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Norman Clare Retrpspective
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Billiards 1694

Billiards 1710


 The Norman Clare Retrospective


The origin of the game of Billiards is very obscure, although many efforts have been made to trace its history, always without success. There are in existence a number of "theories" or "anecdotes" which endeavour to explain the origin of the game and the reader must choose whichever 'story" is preferred. One thing however is absolutely definite, it is an extremely old game which has gradually developed so that the present day game is completely unrecognisable from the original.

It is said by some writers that a game similar to Billiards was seen by a traveller called Anacharsis in Ancient Greece some 400 years B.C. We certainly have proof that Billiards was played during the reign of Elizabeth I, as Shakespeare in the play "Anthony and Cleopatra" has the Queen say to her Maid - "Come, Charmain, let us to Billiards". Note, however, whilst this certainly indicates that Shakespeare was acquainted with the game, it does not mean that it was known in Ancient Egypt.

It is accepted that the game was originally played on the ground out of doors and that it is related to the game of Croquet. This theory is supported by early illustrations and pictures, showing hoops and also a post (similar to Croquet) on the surface of the Billiards Table (see the illustrations) and that from the lawn it was bought indoors and for convenience raised to table height.

One "story" explaining how the game came to he called "Billiards" relates how a Pawnbroker by the name of William Kew, who, after losing the shop, used to take the three brass balls of his sign and used them to play in the yard behind the shop - his friends used to join him, saying they were going to play at Bill`s Yard"!! Maybe his name also explains why the instrument which wa use to propel the balls is called a "Cue".

Two different forms of the game developed - in most European Countries Billiards is played on a table without pockets (and so unfortunately for them they cannot play the more recently developed game of Snooker). Whilst the British Billiards Table as we all know has six pockets. One result of this difference is that wherever in he world British Emigrants and Colonists settled and established themselves they took with them the English version of the game whilst the French, Spanish and Dutch settlers introduced the Continental game of Billiards without pockets to their colonies and this is the game they still play in their sphenes of influence. It is perhaps also interesting to note that it was the Spaniards who first took the game to what is now the U.S.A. by introducing Billiards to St. Augustine. Florida in 1565 and so to this day, if you play Billiards in the U.S.A. it is the Continental game. and every year American Players take part in the "World 3 Cushion Billiards Championships". It is also the rules of this game of Billiards which are published in the handbook of the Billiards Congress of America and they do not play English Billiards". (Note: - In the U.S.A. you play their various gamas of "Pool" on a "Pocket Billiard Table" so called to distinguish it from a "Billiards Table").

When the game was first brought indoors, and raised to table height - the bed was made of wood - and as will be seen from the illustration "Billiards" (from the School of Recreation 1710), a plain wooden rim without any form of cushioning surrounded the table to prevent the balls from falling on the floor. The tables were of lightweight construction - Maces were used to propel the balls and the balls themselves were also originally made of wood - there were no properly established rules and the dimensions of the Billiard Table itself - the size of the balls and the pocket openings etc all varied. In this respect it is interesting to note that an old book of rules in the possession of the writer printed in 1779 allowed the player to use the point of the cue or the butt of the cue!

Norman Clare


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The first player who can be looked upon as the Professional Billiards Champion must be Edwin (sometimes also called Johnathan) Kentfield of Brighton, although the names of other good players, such as a Mr Bedford and a Mr Pratt are mentioned in early writings, there does not seem to be any indication that they could be looked upon as professionals i.e. players who earned their livelihood solely as Billiards Players.

There was however, a Mr John (better known as Jack) Carr who some might consider to be a Professional player, but without wishing to be unkind, we might perhaps refer to him as the first "Hustler", as although he earned his livelihood as a player and Billiard Room Keeper, he was an inveterate gambler who had a rather "sharp" approach to business matters.

Carr was the Billiard Marker at Mr Bartley's Billiard Rooms at Bath. Mr Bartley himself was able to place the red ball on the centre spot on the table and then screw the White Cue Ball "in off Red into a centre pocket. Mr.Bartley passed on his skill to his Marker, John Carr, showing him how the stroke was achieved by striking the cue ball off centre, and so Mr Bartley is looked upon as the inventor of "side" and "screw".

Carr became even more skilful than his Master and amazed the Billiard Room patrons to whom he explained that it was necessary to use his special "twisting chalk" which he then sold to them in small boxes at the then very high price (during the 1830's) of Two shillings and sixpence (12 1/2p per box.

Carr was backed to play any player for 100 Guineas (£105 - again a huge sum at the time) a side - The challenge was accepted by Kentfield, but Carr became ill and the match never took place, so Kentfield claimed the title of "Champion" and held it for 24 years until he avoided a challenge for the title which was then taken over by the well known John Roberts Senior.

When Kentfield first began to play Billiards, the tables and equipment were very primitive - the cushions were stuffed with horse hair or list - the beds were made of wood, the balls were made of Ivory and the cloth was very coarse, and so it.was a case of playing against the equipment as well as the opponent.

As a Professional player, Kentfield co-operated with Mr John Thurston, who introduced all the major improvements in the construction of Billiard Tables that still exist to this day.

Norman Clare


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