History of English billiards

History of English billiards

English billiards is a two player game that is popular across the British Empire, where it is known simply as billiards. [ cite book
last = Everton
first = Clive
authorlink = Clive Everton
title = History of Snooker and Billiards
publisher = Partridge Pr.
date = 16 October 1986
location =Haywards Heath, West Sussex
pages =
isbn = 1-8522-5013-5
] In other countries it has been called the English game, the all-in-game and the common game. It is a of three predecessor billiards games: "the winning game", "the losing game" and "the carambole game" (an early form of straight rail), and was at inception known as the winning and losing carambole game. There are a number of pocket billiard games directly descended from English billiards, including "bull dog", "scratch pool", "thirty-one pool", "thirty-eight" and "cowboy pool". [cite book
last = Shamos
first = Michael Ian
year = 1993
title = The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Billiards
publisher = Lyons & Burford
location = New York, NY
pages = Pages 61-62, 89 and 244
id = ISBN 1-55821-219-1


Early History

A romantic version of the creation of the game starts in 1560, when William Kew, a London pawnbroker was fond of rolling three balls on his countertop or the floor. This is where the name "bill-yard" came from. The stick became known as the kew, hence "cue". The term "marker", the keeper of the scores, was derived from another early responsibility - warning the players of the approach of their wife, i.e. "Mark her." Clergymen from St. Paul's Cathedral took note of this game, and "cannon" became the word used for a player's ball making contact with another two.

However, the words "cannon", "cue", and "marker" did not appear in billiards scripts until the 18th century. "A Compleat Historie of Billiards Evolution", by William Hendricks, privately published the origins of the game, and equipment.

"Billiard" descended from the French words for stick, such as "billart", "billette", and "bille." "Cue" came from the word "queue", the French word for a tail. This refers to the early practice of using the tail of the mace to strike the ball when it lay under a cushion.

A recognizable form of billiards was played in the 1340s. Reminiscent of croquet, King Louis XIV of France had a billiard table, and it swiftly spread amongst the French nobility. The game was still played along the ground, but it died out in the 1600s, as table billiards had grown in popularity. Mary, Queen of Scots, claimed that her "table de billiard" had been taken away by what would eventually become her executioners. In 1588, the Duke of Norfolk, owned a "billyard bord coered with a greene cloth... three billyard sticks and 11 balls of yvery". Billiards grew to the extent that by 1727, it was being played in almost every Paris cafe. In England, the game was developing into the "done thing" for members of the gentry.

Forming of the modern game

In 1670, the thin end of the mace began to be used not only for shots under the cushion (which itself was only there as a preventative method to stop balls from rolling off), but preferring it for other shots too. The cue as is known today was finally developed by about 1800.

The initial concept with the mace was to push the balls, rather than strike. The new cue provided a new challenge. Cushions began to be stuffed with substances to allow the balls to rebound, in order to enhance the appeal of the game. After a transitional period where only the better players could use cues "for fear of damaging the cloth", the cue came to be the first choice of equipment.

The demand for tables and other equipment was initially met by John Thurston and other furniture makers of the era. The early balls were made from wood, but the rich preferred to use ivory.

Early billiard games involve reports of "the arch" (as in croquet hoop), "port" and "king" (a pin near the hoop) in the 1770s, but other games were being formed that would go on to form fundamental roles in modern billiards.

Origin of the scoring

The "winning game" was a 12 point contest with two white balls. The player who could get his ball nearest the opposite cushion without lying against it started play. This is where the modern custom of "stringing" originated. A player who pocketed his opponent's ball scored two points, as is still the case, and a player missing his opponent's ball added one point to his opponent's total. He conceded two points if his ball went into a pocket after striking his opponent's ball, and he conceded three to his opponent if he struck no ball at all on his way into a pocket. These rules existed in billiards until 1983, when a standard two points for fouls and misses was introduced.

The "losing game" was the opposite. "Winning hazard" and "losing hazard" are terms still mentioned in the official rules, although "pot" and "in-off" have become the colloquial terms for them.

The final element was the "cannon", which came from carambole, a game popular in France at the time. A red ball was added to the two white balls, and counted as three points. The idea of the game was to hit the other two balls with your own ball. This was known as a "carombole", later a "cannon" or "carom." This counted two points to the game total of 16. Gradually, the French made their tables without pockets, preferring caroms for their "carambole."

The skill required in playing these games helped to retire the mace in favour of the cue.

Other equipment

The idea of the cue initially was to try to strike the cue-ball as centrally as possible to avoid a miscue. The concept of spin was discovered before cue-tips had been invented, i.e. striking the bottom of the cueball to make it go backwards upon contact etc. Captain Mingaud was studying the game of billiards whilst in prison, and experimented with a leather cue-tip. In 1807, he was released and demonstrated his invention.

In pre-tip days, it was common for players to twist the ends of their cue in a wall so a chalk-like deposit would form, reducing the chance of a miscue. The first systematic marketing of chalk was by John Carr, a marker in John Bartley's billiard rooms in Bath. Between the two of them, they discovered how "side" could be used to the advantage of players, and he sold chalk in small boxes. He called it "twisting chalk", but the magical impression it gave the public enabled him to sell it for a higher price than if they realized it was simply chalk in a small box.

"English", the American term for "side" came from this discovery, as "masse" comes from the French word for mace. Captain Mingaud also discovered that by raising the cue vertically, to the position adopted by the mace, he could perform what is now known as a "masse" shot.

By 1840, the tables were made of slate, as opposed to wood. John Thurston was instrumental in this change, having tested the surface since 1826. After experimenting with hair, list, Russian duck and white swanskin, rubber was introduced in the cushions in 1835. This was not initially a success, as depending on the temperature, the elasticity would alter. After attempting to market cushion warmers with only partial success, Thurston was saved by the discovery of vulcanising, and he then used the vulcanized rubber in the cushions. The first set was presented to Queen Victoria.

Traditionally, the green cloth was very thick, but machines were developed so that the nap was thinner, making the judgments of shots much easier.

In an attempt to cheapen the game, John Wesley Hyatt, from New York, discovered that collodion, a substance used by printers to protect their fingers, hardened to the extent that it could be used to form balls. He and his brother, Isaac, patented their process in 1870 under the trade name "celluloid", the world's first commercial synthetic plastic. It was also used for false teeth and piano keys. An early problem was that it was highly inflammable, and if the ball was struck too hard, it was not uncommon for it to explode. This technology eventually led to the cast resin and cast phenolic balls used today.

Early Competitions

"Champion" Title

The origins of competitive billiards are reminiscent of the early beginnings of boxing. With no official governing body, champions could only be awarded on the strength of public opinion. There were challenge matches all over the country for a stake, and the players winning the majority of the money were considered the best.

In 1820, the first player to be publicly recognised as Champion, was Edwin Kentfield, but was known as Jonathan Kentfield. He had a record break of 196, including 57 consecutive reds from the spot. In the pre-rubber era, this would have required the use of either rolling through or screwing back. His break signalled the importance of the shot in scoring.

John Carr, who had just pioneered twisting chalk, moved on from marking to challenge Kentfield in 1827, but missed the match due to illness. Kentfield lost the title however in 1849, when he failed to respond to a challenge from John Roberts, Sr.. Kentfield decided he would rather retire as undefeated champion, and simply let Roberts take the title. In 1862, Roberts increased the highest break record to 346 against William Dufton.

Championship Matches

It was his turn to face a Championship match in February 1870. He was challenged by William Cook. He chose to play the game, to the horror of his son, John Roberts, Jr., who felt he should retire as champion in the same way that Kentfield had.

With no official rules, and the prospect of a Championship match for the first time, leading players met with Cook and Roberts to decide on Championship rules. They changed the diameter of the pockets, and moved the red spot closer to the top cushion. Cook was a red spot specialist, so these rules were able to help Roberts in the match. Roberts was more superior all-around than Cook, although Roberts was beginning to diminish after a long career.

The match at the Guildhall in London was watched by many royals, including the Prince of Wales. The match lasted over five hours, and Cook was to be victorious, despite the rules favouring Roberts, and was a victor by 1,200-1,083. Roberts then retired from the game, but his son was to challenge Cook for the title just a few months later. This time, Roberts won 1,200-722 to win the Championship.


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • English billiards — English billiards, called simply billiards in many former British colonies and in Great Britain where it originated, also known variously as the English game, the all in game and as the common game,cite book | last = Shamos | first = Michael Ian… …   Wikipedia

  • English plural — English grammar series English grammar Contraction Disputes in English grammar English compound English honorifics English personal pronouns English plural English relative clauses English verbs English irregular verbs En …   Wikipedia

  • History of snooker — The game of snooker is a spin off of billiards which dates back to the 16th century but the game of snooker did not really come into being until the 1800s. Billiards had become popular among the British Armed Forces stationed in India. As… …   Wikipedia

  • billiards — [16] Billiard comes from French billard, which is the name not only of the game, but also of the cue it is played with. And the cue is the clue to the word’s history, for it comes from French bille ‘tree trunk’, hence ‘long cylindrical bit of… …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

  • billiards — [16] Billiard comes from French billard, which is the name not only of the game, but also of the cue it is played with. And the cue is the clue to the word’s history, for it comes from French bille ‘tree trunk’, hence ‘long cylindrical bit of… …   Word origins

  • Carom billiards — Carom billiards, sometimes called carambole billiards or simply carambole and, in some cases, used as a synonym for the game of straight rail from which many carom games derive, is the overarching title of a family of billiards games generally… …   Wikipedia

  • Five-pin billiards — This article is about the originally Italian and now internationally standardized billiard game. For the Danish five pin game, see Danish pin billiards. Five pins redirects here. For other uses, see Five pins (disambiguation). Five pin billiards… …   Wikipedia

  • International Billiards and Snooker Federation — The International Billiards Snooker Federation (IBSF) is the organisation that governs non professional snooker and English billiards around the world. HistoryIn 1971 the World Billiards and Snooker Council was formed, changing its name in 1973… …   Wikipedia

  • Pocket billiards — Pocket billiards, most commonly referred to as pool, is the general term for a family of games played on a specific class of billiards table, having 6 receptacles called pockets (or holes ) along the rails, in which balls are deposited as the… …   Wikipedia

  • World Professional Billiards Championship — The World Professional Billiards Championship is an international cue sports tournament in the discipline of English billiards. It has been played annually since 1980, is one of the oldest sporting World Championships in the world, dating in… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.