot should, with the right hand player, be extended foremost, and vice versa with the left hand player, whilst the body should be just sufficiently bent as to allow the direction of the eye with ease along the cue. It is quite unnecessary to give a definition of the terms, a full ball, a half ball, a quarter ball, &c. The practice of a few games will convey better ideas of these terms, and how such balls should be played, than any directions here laid down. There are more ways of striking with the cue than the full and central stroke, which is most commonly used. It may be made below the centre, above the centre, and obliquely. The first mode of striking, viz. the central, is usually adapted to common hazards, or caroms; and in playing at the cushion for an even recoil of the ball. The end mode below the centre causes the struck ball to recoil from the object ball with a dull whirling motion. This play is useful in obtaining caroms from balls at right angles. The striker in this mode must well chalk or roughen the point of his cue, as it will otherwise slip. The third mode of striking, viz. above the centre of the ball, becomes easy when the balls laying parallel with each other, this will drive both of them into the same pocket, one following the other, and also a carom may be obtained when a third ball is covered by the second. A ball struck in this way only gives a portion of its strength to the object ball, and continues going onwards according to the strength with which it was propelled. The fourth and last mode of striking is, that oblique stroke which is still done, also above the centre. A ball thus struck acquires a leaping motion, for the cue forces the ball against the table, rather than along it. The object is to make a carom when three balls are parallel, and when the striker’s object is at the furthest ball, which is already covered: lastly, a player must, of all things, become acquainted with the angles of the table before he can know the course of the balls, or how to make a carom. This is easily ascertained by the young player’s employing himself with one ball only, and striking against the cushion, and marking its course, he may then proceed with two. The reverberation from the cushion is, of all things, the most requisite to be aware of: and frequent attention to this point will fix the memory, and, by degrees, enable the player to become a proficient in the nice points of the game.
To lay a ground work of playing well, the winning game hazards should be commenced with, the losing hazards being so much more easy, that if a knowledge of the first is obtained, the rest will follow: there are, indeed, such a variety of rules and ideas on the minutiae of the game of Billiards, that it is a question whether they could, with perspicuity, be reduced to writing, without a variety of diagrams. Besides, one hour’s practice is superior to volumes on the subject. The rules hitherto laid down are indispensably necessary.
1. The red and white winning and losing carambole.
2. The white winning game.
3. The white losing game.
4. The winning and losing white game.
5. The tricole game.
6. The choice of balls game.
7. The doublet game.
8. The hazards game.
9. The ball commanding game.
10. The red or winning carambole game.
11. The red losing ditto.
12. The cushion game.
13. Fortification billiards.
There are some other minor games introduced from abroad, not much practised however.
The Carambole ; or, Winning and Losing, or Common Game.
This game is but of modern date, and is so much in fashion as to be more frequently played than any other. The game is either twenty-one or twenty-four points, (the twenty-one is the most common; but at Brighton, Margate, St. James’s, &c. reckon twenty-four;) which are gained either in winning or losing hazards, white and red, and from caramboles: the red hazard scores three, the white hazard and the carambole, each two points.
It is by far the most popular and full of variety, of all the games played at Billiards. The consequence is, that the chances therein are so numerous, that the odds are not customarily reckoned, but are usually laid at random or fancy.
Instructions and Observations on the Winning and Losing Game.
1. The game commences as usual with stringing for the lead, as well as the choice of balls. The ball in stringing to be placed within the circle, and the striker must stand within the corners of the table. The ball which rebounds from the bottom cushion, and comes nearest to the cushion within the baulk, takes the lead, and has the choice of balls.
2. If the adversary to the first person who has strung for the lead should cause his ball to touch the other, he loses the lead thereby.
3. When a player holds the ball in stringing or leading, his lead is forfeited.
4. If a ball is followed by either mace or cue beyond the middle hole, it is no lead; the adversary of course may force him to renew his lead.
5. After every losing hazard the ball is to be replaced within the nails or spots, and within the ring.
6. The place for the red ball is on the lowest of the two spots at the bottom of the table.
7. The red ball being holed or forced over the table, is placed immediately on the lowest of the two spots; the present player is besides compelled to see it thus replaced, else he cannot score any points while it is off the spot ; the stroke of course is foul.
8. When the player misses his adversary’s ball he loses one; but should he at the same time pocket his own ball, he then loses three besides the lead.
9. The adversary’s ball, and the red ball also, being struck by a player.
10. When the striker, after making a hazard or carambole, accidentally forces his own, or either of the other balls over the table, he loses all the advantages he has gained besides the lead.
11. When a ball is accidentally forced over the table, the striker loses the lead.
12. To strike your adversary’s ball and the red one too, you score two; this is called a carom, or carambole.
13. To hole the adversary’s, or the white ball, you score two. To hole the red ball you score three.
14. When the striker holes his own ball off his adversary’s, he scores two points; but if he holes his ball off the red, he scores three. But if he holes both the red and his adversary’s balls, he scores five. If the player holes the red and his own ball, he scores six.
15. If the striker holes his own and his antagonist’s ball, he scores four.
16. When the striker plays at the white ball, and should hole the red after that, and his own ball beside, he scores five; viz. two for holing the white, and three for the red.
17. When the striker playing on the red ball first, should pocket his own as well as his adversary’s ball, he scores five points; three for holing off the red, and two for holing his own.
18. If the player holes his adversary’s ball, his own, and the red, he scores seven points; viz. two for holing off the white, two for the adversary’s holing, and three for holing the red ball.
19. Should the striker hole his own ball off the red, and hole the red and his adversary’s too at the same stroke, he scores eight points thus; three for holing himself off the red, three for the red itself, and two for holing his adversary.
All the above games, commencing with the thirteenth, are scored without the caramboles: the following are those in which the caramboles occur.
20. When a carambole is made, and the adversary’s ball is pocketed, four are scored; viz. two for the carambole, and two for the white.
21. If the striker pockets the red ball after making a carambole, he scores five; two for the carambole, and three for the red.
22. If the striker should hole both his adversary’s and the red ball, after having caramboled, he scores seven; two for the carambole, two for the white, and three for the red ball.
23. When a carambole is made by striking the white ball first, and the striker’s ball should be holed by the same stroke, four points are gained.
24. When the striker makes a carambole by striking the red ball first, and should hole his own ball at the same time, he gains five points; three for the red losing hazard, and two for the carambole.
25. If in playing at the white ball first you should make a carambole, and hole your own and adversary’s ball at the same time, you score six points; viz. two for each white hazard, and two for the carambole.
26. The striker wins seven points when he caramboles off the red ball, and holes his own and his adversary’s ball; viz. two for the carom, two for the white, three for the red hazards, and two for the carom.
27. When the player caramboles by playing first at the white, and should also hole his own and the red, he scores seven points; viz. two for the carom, two for the white losing hazard, and three for the red winning hazard.
28. When the player caramboles by hitting the red ball first, and also holes his own and the red, he scores eight; viz. two for the carom, three for the red winning hazard, and three for the red losing hazard.
29. Should a player carambole on the white ball first, and then hole his own ball and his opponent’s, and the red ball besides, he then scores nine; thus, two for the carom, two for each white, and three for the red hazards.
30. If a carambole is done by striking the red ball first, and at the same stroke the player holes his own ball, the red ball, and his adversary’s too, he gains ten points upon the principle of the preceding rule.
31. When your adversary’s ball is off the table, and the other two balls are upon the line or inside of the stringing nails at the leading end of the table, it is named being within the baulk. The player, therefore, striking from the ring must make his ball rebound from the opposite cushion, so as to hit one of the balls within the baulk; if he misses he loses a point.
32. Now and then it occurs after the red ball has been forced over the table, or holed, one of the white balls has so taken up the place of the red ball, that it cannot be replaced in its proper situation without touching it. In such, the marker holds the red ball in his hand, while the player strikes at his opponent’s ball.
33. And directly after the stroke, replaces it on the proper spot, in order that it may not prevent a carambole from being made.
34. When the striker plays a wrong ball, it is reckoned a foul stroke.
35. When the player is about to strike at, or play with, the wrong ball, none in the room can, with propriety, discover it to him, his partner excepted, if they are playing a double match.
36. When the player, after making a carom or a hazard, should either with his hand, cue, or mace, move either of the balls remaining on the table, the stroke is foul.
37. If the striker should play with the wrong ball, and this erroneous play should not be discovered by his opponent, the marker is obliged to score, and he is a winner of all the points he has gained by the stroke.
38. None can move or touch a ball without permission of the adversary.
39. Sometimes a ball happens to be changed in the course of the game, and it cannot be ascertained by which player; in that case, the balls must be used as they then are, and the game so played out.
40. It is a foul stroke when the striker, in the act of playing, should happen to touch his ball twice.
41. Sometimes the player accidentally touches or moves his ball, without intending to strike: in that case, he loses no point, but his ball may be replaced as originally it stood.
42. When a striker’s adversary or spectator impedes the player’s stroke by accident or design, he has a right to renew his stroke.
43. Should a player, in the act of striking, hit his ball, and cause his cue or his mace to go over it, or past it, he forfeits a point.
44. No striker can play upon a running ball, such stroke is foul.
45. An accidental stroke is to be considered good if attended with the proper effect, though, by missing the cue, &c. it is not intended as such.
46. A striker in attempting to play, and not hitting his ball at all, it is no stroke, and he is to try again.
47. Should the striker, or his adversary, in the act of playing, move by accident, or design, the opponent’s white or red ball from the place it occupied on the table, the stroke is foul.
48. When the striker’s ball and either of the other balls are so close as to touch each other, and in striking at the former, either of the latter is moved from its place, the stroke is foul.
49. Whoever stops a running hall in any way loses the lead, if the opponent does not like the situation of the ball he has to play at next time.
50. It may happen that a striker, after having made a carambole or a hazard, interrupts, by accident, the course of his own ball; in this case he scores nothing, as the stroke is foul.
51. Should a player impede the course of his own ball, after having made a miss, and it is running towards the hole, and it is so thought also by the marker, he loses three points.
52. To stop, retain, or impede the adversary in the act of striking, is deemed foul.
53. Should a player in any way interrupt, stop, or drive his adversary’s ball out of its course when running towards a pocket, he forfeits three points.
54. Even blowing upon a ball whilst running, makes a stroke foul; and should the striker’s ball be making its way towards a hole, and he blow upon it, he loses two points by such act.
55. If a mace or cue is thrown upon the table during a stroke, it is baulking the striker, and the stroke is considered foul.
56. No play is deemed correct when, both feet are off the ground.
57. If the table is struck when a ball is running, the stroke is deemed foul.
58. A player leaving a game unfinished, loses that game.
59. Some tables are so uneven that they give way toward the pockets. In case a ball should go to the brink of a hole, and after there, resting for a few seconds, should drop into it, such tells for nothing; and the ball must be again placed on the brink before the adversary strikes again, and should it fall into the hole again the moment the striker has played his ball, so as to frustrate the intended success of his stroke, the striker’s and his opponent’s balls must be placed as they were originally, and the strokes played over again.
60. When a player’s mace or cue should touch both balls in the act of striking, the stroke is foul; and if noticed by his opponent, nothing is gained on the points made by the stroke; and the opponent may, if he pleases, part the balls also.
61. Those who agree to play with the cue must do so during the whole of the match; but if no conditions of this sort have been made, the player may change as he pleases. No player can, without permission of the adversary, break his agreement.
62. If a foul stroke is made, the adversary may either part the balls and play from the ring, or, if the balls should be favourably placed for himself, permit the striker to score the points he had gained, which the marker is bound to do in all cases where the balls are not broken.
63. All agreements are specially binding. For instance, those who agree to play with the cue point and point, cannot use the butt without permission; but they may use the long cue:-and the same with those who agree to play with the butt only.
61. A striker wins, and the marker is obliged to score all the points he gains by unfair strokes, if the adversary neglects to detect them.
62. He who offers to part the balls, and the adversary agreeing to the same, the offerer loses the lead by such proposal.
66. None (unless they belong to a four match) have a right to comment on a stroke, whether fair or foul, until asked; and in the above case, none but the player and his partner can ask it.
67. When disputes arise between the players, the marker alone decides, and there is no appeal from his decision. But, it may occur, he might have been inattentive to the stroke; in that case, he is to collect the sense of the disinterested part of the company; viz. those who have no bets on the stroke-and their decision is to be final.
68. Betting.-The laws are these: the proposer should be careful to name the precise sum; never to disturb the striker when he is about to take his aim, with any bet to the company; and no bet should be made on any stroke that may tend to influence or lessen the judgment of the player. None in the room can have a right to lay more than the odds on a hazard, or on a game.
69. If he errs in this particular, he may appeal to the marker, or to the table of odds. Bets must be confirmed. If P. proposes a bet with L. and it is accepted, it must be confirmed by P. otherwise it is not a bet. Should bets be laid on the hazard, and the striker should lose the game by a miss at the stroke in question, it is not a hazard, the game being finished by a miss. Bettors, in most instances, are to abide by the determination of the players; and in order to prevent confusion and disputes, have also a right to demand the money when the game is over.
70. Go on regular with your own game, and discover whether the ball be close to the cushion or not, for your adversary has no right to answer such questions.
71. It is irregular for any lookers-on to dictate to the player how to play his next stroke. Sometimes confederates will do this by significant gestures or signs, but there is no scoring for a successful stroke if the adversary discovers this. Neither has any one a right to comment on a stroke after it is played, by exposing the error, as the identical stroke may again occur in the course of the very same game.
72. And finally, no person entering a billiard-room ought to open the door without first listening for the stroke. No one has a right to stand near or opposite the balls, because such is an impediment to the striker. It is the marker’s business to keep the table clear and free from intruders around it.
BEYOND THE VOICES OF LEICESTER SQUARE there is peace. It is in Thurston’s Billiard Hall, which I visited for the first time, the other afternoon, to see the final in the Professional Championship. Let me put it on record that for one hour and a half, that afternoon, I was happy. If Mr. Thurston ever wants a testimonial for his Billiards Hall, he can have on from me. Then moment I entered the place I felt I was about to enjoy myself. It is small, snug, companionable. Four or five rows of plush chairs look down on the great table, above which is a noble shaded light, the shade itself being russet-colored. Autumn to the cloth’s bright Spring. Most of the chairs were filled with comfortable men, smoking pipes. I noticed a couple of women among the spectators, but they looked entirely out of place, just as they would have done among the fat leather chairs of a West End club. I had just time to settle down in my seat, fill and light a pipe myself, before the match began.
It was a match between Davis and Newman, both of whom have held the championship. They suddenly appeared, in their shirt sleeves and holding cues, and we gave them a friendly round of applause, which they acknowledged with something between a bow and a nod. The marker arrived too. He deserves a word to himself. He was an essential part of the afternoon, not merely because he kept the score and called it out, but because he created an atmosphere. He was a young man, whose profile was rather like that of the Mad Hatter; his face was all nose, teeth, and glittering eye; and he had an ecclesiastical dignity and gravity of manner. He handed over the rest of the half-butt like one serving at an altar. To see him place the red on the spot was to realize at once the greatness of the occasion. Best of all was to watch him removing, with his white-gloved hands, specks of dust or films of moisture from a ball. The voice in which he called out the scores was the most impersonal I have ever heard. It was a voice that belonged to solemn ritual, and it did as much as the four walls and the thickly drawn curtained windows to withdraw us from ordinary life and Leicester Square. And withdrawn we certainly were. After a few minutes the world of daylight and buses and three o’clock winners receded, faded, vanished. I felt as if we were all sitting at ease somewhere on the bottom of the Pacific.
Davis had a broad face and wore a brown suit. Newman had a song narrow face and wore a black waistcoat and striped trousers. Davis was the more stolid and cheerful. Newman suggested temperament. Apart from these details, I could discover no difference between them. They were both demi-gods. In the great world outside, I can imagine that one might pass tem by as fellows of no particular importance, just pleasant, clean, neat men with north-country accents. But in this tiny world of bright-green cloth and white and crimson spheres, they were both demi-gods. After the first few minutes I began to regard them with an awe that has no place in my attitude toward any living writer. If one of them had spoken to me (and Newman did speak to the man on my left, who was evidently something of a connoisseur and made all manner of knowing noises), I should have blushed and stammered and nearly choked with pride and pleasure. No modern writer could make me feel like that, simply because no modern writer is great enough. It would have to be Shakespeare; and when you are in this remote little world of billiards, players like Messrs. Davis and Newman are Shakespeare’s: they are a good as that. They have the same trick too: they make it look easy. Watching them you have to use your imagination like blazes to realize you could not do it all yourself.
I do not know whether I have any right to describe myself as a player, but I have played billiards many a time. If I am staying under the same roof with a billiard table, I nearly always play on it, but on the other hand, I never go out looking for billiard tables on which to play. Public billiard rooms are dreary places, even if you find the game itself fascinating, as I do. Moreover, they are too public for my tastes. Once you have a cue in your hand in those places, it appears that everybody who happens to be there has the privilege of advising you. Strangers say, quite angrily: “Oh, you ought to have gone in off the red there!” Than when you try something else: “No, no, no! The white’s the game. That’s it. Only put plenty of side on. Oh no, too hard!” And they make little clucking noises and laugh softly behind your back, until at last you bungle every shot. This does not seem to happen in any other game but billiards. If you play bridge in a public room, strangers do not stand behind you and point authoritatively to your Queen of Spades or King of Diamonds. Nobody makes remonstrative noises at you when you are playing chess. But billiards is anybody’s and everybody’s game. The adventures of those shining spheres, as they chase one another over the green cloth, are public property, and the moment you have grasped a cue, you yourself are a public character whose actions can be criticized with freedom. And as I happen to be a very poor performer, I prefer to play in private, almost behind locked doors.
The shortest way of describing the skill of Messrs. Davis and Newman is to say it appeared miraculous when they ever missed anything. Now when my friends and I have played the game, it has always seemed miraculous if anything happened but a miss. The balls always seemed so small, the pockets so narrow, the table so hopelessly long and wide. These professional champions, however, treated every shot as if it were a little sum in simple arithmetic. While they went on calmly potting the red, bringing it back nearer to the white every time, and then collecting cannons by the dozens, we all leaned back sucked our pipes almost somnolently, secure and happy in the drowsy peace of mechanics and art. It was when they chanced to fail that we were startled into close attention. You could hear a gasp all around you. If the marker had broken into song, we could hardly have been more astonished. The only persons who never showed any signs of surprise were the two players—and, of course, the marker. If Davis, after going halfway round the table with an amazing number of delicious little cannons, all as good as epigrams, finally missed a shot, Newman quite nonchalantly came forward to make the balls do what he thought they ought to do, for half an hour or so. And the things they did were incredible. He could make them curve round, stop dead, or run backward. But if Newman went on doing this for three-quarters of an hour, quietly piling up an immense score, Davis, sitting at ease, nursing his cue, showed no anxiety, no eagerness to return to the table. His turn would come. I tell you, these were demi-gods.
The hall was filled with connoisseurs, men who knew a pretty bit of “side” or “top” when they saw it, smacked their lips over a nice follow-through, and heard sweet music in the soft click-click of the little cannons, and when a stroke of more that usual wizardry was played, they broke into applause. Did this disturb either of the players? It did not. They never looked up, never smiled, never blinked an eyelid. Perhaps they had forgotten we were there, having lost remembrance of us in the following of the epic adventures of the two whites and the red. Of all games, billiards must be the worst to play when you are feeling nervous, for they were beginning a championship match, but they showed no trace of feeling, not a quiver. And when we clapped them at the end of long breads, they merely gave us a slight nod. “Ah, so you’re there, are you?” these nods seemed to say. I felt awed before such greatness. These men could do one thing better than anybody else could do it. They were masters. Their world was a small one, bounded by the shaded electric lights and the stretch of green cloth, but in that world they were supreme conquerors.
To play billiards every afternoon and evening, year in and year out, might seem monotonous, yet I think they must lead satisfying lives. What they can do, they can do, beyond any possible shadow of a doubt. They hit the red and it vanishes into a pocket. They have not to convince themselves that they have hit it and that it has probably gone into the pocket, as we have to do in our affairs. What can I do? What can you do? We think this, we imagine that, and we are never sure. These great cue men are as sure as human beings can be. I envy them, but my envy is not so sharp that it robs me of all pleasure in their skill. When I am actually in their presence, looking down on the table of their triumphs, my envy is lost in admiration and delight. When the world is wrong, hardly to be endured, I shall return to Thurston’s Hall and there smoke a pipe around the connoisseurs of top and side. It is as near to the Isle of Innisfree as we can get within a hundred leagues of Leicester Square.