Advances in the game of billiards and the equipment used to play the game occurred very much in parallel. This brief history is intended to chronicle the links between the two and give an appreciation of some of the difficulties encountered by early players.
Although there are many theories about the origin of billiards, the only indisputable fact is that virtually nothing is known for certain about the game before the 17th century. The earliest detailed account comes in “The Compleat Gamester” by Charles Cotton in 1674. In this book Cotton says that billiards was being played throughout Europe and was especially popular in England where there were few towns without public tables. A diagram in this book shows an oblong table with six pockets, being essentially the same proportions as modern tables, although probably smaller in size.
In the 17th century the game of billiards was very different to the modern game, being played with only two balls which were pushed along the table by a “Mace” (also known as a “mast”) By the end of the 17th century, balls were generally made from ivory which had largely replaced the wooden balls previously used. An ivory arch, called a “port” was positioned on the table at the pyramid spot and an ivory peg called a “king” on a corresponding spot at the other end of the table. The main purpose of the game was to pot the opponent’s ball and keep your own out of the pocket, which became a “hazard”. Additional scores or forfeits associated with passing through the arch or hitting the “king”. A game consisted of 5 up by daylight, or 3 up by candlelight.
The game was initially played on a bare wooden board, with cloth covering for tables beginning to appear from around 1660.
By 1734 the 5th edition of Cotton’s book records that the “port” and “king” were no longer in use and that cues were being used in addition to the mace.
In 1775, a publication called Hoyle’s Games, makes reference to the introduction of a red ball to a version of the game played in Continental Europe. This was called Carambole, with the red being the “carom”. This was later corrupted to the modern term “cannon”. The game was played with the red placed on the Pyramid spot. The players led from the baulk spot and it was not permitted to play back into baulk, as with the present rules. Both red and white balls were re-spotted when potted, but a player did not continue after making a score, so the concept of making a “break” was unknown at this time. The introduction of the red ball is credited by Hoyle as coming from France where they also played on a table with six pockets. The French eventually discarded pockets in favour of the cannon game in the late 19th century.
The red ball started to become popular in the English game shortly before the start of the 19th century and by 1810 the three ball game had superseded the other variations in England, to the extent that it was regarded as the “common game” of billiards. In the English game, pocketing the opponent’s ball was known as a “winning hazard” and as a player lost points by pocketing his own ball, this was termed the “losing hazard”. The game later developed into a version which was exactly opposite to the “winning” game, where only losing hazards and cannons were counted. By this time a player could follow a successful shot with another attempt and “breaks” began to be recorded. The two variations of billiards combined in the early part of the 19th century, becoming the basis for the modern game and this version was known for a long time as “the winning and losing game”.
The early part of the 19th century also saw the development of billiards in America, initially along similar lines to the English game. Although while the English were adopting the three ball game, the Americans were developing a version of the cannon game which used four balls. This type of game was popular in America for most of the century.
At the turn of the 19th century, billiard tables usually had solid wood beds generally made from oak, about 1″ thick and in three pieces. However, examples of marble and parquet oak beds were also known. The wooden tables were of a much lighter construction than their modern counterparts, having more the appearance of a dining table with slim elegant lines. This was not really surprising as billiard tables at this time were made by cabinet-makers, who used the materials and styles known to them from furniture manufacture.
The cushions were stuffed with various materials, the most common of which was List, a waste product of cotton manufacture. Also used were horse hair, cotton, and felt. All these substances produced a hard pad, like the arm of a stuffed chair. Due to the slowness of these cushions, one of the principal scoring stokes was the jenny into the middle pocket, which could be repeated with relative ease into the same pocket. The game at this time was usually 21 up.
Table lighting was usually by natural daylight. In the evening oil lamps would be used, suspended above the table. As these lamps would invariably cast a shadow on the table, visibility could not have been very good. One type of oil in common use well into the 20th century was Colza Oil, which was made from the seed of a wild cabbage.
The woollen cloth used to cover billiard tables at the turn of the 19th century was of a course commercial grade of the type used for clothing. Spots were generally marked on the table by hammering brass nails into the bed.
By 1800, ivory balls had already been in use for about 100 years and would be the only type of ball used for English championship matches throughout the 19th century. The best balls were made from African ivory which was considered to be of more even density than Indian ivory. Inconsistent density meant that a weight difference could occur even between a set of balls cut from the same tusk. This was considered so significant that balls were usually weighed before the start of an important match, this criteria being considered more important than the size, which could therefore vary within a “matched” set of balls. As with any tooth, the elephant tusk had a nerve which ran through its centre. This resulted in a hole which could be quite significant in balls cut from near the base of a tusk. Because of this, only the small tusks of female elephants were considered suitable. Holes created by the nerve would usually be plugged with ebony and become the “spot”. Due to the general inconsistency of the spot ball and the tendency for it to “kick” when the ebony contacted the ivory of the object ball, it was considered to be a disadvantage to play with it. In addition to these problems, the porous ivory could also change shape during the course of a game as it absorbed moisture from a humid atmosphere. It was therefore common to see players when shooting from the baulk, carefully placing their ball so that the “poles” of the central nerve were exactly horizontal. This would minimise the effects of any distortion.
The cue, which had totally superseded the mace in the billiard rooms of France, Germany and Italy eventually started to gain popularity in England around the turn of the century. The development of the cue had occurred in continental Europe, with England being virtually the last billiard playing nation to abandon the mace. The first stage in its development was the use of the thin handle of the mace to strike balls near the cushion and from this, specifically designed cues were developed for the playing of all types of shot. These had plain wooden ends which were square cut and would therefore allow only central striking of the cue ball if a miscue was to be avoided. Most billiard room proprietors would only allow the use of cues by the best players, as the likelihood of a miscue and consequential damage to the cloth was great with an inexperienced player.
The first step in enabling players to strike other than the centre of the cue ball came with the invention of the “Jeffery”. This cue was cut obliquely at the point and enabled a player to strike the ball below the centre. Next to be introduced was a slightly rounded tip which helped to avoid a miscue if the player was slightly inaccurate with his centre ball striking.
It is generally accepted that the leather tip was invented by a French cavalry officer Msr. Mingaud in 1807 during a period of imprisonment for his political views. However, it is also claimed in America that W. Lake, the son of a shoemaker, also made the invention at around the same period. Whatever the source, this simple development enabled the evolution of the modern game as perhaps no other single factor.
White records in his book A Practical Treatise on the Game of Billiards, that the cue was the most widely used implement and is preferred by all the best players. The form of the cue was much the same as it is today except that it was generally lighter, being made from a single piece of wood.
The mace was rarely seen after 1820, except for use by lady players on private tables. However the end of the cue was still deliberately shaped to be used in the manner of a mace, for the convenience of playing shots which were otherwise out of reach. Another variation was a “cue butt” (or quarter butt) which was the same style as a cue, but rather longer and much heavier. It was “tipped” with a leather pad and used in playing up the table to double onto balls in baulk. This implement was very good for ensuring that no unintentional side would be imparted to the cue ball. The “half-butt” was a six-foot version of the “cue-butt” and for those really distant shots, an even longer implement was used, imaginatively called the “long-butt”. All of these aids would be seen, together with cues, in any billiard room throughout the 19th century.
Rests were commonly available for billiards, although the “butt” was more commonly used. The rest came into its own during games of pyramids and pool where the number of balls on the table could cover the approach of a butt stroke. The “cross” headed rest was the most popular design, but grooved heads were also common.
Long before the advent of the leather tip, chalk had been well-known amongst the better players as an aid to preventing miscues. However, when the two were combined, the effects of applying “side” to the cue-ball began to be appreciated by all levels of players. In 1828, Thurston’s started to supply coloured chalk (blue). Prior to this, white chalk was the only type used, and indeed was still was universally used throughout the 19th century.
It is easy to imagine that the two-piece cue is a relatively modern invention, but as far back as 1829 these were being supplied by Thurston’s.
In 1830, Thurston’s introduced a 2″ billiard ball which began to replace the smaller 1 7/8″ balls then in use.
By this time, cues, which had previously been made from a single piece of wood (usually Ash) began to appear spliced with a decorative wood at the butt. The style rapidly became fashionable amongst the members of London clubs. These were generally heavier woods, although Thurston record the manufacture of an Ash cue with a bamboo butt in 1832. Around the same time, superior cue cases made from polished mahogany, designed to hold two or more cues, were also being made to order.
In 1833 we find the first record of the use of lead in the butt of a cue to increase the weight. Even so, most cues would be between 14 – 16 oz. Very light by today’s standards.
In 1835 Thurston’s managed to sell their first slate-bed table, having begun experimenting with the material some eight years earlier. The slate was between 7/8″ to 1″ thick, which was based on the thickness of the wooden beds at that time. Thurston’s were not the first to have tried a slate bed table. They had originally been introduced in Dublin, but they “soon fell into disrepute” and the venture failed.
Thurston’s were the first English billiard table manufacturer to introduce rubber cushions. Their first sale being to the officer’s mess of the 42nd Royal Hussars in Corfu on 16th May 1835. These were fitted as a modification to an existing table. However, like slate beds, rubber cushions were not new concept. There is reference to them having been tried in Belgium, but were considered unsuccessful due to them hardening in cold weather. That particular problem stems from the use of pure natural rubber. It’s advantage was that it provided great speed under ideal conditions, a ball which had previously travelled four lengths of the table when fully struck, would now travel six or seven lengths. The ball also rebounded at a truer angle. Natural rubber however, had one significant drawback – it would go hard as he temperature dropped and had to be heated before play was possible. By 1838 Thurston’s had addressed this problem by developing specially shaped warming pans which could be filled with hot water. The first such set was supplied with a table erected in Windsor Castle for Queen Victoria on 16th October 1838. Prior to this the remedy had been the careful use of a hot iron, or to remove the cushions from the table and stand them by the fire to warm up.
Early rubber cushions were made of laminated strips in an inverted “L” shape. This overhang ensured that the impact on the ball was above the centre and threw it down onto the table, so that it did not bounce off the bed, even when played with force.
In 1839 the problem with rubber hardening in cold temperatures was solved by an American inventor, Charles Goodyear, who produced rubber which was heat-treated with sulphur in a process which he called “Vulcanising”.
Even by 1839, leather cue tips were still not commercially available in England. The “Champion” of the day, Edwin Kentfield, advocated that the best tips should be cut from an “old harness or strap” with “soft sole leather or saddle flaps” also being an excellent source.
By 1840 slate beds started to be produced in greater numbers, largely due to improvements in quarrying techniques which brought down prices. Prior to this only a few tables or individual slates had been sold in England.
On 6th September 1845, Thurston’s obtained a patent to apply the vulcanising process to the rubber cushions of billiard tables. The first set of such cushions was supplied to Queen Victoria and fitted to her table at Windsor Castle on 15th October 1845. However, the vulcanising process resulted in a much slower cushion and Thurston’s still had problems selling them to an unwilling public who had now become used to the speed of natural rubber.
Around 1850 gas lighting generally began to replace oil lamps in the towns, but the country areas where it was not available, oil or paraffin lamps would remain for some years. Even with this new innovation, for the next twenty years daylight would still be considered to provide the best playing conditions. Private billiard rooms were recommended to be illuminated by means of a skylight to avoid shadows being cast by side lighting from windows”.
By this time cloth being produced was much finer, allowing the ball to take a truer course and travel more quickly. West of England cloth was generally regarded as the best.
Spots at this time were made from small circular pieces of black plaster which were firmly affixed to the cloth. These could cause the ball to jump and were not used for professional matches where the position of the spots were marked with chalk.
By 1868 the thickness of slate beds had started to increase with Burroughes & Watts tables using slates between 1″ – 1½” thick and either four of five in number. Even so, problems were still being encountered with sag, and a distinct rumbling noise as the ball rolled across the surface. From this date slate beds began to be produced in thicker sections in an attempt to overcome these problems. High quality tables now began to have slates from 1½” – 2″ thick, and some examples of 2½” are known. As a direct result of the increased weight, the number of sections used was now always five. The increased weight of the slate also meant that a more substantial wooden structure was required to provide the support. The number of legs was now never less than eight, and for the 2½” slates these were of massive proportions. After much trial and error, an optimum thickness of 1¾” was eventually accepted as standard.
The first reference to gas lighting of a professional billiard match occurred in 1868. The invention of the gas “mantle” around this time improved illumination even further.
1868 also saw a major development in the game when American John Wesley Hyatt from New York, developed the composite billiard ball made from Cellulose Nitrate Camphor & ground animal bone. Hyatt’s formula was patented as “Celluloid” and was used for a wide range of products from piano keys to false teeth. This was the first “composition” billiard ball to go into commercial production and it was made by Hyatt’s company, the Albany Ball Co. The early formula was rather unstable and had an unfortunate tendency to create a mild explosion if struck too hard. The balls would also pick up dirt very easily and did not have the same elasticity of ivories.
With no common standard, the positioning of the spots on a billiard table was not an exact science with variations occurring from table to table. The position of the billiard spot was usually 12½” – 12¾” from the top cushion (currently 12¾”) and the “D” would be 9½” – 10″ in radius. (currently 11½”)
With no single authority to control the development of the game, a wide variety of minor rule variations came to be applied in almost every public Billiard Room. This state of affairs may have been tolerable in the early part of the 19th century, but as the game grew in popularity the necessity for a common set of rules became overwhelming. The first pressures came from amateur players and with heavy wagers becoming common, individual disputes were referred to the sporting press. By the 1870’s, the Sportsman newspaper had become regarded as the main authority for settling these arguments. In some cases, a committee of leading professionals would be convened to respond to a dispute which involved a particularly heavy wager. Amongst the letters received by this newspaper came this, perhaps not too serious request for clarification of the rules of Pool :
“Sir – During a game an excitable friend of mine played out of turn, with the wrong ball, at the wrong ball, used the rest instead of his cue and at the same time made a foul by touching another ball with his arm. What ought to be done under these circumstances ?” The editor, probably suspecting the sincerity of the enquiry, responded “Have his head shaved and a strong poultice applied to the back of his head.”
By 1870 it was usual to appoint a Referee for important matches, by agreement between the players. The referee, often a leading player himself, would be the arbiter in the event of a dispute. He would be seated close to the table, near the spot end, not being required to take any part in proceedings unless called upon to do so. A Marker would be employed to watch the play, call the scores and post them on the scoreboard. In addition a boy would retrieve the balls and hand the rest to the players. At this time, the non-striker was responsible for claiming fouls made by his opponent, although this role eventually fell to the Marker.
There was no standard for the size of pocket openings on the billiard table, but by general consent, most tables were made with pockets 3 5/8″ wide at the fall for what became known as “ordinary” tables, although variations in most public rooms meant that pockets of 3½” and 3¼” were also commonly found.
The first specialist break-building stroke of any significance was the repeated potting of the red from the billiard spot. This was known as the “spot stroke”. By 1870 the leading players were making regular century breaks by this means and as a direct result, the first attempt was made to limit scoring at billiards. This was done by the introduction of the “championship” table which had the pocket openings reduced to 3″. This type of table was primarily used in professional championship matches, but also appeared in many billiard rooms, as a test for the patrons. This may also be the source of the common misconception that “billiard tables” have tighter pockets than “snooker tables”.
By this time the size of ball had increased to a nominal 2 1/16″ which is the current size of balls in use today. However, due to the need to turn ivories occasionally to restore their shape, an original set would usually be supplied 1/32″ oversize, by way of an allowance.
Cues were generally between 55″ and 59″ in length and 11oz.-17oz. in weight. Ash was still the most popular wood. The diameters of tips were most common in the range of 9-12 mm, although both smaller and larger tip diameters were known. Tips had been developed to protect the wood from impact damage and were now layered, with a hard base made from shoe leather topped with softer calf cheek. One calf’s head producing only enough leather to make 150 tips. The best tips were all imported from France. “Extensions” to the tip of the cue, made from ivory or horn were known in the last quarter of the 19th century. These were applied to help avoid the problem of a cue become gradually shorter due to regular re-tipping as they could be easily replaced after an unacceptable degree of wear had occurred.
In a bold innovation, Marsden & Saffley (Liverpool) started to manufacture tables with a cast iron frame and with beds of cast concrete the late 1870’s. They were reputedly the “fastest table on record”, but the venture failed after about 3 years, possibly due to the weight of the final construction.
Until this time professional matches had generally been played over a single evening and were between 1,000 and 1,500 up. As the playing conditions improved, so did the proficiency of the top players with the spot-stroke. Now games began to be extended to make allowance for this ability. Billy Mitchell became the first player to achieve a 1,000 break in public whilst playing W. J. Peall in a match of 5,000 up at the Black Horse Hotel, Rathbone Place, on 5th October 1882. His break was 1,055 mainly made up from 350 consecutive spots.
In 1883 a fast table would travel six lengths. However, the vulcanised rubber cushions would still change their speed to some extent depending upon temperature, and would become noticeably faster after the gas table lighting had been turned on.
Around the mid-1880s the popularity of coloured chalk suddenly increased and became the innovation of the billiards world, although white chalk continued to be used by many players and public rooms.
In 1885 a group of professional players joined with representatives from the leading billiard table manufacturers to take over from the Sportsman newspaper and form the game’s first governing body. This was called the Billiards Association of Great Britain and Ireland, and its first act was to publish a common set of rules. Amongst these rules was one which specified that only the tip of the cue could be used to strike the ball. The mace had long been discarded, but this rule also spelt the end for the “butt” in public rooms. The Baulk line was also set at 29″ (current measurement) having previously been 28½”
On 5th November 1886, William Peall set a new milestone in the game by making a break of 2,413. The first player to exceed two thousand.
By the 1890’s power distribution networks began to make electric lighting a possible alternative to gas. Electric light bulbs had been developed to a practical level of efficiency some 10 years earlier, but would remain too expensive for general use until mass-production techniques in the early 1930’s reduced the cost of bulbs. Because of the expense, where electric lighting appeared, it was common for only a single bulb to be used. The Billiards Year Book 1910 comments “Of all lights electric is the best. It is steady and bright and does not heat the room or foul the atmosphere. If gas is used with ordinary burners a ring of three jets to each light is preferable to a large single jet as it gives a steadier light. With incandescent burners only one jet is needed for each of the six lights.”
Over three full sessions, on 5th & 6th November 1890, William Peall exploited the spot-stroke to compile an incredible record break of 3,304 (total playing time 2 hrs. 40 min) at the Royal Aquarium, London, in a match of 15,000 up.
In 1892 the Billiard Association standardised the dimensions of a billiard table. Templates for pocket openings were introduced and standardised at 3½” which is the size currently in use today. [This dimension is often referenced as being 3 5/8″, but it was later discovered that this was an error due to incorrectly measuring the template]. This also meant the end for the “Championship Table” although this had rarely been used for professional matches for many years and had become widely regarded as a failed experiment.
By 1893 Hyatt had overcome the problems with the composition billiard ball and his new formula was marketed under the name of “Bonzoline”. The Bonzoline Manufacturing Co. Ltd was established in England to sell these balls. However, the reputation of his earlier attempt remained linked to the new ball and initially there was some resistance from the public. Although a source of major controversy at the time, in hindsight there was little doubt that the new ball was superior in all respects to ivory, having more accurate manufacturing tolerances and a consistent density which ensured true running. Although slightly heavier [c.5½oz.] than ivory [c.5oz.] they threw at a wider angle. Whilst the composition ball became increasingly popular at an amateur level, it failed to displace ivories in England as long as they were used by professionals and endorsed by the Billiard Association. This attitude from the hierarchy of the game persisted well into the 20th century when it was eventually overtaken by the groundswell of amateurs who had never played with ivories due to their scarcity and expense. In the colonies however (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India) the composition ball was used almost exclusively since their earliest introduction to those countries.
On 3rd January 1894 Edward Diggle set a record of 115 consecutive cannons in a match of 24,000 up against John Roberts up at the Egyptian Hall, London.
In May 1894, John Roberts set a new record with the first ever break over 1,000 to be made without the aid of the spot-stroke (1,392). The match was played at the Gentleman’s Concert Hall, Manchester. Roberts was the only English professional who played consistently with composition balls, ivories being the first choice of all other players.
By this time most professional players were restricting the spot-stroke by applying their own rules. However, on 1st October 1898 the Billiard Association, for the first time, formalised a rule which was intended to restrict break-making. Following the lead of the professionals, they restricted the spot-stroke so that only two consecutive pots could be made from the billiard spot before the ball was placed on the centre. After this date, rule changes intended to stop big scoring became a common feature in the progress of the game.
Towards the end of the century, as a compromise to the composition ball, an attempt was made to manufacture a ball from ivory powder bound with camphor and shellac which was moulded under hydraulic pressure. This attempt did not prove successful and was discarded after a few years. Other attempt to make composition balls from various substances were also tried, but none matched the success of Hyatt’s Bonzoline ball.
The early style of play for billiards was developed from the use of the mace, which demanded an upright stance. This was continued to be recommended as the ideal stance for using the cue, right up to the turn of the century, and all the early players adopted this style. The low sighting adopted for modern day billiards seems to have been introduced through the amateur ranks from the turn of the century. However, low sighting along the cue was sufficiently uncommon in 1910 for one journalist to remark of the then Amateur Champion, Major Fleming, “he bends so low over the table as almost to touch his cue with his face.”
In 1900, George Birt, one of the three brothers who ran the Albany Ball Co. in America, came to England where he met Percy Warford-Davies and the following year they began to produce the “Crystalate” ball, in direct competition to Bonzoline. This was marketed in England by the Endolithic Co. Ltd. By the beginning of the 20th century most cues were still being made from Ash and the better ones were spliced with a heavier wood such as Ebony to form the butt. Unspliced cues were available for half the price of spliced cues, but were generally considered to be much inferior.
Thursday 8th November 1900 sees the first reference to the substitution of a yellow ball for the spot white in billiards. Prior to the commencement of a match involving W. J. Peall at the Agricultural Hall, Mr. George Brand, vice-president of the Billiard Association played one of the spectators with a new set of balls which comprised white, red and spot yellow. The experiment was reported in the Sportsman the following day and was generally received with favour. However, the change was considered too radical at the time and the idea was dropped.
In 1905 there began a brief fashion for unusually shaped tables. Orme & Sons introduced an oval billiard table, while Thurston’s began to make Octagonal shaped tables.
1907 saw the brief reign of the “pendulum cannon” in English billiards. Skilfully bring the balls together near a pocket, where they would be retained in an “anchor” position, the professionals vied to see who could make the biggest break, and matches were specially arranged for this purpose. The “honour” went to Tom Reece who between 3rd June and 6th July 1907 made and incredible break of 499,135. In September of the same year the stroke was barred by the Billiard Association.
On 24th May 1909, John Roberts introduced the time limit match to professional billiards, playing for exactly two hours, afternoon and evening, over the 12 days of his match against William Cook Jnr; at the Lisle Street Saloon, London. This concept was regarded as something of a failure, and it took some years to become popular.
1910 saw the arrival in England of a young Australian called George Gray who came with a reputation for red ball play. He made his first 1,000 break within weeks of his arrival and continued with a further 22 beaks over 1,000 in the course of 31 matches during the 1910-11 season. In a beak of 1,340 in January 1911, he made a sequence of no less than 289 centre pocket in-offs before being compelled to play for the top pocket. The highest of his breaks was 2,196 unfinished against Cecil Harverson, made at the Holborn Hall, London. George Gray played exclusively with Crystalate balls during this period. After this, red-ball play would become the most popular method of break-building, especially amongst the amateur players.
In 1912 Albany and Endolithic came to an arrangement to jointly market each other’s balls with Bonzoline being made in America and Crystalate in Tunbridge, Kent. Although based on Hyatt’s formula, the Crystalate ball was still not as popular as Bonzoline.
As late as 1915 gas lighting was still being used for billiard tables, but by this time was considered “old fashioned” with electric lighting being found in all major towns and cities.
By 1920 ivory billiard balls were practically unknown in all the large billiard halls and most of the clubs. This was essentially due to the spiralling cost which, at three guineas for a set, put them out of reach for ordinary players. When the Crystalate ball was endorsed by the Billiards Association for their Amateur championships in 1926, it led to it becoming the most popular make, overtaking Bonzoline and eventually replacing all others.
The best American chalks of this time were not made from chalk at all, but mainly Silica (Sand) bound with “Aloxite” and compressed under an hydraulic pressure of 15 tons. “Chalks” with essentially the same formula are still used today.
In 1923 Thurston’s introduced the “Janus” cotton billiard cloth. This became the standard surface for professional play until the War. Unlike a woollen cloth, it had no nap, so could be laid in either direction and even turned without affecting it’s characteristics. It was also claimed that the cloth could be taken off and washed.
The 1928-29 season saw the English professionals switch to playing exclusively with composition balls and although ivory balls continued to be made and used in private games, their days were numbered from this point.
In the late 1920’s the single light-shade over the billiard table was first introduced, being the inception of Mr. Geo. Skidmore of Wednesbury, an old cricketer and billiards lover.
In December 1929, Walter Lindrum made a break of 3,262 against Willie Smith at the Memorial Hall, Farrington Street, London, becoming the first person to pass the three-thousand mark since William Peall in 1890.
The early 1930’s saw the first synthetic resin ball being sold in England by the Composition Billiard Ball Supply Co under the trade name of “Vitalite”. The “composition” balls available at that time were essentially made from powdered bone, (cow’s shinbone) bound together with cellulose nitrate. This new ball was one of the first to use a solid plastic resin. Other manufacturers of this type of ball in Germany and France, also began to import into the English market at this time. Initially unsuccessful, they were reintroduced towards the end of the decade.
In January 1932, Walter Lindrum made a record break of 4,137 in a match against Joe Davis at Thurston’s match room. 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.
In the News of the World Gold Cup Tournament in February 1933, Walter Lindrum scored a break of 1,041, which included 529 consecutive close cannons. The break involved nursing the balls 2¼ times around the table.
This period saw the highest standards ever achieved in English billiards, which may well have continued had not the War intervened. After this the professional game died out almost completely and the Age of the Amateur began. With many of the best cuemen now turning their attention to snooker perhaps we will never see performances like this again.
Advances in cloths, balls, cushions and accessories, have continued throughout the 20th century bringing us to the conditions we enjoy today. Hopefully, this brief chronicle will give a flavour of how the game has developed along with with the associated equipment and facilities, which we now take for granted.