AGNES DAVIES
AMMANFORD'S WORLD
SNOOKER CHAMPION

AND THE LUCANIA TEMPERENCE SNOOKER HALL

CONTENTS
1.
..Introduction
2.
..Agnes Davies
3...Press Reports
4.
..The Lucania Temperance Billiards Hall
5.
..The Closure of the Lucania Billiards Hall
6
...Links
7.
..A Potted History of Billiards and Snooker

1...INTRODUCTION

Ammanford's Agnes Davies in action in 1999, aged 79. Photo kindly provided by Janie Watkins, Media Officer for the European Billiards and Snooker Association (EBSA).

The image of snooker has undergone a transformation in recent years, with television turning the top players into instantly recognisable celebrities – and instant millionaires in most cases. Before this it was one of the clichés of the language that prowess at snooker was a sign of a misspent youth. Not any more – instead it's a sign of a shrewd investment by business-savvy parents, who now encourage (and even manage) their talented children. A generation ago these same children might have had their ears boxed for entering the smoke-filled dens of iniquity that snooker halls were once perceived to be. Someone who certainly endorsed this view was a physics teacher at Amman Valley Grammar School, one John Andrew Owen, who warned every pupil who cared to listen that: "cigarettes, billiards and girls are the ruination of young boys". This gentleman (clearly not a biology teacher) retired in 1957, blissfully unaware to the end that it's usually boys who do the ruining of girls, not the other way around.

When Ammanford's Lucania Billiards Hall closed in June 1964 a local newspaper reporter described it as: "a home from home for newly married men who had quarrelled with their brides; boys who had quarrelled with their girl-friends; boys with broken-down motor-cycles and, in the end, the last refuge for discontented, bored youngsters". (South Wales Guardian, June 25th, 1964.)

These halls, with their alluring rows of green baize covered tables, part-hidden under hooded lights, have traditionally been male preserves but women have occasionally braved its macho world. The relentlessly clicking balls are usually the only evidence of its silent denizens, vaguely glimpsed through the haze of cigarette smoke. Once the eyes have adjusted to this strangely tempting world an occasional woman may sometimes be spotted amongst the overwhelmingly male participants. One of these rare women snooker players, however, went on to become Ammanford's only known world sporting champion at the game of women's snooker.

It was doubly difficult for women to play snooker, for not only was their presence in public snooker halls frowned on, but many snooker tables were to be found in working men's clubs which used to exclude women from their membership. (Many still do; conversation in these places will roam over just about every subject under the sun but women's equality isn't often one of them.) Our working men's clubs date from the 1920s and 1930s and until recent decades they were fiercely men-only strongholds. Most clubs have since relented and now allow women through their doors, but their spending power, not consideration for their rights, has often caused this change of heart and many clubs will still not allow women the voting rights that come only with full membership.

1...Introduction
2.
..Agnes Davies
3...Press Reports
4.
..The Lucania Temperance Billiards Hall
5.
..The Closure of the Lucania Billiards Hall
6
...Links
7.
..A Potted History of Billiards and Snooker

2...AGNES DAVIES – WORLD CHAMPION

Agnes Davies aged 19 in 1939 with the three championship cups she won that year. Photo kindly provided by Janie Watkins, Media Officer for the European Billiards and Snooker Association (EBSA).

Agnes Davies from Saron, just outside Ammanford, was born Agnes Morris on 30th September 1920 and lived in her native village until her death on 13th February, 2011, aged ninety. When her coal miner father was forced to leave the pit after contracting the horrific lung disease pneumoconiosis, he used his compensation money to open a one-table billiard hall in Saron, where Agnes was able to practice and play without disapproval from censorious onlookers. She was often called upon to provide competition for customers who had no opponents to play. But this advantage initially came at a price, because her father owning a snooker venue, albeit just one table, meant Agnes Davies was initially classified as a professional. This was once the fate of anyone who even served teas to customers of a snooker hall, who were thereby deemed to be getting paid! This rule has long since been relaxed and now a professional is someone who is judged by snooker's governing body to be of high enough standard to warrant election into the professional ranks, usually by winning a major amateur title.

Agnes Davies won the "English" title in 1939 and won it again in 1979. She first represented Wales at snooker and billiards in 1939 and she was a Welsh international player for more than 60 years. She was still a Welsh international as late as 1999 when she was 79, the year of her last competitive match. She was made president for life of the World Ladies Billiards and Snooker Association (WLBSA) in 1985. (You can find more information on Agnes and other Welsh snooker players at the Global Snooker Centre's website on www.globalsnookercentre.co.uk).

Agnes Davies' Championship Record:

– 2003 Regal Ladies' Welsh Over 40s Final
– 1985 Voted Life President World Ladies' Billiards and Snooker Association (WLBSA)
– 1982 Pontins Ladies' Bowl Champion
– 1980 Guinness World Ladies' Snooker Championship Runner-up
– 1979 Pontins Ladies' Bowl Champion
– 1978 Women's Amateur Champion (UK Championship)
– 1977 Pontins Ladies' Bowl Champion
– 1949 Women's Professional Champion
– 1939 Women's Amateur Champion
– 1939-1999 Welsh Ladies' International Player
– 1939 Welsh Ladies' Billiards Champion
– 1937, 1938, 1939 Welsh Ladies' Champion

Clubs: Ammanford British Legion; Snooker World Ammanford.

Janie Watkins, Media Officer for the European Billiards and Snooker Association (EBSA) kindly offers this note: "In the days when Agnes won the 'English' titles, there wasn't a world event as such, but women came from various countries to compete, so effectively it was the world championships of the day ... they were called the UK championships in both billiards and snooker."

Agnes Davies competed in the Embassy World Ladies Championship of 1998 where the youngest player in the event was 16 (age limit due to tobacco sponsors) and the oldest were 77 year old Agnes from Ammanford and 85 year old Doreen Buckton of Hereford.

Plymouth's Maureen Twomey beat Agnes Davies 2-1 in the seniors' final (over 40s) of the 2003 Ladies Regal Welsh Championship. She was ranked 46 in the Embassy Ladies World Rankings for 1997/98.

When Agnes Davies died, her passing warranted an obituary in the London Guardian, alongside Hollywood screen legend Jane Russell, no less. Here is her obituary in full:

Guardian

Tuesday, 1st March 2011

Agnes Davies, who has died aged 90, was a pioneer of women's snooker whose competitive career spanned 64 years. She was born Agnes Morris in Saron, near Ammanford, in west Wales. When her father, a miner, contracted the lung disease pneumoconiosis and was forced to leave the pit, he used his compensation money to open a one-table snooker hall in the village. Agnes immediately showed her aptitude for the game and at 17, at her first attempt, won the women's amateur championship without losing a frame.

Playing for Saron, she encountered very little prejudice from the snooker fraternity, but some of the general- purpose clubs were less accommodating. She recalled: "The committee of a working men's club in Llanelli wouldn't let me in, but they wouldn't let their own wives in either."

In 1949 she won the women's professional title effectively a world title at the London home of the professional game, the Leicester Square hall. She had married Dick Davies in 1940, but was still playing under her maiden name. She was to reminisce that she was 5-0 down to Thelma Carpenter in the final when a busker began to sing outside the hall. Carpenter became progressively more distracted by this and did not win another frame either in that session or the next day's, and Morris prevailed 10-5.

Marriage, motherhood and a lack of competitive opportunities were the main reasons for Davies's retirement of almost 30 years but, with amateur/professional distinctions having been abolished in the interim, she returned to win the Women's Billiards Association (WBA) snooker title in 1978.

At the age of 60, she reached the final of an official Women's World Open Championship, sponsored by Guinness, before losing to Australia's Lesley McIlrath, which she admitted was her greatest disappointment. Although players such as Allison Fisher, Karen Corr and Stacey Hillyard surpassed her standard of play, Davies remained a keen competitor, winning the Pontin's Ladies Bowl at Prestatyn in 1982.

On an earlier visit to the north Wales holiday resort, in 1976, she had competed, as other women did, in what was primarily a men's event, despite having her left arm in a plaster cast. Her first opponent, Roger Brown, a useful London amateur, was to be asked by his mates, unaware of who he had been playing, how he had fared. "I've just lost to a grandmother with a broken arm," came his reply. In the main, though, Agnes felt that the women's game suffered from relentless comparison with the men's: "They shouldn't do it, because they don't do that in any other sport."

Even when her lifetime highest break of 84 was long in the past, she continued to compete, and played for Wales in the home international series until 1999, and for two more years in the Amman Valley league, first for Ammanford British Legion and subsequently for Ammanford Snooker World.

She found that the game helped her come to terms with the death of her husband in 1996. She insisted: "I want to keep playing as long as I can. It's very good therapy. There's lots of bending, moving your arms and your eyes, and you have to move your mind a lot. I think it would do a lot of ladies good."

In 1985, she was elected president for life of the World Ladies Billiards & Snooker Association (the successor to the WBA).

She is survived by her son, Eiddon, two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Agnes Davies, snooker player, born 30 September 1920; died 13 February 2011

1...Introduction
2.
..Agnes Davies
3...Press Reports
4.
..The Lucania Temperance Billiards Hall
5.
..The Closure of the Lucania Billiards Hall
6
...Links
7.
..A Potted History of Billiards and Snooker

3...PRESS REPORTS
Finally, here are some articles about Agnes, kindly provided by Janie Watkins, Media Officer for the European Billiards and Snooker Association (EBSA):

The Billiard Player: May 1939
When several years ago a Welsh miner contracted that dreaded miner's disease silicosis, was forced to leave the pit and opened a one-table billiards saloon with his compensation money, little could he have realised that his misfortune was to put his young daughter on the road to the top of the snooker ladder.
....Just recently that daughter, 17 years-old Agnes Morris, carried off the women's amateur snooker championship at her first attempt and went through the ranks of more experienced players without conceding a single frame, aggregating 541 points to her opponents' total of 177.
....We cornered Miss Morris at the Kensington Club after this massacre and persuaded her to come up to the microphone and say a few words about herself and her prospects to our many listeners.
....Miss Morris, who is tall, dark and very good looking, hails from Ammanford, which is in Carmarthenshire. Prior to the opening of that small saloon her knowledge of billiards and snooker had been limited to a rough idea of what a table looked like, and a knowledge that it had pockets. Visitors to the saloon, however, were often without an opponent and our Agnes usually obliged.
....Improvement naturally followed and she eventually won her way into the Saron snooker team, where she came up against opposition from various other local halls. They played matches every week during the winter months and, in Agnes's own words, she "gained invaluable experience in match play and table conditions."
....Most difficult part about this team play was to become accustomed to large audiences and the curious glances which always preceded her arrival at the table. You see, Agnes was the only woman cueist in the district and Welsh play is of a class which ranks high in amateur snooker.
....The stronger the opposition the faster Agnes improved, and her first triumph came when she defeated Mrs. Ella Morris, the former British champion, for the Welsh title. In the following year Agnes repeated the performance and in both championships conceded only two frames. Her latest defence of the title took place in Cardiff from April 24 to 28. [1939]
....Her highest snooker break is 54, while she has made others of 45, 40, 39, 37 and 35 (twice). Her skill is not, however, limited to the 22-ball game, for on March 31 she carried off the Welsh billiards title and also the cup for the highest break, 27, running out with 23 unfinished. Her highest billiards break is 47.
....It was not until she was about to leave that Agnes made her most momentous announcement and said that next season she would compete in the professional snooker championship, and would not be satisfied until that trophy was added to the many which already decorate her sideboard. Though we don't anticipate Agnes lifting it for a season or two, it will not be long before we find her adding the scalps of professionals to her already large amateur collection.

Tom Ross, PA Sport, Dec 1997
At 77 most people are happy just to keep body and soul together.
....But the only rest Agnes Davies plans taking is the sort you will find underneath your snooker table.
....The pensioner from Ammanford in South Wales will be chalking up her 61st year in top competition when she begins her campaign in the Ladies' Regal Welsh Open in January 1998.
....Incredibly, Agnes won her first major title in 1937 – the Welsh Open – as a teenager.
....She took her cue from that early success and followed in 1939 by winning the English Open.
....Unfortunately the onset of war prevented her competing in her prime, but she conquered all again in 1948 by winning the British women's professional title at Leicester Square Hall.
....Married life and motherhood led to another big break in her snooker career, but in 1980 came perhaps the highlight and then the biggest disappointment of her career when she finished runner-up to Australian Lesley McKilroy in the World Championship final.
....But, as she prepares to rub shoulders with the world's elite again in January, there seems no reason why Agnes shouldn't be competing at high level in the next Millennium.
....She has no qualms about tackling players who could be her grandchildren and claims she can bridge the generation gap, saying: "I get on very well with the younger players."
....Agnes particularly admires current world champion Karen Corr, of Lincolnshire, among the present crop of youngsters.
....But any suggestions that the blue rinse and the green baize should not mix are met with a firm reply.
...."I want to keep playing as long as I can," insists Agnes, who thinks her time at the table is positively beneficial.
...."It's very good therapy. There's lots of bending, moving your arms and your eyes, and you have to move your mind a lot.
...."I think it would do a lot of ladies good. It's very relaxing."
....Agnes lost her husband last year and also believes snooker has helped her come to terms with life on her own.
....She is prepared to admit her form has dipped in later years – she has not come near her best break of 86 for several years and is happy to reach the forties now – but she will be giving it all she's got at the Welsh Open.
...."I try my best in every game. I'm still competing for the love of the game and will try and put on the best show I can," she said.
....Agnes feels the women's game has been the poor relation to the men's for far too long and pointed out: "The ladies haven't had a fair deal.
...."My personal view is that they compare the ladies with the men, which they shouldn't do because they don't do that in any other sport."
....But Agnes maintains she encountered little prejudice in her younger years – when snooker had yet to be televised and the game was largely played in working men's clubs where women were sometimes not allowed to cross the threshold.
....Far from being ostracised, Agnes recounted: "I was welcomed almost everywhere.
...."There was one club in Llanelli where they wouldn't let me in, but they were very respectful to me and pointed out that even their own wives were not allowed in."
....It's hard to imagine that any club would now deny Agnes the chance to ply her trade.

1...Introduction
2.
..Agnes Davies
3...Press Reports
4.
..The Lucania Temperance Billiards Hall
5.
..The Closure of the Lucania Billiards Hall
6
...Links
7.
..A Potted History of Billiards and Snooker

4...THE LUCANIA TEMPERANCE BILLIARD HALL

Ammanford Arcade was built by Evan Evans the Chemist in 1900. The Lucania Temperance Billiards Hall, which was at the top of the arcade, was opened around Word War One.

In addition to the working men's clubs, Ammanford's main snooker venue for many years was the grandly named Lucania Temperance Billiards Hall, opened around the First World War at the top of the arcade that Evan Evans the Chemist had built in 1900. Billiard Halls of the time also sold the demon drink and some investors belonging to the temperance movement decided to fight the good fight in a novel way, taking the view that if easily-led youths were going to play snooker and billiards, then they had better do it in an alcohol-free environment. (Perhaps they also spotted the perfect way to retain their sense of righteousness without sacrificing wealth in the process.) Right to the end of its life in 1964, only soft drinks and tea could be purchased in Ammanford's 'Luke', as it became known. The rise and rise of television in the 1950s and 1960s killed off interest in snooker, and Ammanford's Lucania Billiards Hall with its fourteen tables closed in June 1964 after almost 50 years of keeping alcohol away from impressionable youth. Ironically, it was the introduction of colour television in the 1970s that revived snooker's fortunes, the many-coloured balls being ideally suited to the new technology. (A famous television snooker commentator of the time, 'Whispering' Ted Lowe, once made the immortal observation during a live commentary "For those of you watching in black and white, the pink is next to the yellow."). After its closure as a snooker hall, the building at the top of the Arcade enjoyed a brief period as a tenpin bowling alley and cabaret venue, until a disastrous fire in April 1976 put an end to any further ventures. The site was demolished in 1978, a car park rising from the rubble and ashes instead of the proverbial phoenix.

Ammanford's Lucania Temperance Billiards Hall was part of a nationwide chain that stretched all over England and Wales, and most towns and cities had one. They continued well into the modern era, eventually being bought out by snooker and boxing promoter Barry Hearn, manager of eighties' snooker legends Steve Davis and Terry Griffiths. But the Lucania chain was no English institution: it had its origins right here in Wales. Swansea, in fact, was where they began, and thereby hangs a tale, as the saying goes:

The SS Lucania was built in 1893 at Fairfield Shipbuilding Companie in Glasgow for Liverpool to New York service. She had accommodation for 550 1st class, 280 2nd class and 1,000 3rd class passengers.
.....When Cunard Lines decided to build the Campania and Lucania, the battle for the Blue Riband entered a new phase
.....
In the last years of the 19th century, this battle was fought between England and Germany, who made significant investments in their fleet. With the building of those two new ships, Cunard began a period of four years in which the Riband was theirs without exception.
..... The Lucania was launched on 2 February 1893. On September 2nd 1893, she started on her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York where she arrived on September the 9th. On the maiden voyage she set a new record crossing from Liverpool to New York. Together with her sister ship she continued to set new speed records, in 1894 she broke the record in August, September and in October, doing average speeds of 21.49 knots, 21.66 knots and 21.75 knots, and remained unchallenged until 1898 when the German liner, Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, took all the Atlantic records and the Blue Riband.
..... The Lucania was a steady and reliable ship and was in Cunard service until 1909. At that time the other Cunarders Mauritania and Lusitania went into service and the older ships could be missed. On 14 August 1909, a fire broke out on board the Lucania while in Liverpool at the Huskisson Dock. The damage caused by the fire was considered too substantial to repair and the Lucania was towed to Thomas Ward ship breakers at Swansea.
..... Ship's Statistics: Gross tonnage: 12,952 tons; Length: 188,6 m; Width: 19,9 m; Speed: 21 knots, max. 23 knots; Hull: steel; Number of funnels: 2; Number of screws: 2; Engines: 2 triple expansion steam engines, giving 30,000 IHP; Capacity: 550 passengers in 1st, 280 in 2nd class and 1,000 in steerage.
(Source: http://www.dermon.com/genealogy/theships.htm)

That innocent looking word 'steerage' above hides thousands of untold stories, for while ships like the Lucania carried tourist and business passengers across the Atlantic, they were also emigrant ships that brought Europe's 'huddled masses' in search, they hoped, of a better life in the new world. Steerage class, which cost as little as 15 dollars to cross in 1894 (one-way, of course), means literally the place where steers (i.e., cattle) were kept, so the conditions may easily be imagined.

In contrast, first and second-class passenger fares for the Lucania in 1894, just a year after it was launched, were:

From Pier 40 N.R. at the foot of Clarkson St., New York, to Liverpool every Saturday. From Liverpool every Saturday, calling at Queenstown (Ireland) both ways. Rates, 1st Class cabin on Campania and Lucania $90, $100, $125, $150; return, $150, $225, $275, to $315; servants, $75; return, $125. 2nd Class cabin, $40, $45, $50; return, $75, $85, $95.

Postcard of the SS Lucania, launched in Liverpool, 1893, and broken up in Swansea, 1909.

The founders of the billiards chain certainly recognised a bargain when they saw the SS Lucania in the breaker's yard in Swansea, and they bought up the fixtures and fittings from its cabins, state rooms and ballrooms to furnish their new billiard halls. Not only did each one of the halls have items salvaged from the unfortunate ship's break-up, but they even named their fledgling business after it. The Lucania (and Wales) have an important place in the history of snooker, too, because it was at one of their halls that the first hundred snooker break was recorded. In 1915, George Hargest, who was manager at the Lucania Billiard Hall in Blackwood, Monmouthshire, is credited with making the first century, when he made a total clearance of 112. The break was certified by the Billiards Association, which meant it was made on a standard table with official size pocket openings.

But what the Lucania's founding fathers didn't know when they chose the name in 1909, was that this was also the name of one of America's most colourful twentieth century gangsters, one Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, who'd been born Salvatore Lucania in 1897 in Sicily, ancestral home of the mafia. The anti-drink crusaders who formed the Lucania billiards chain to keep British youth away from the evils of alcohol weren't to know in 1909 that Lucky Luciano/Lucania would later become one of America's most notorious bootleggers during the prohibition era from January 1920 to December 1933, not an irony they'd have appreciated.

1...Introduction
2.
..Agnes Davies
3...Press Reports
4.
..The Lucania Temperance Billiards Hall
5.
..The Closure of the Lucania Billiards Hall
6
...Links
7.
..A Potted History of Billiards and Snooker

5. THE CLOSURE OF THE LUCANIA, JUNE 1964
The Lucania had quite an important place in Ammanford's social life, if this article written when it closed in June 1964 is to be believed. The reporter seems to be expecting a crime wave, with hordes of idle youths spilling out from the Lucania's warm embrace and onto the cold and hostile streets of Ammanford. And what is it about journalists that makes them believe they understand the sociology of the working class better than the working class themselves?

BILLIARD HALL CLOSES
AND A GAP IS LEFT
By "GUARDIAN" REPORTER
South Wales Guardian, 25th June 1964

Under-age drinking, petty thefts, and other small crimes will all increase within the next few months.
....That is my prophesy, and the forecast of many other people in Ammanford, now that the Lucania billiard temperance club in the Arcade has closed.
....The closure of the Lucania, for nearly fifty years a home from home for newly married men who had quarrelled with their brides; boys who had quarrelled with their girlfriends; boys with broken-down motorcycles and, in the end, the last refuge for discontented, bored youngsters, will create a gap in their lives.
....Mrs Lillian Edwards, manageress of the Lucania, harshly criticises the lack of amenities for teenagers in the town.

WHERE THEY MEET
"The people of Ammanford are obviously not aware of the facilities available to teenage girls. Their meeting-place is the ladies' toilet In the Arcade," she tells me.
...."Are we now to make the gentlemen's toilet in College Street a club for the boys?"
....The Lucania is closing, not because it wasn't making a profit, but because the company which owns it seems to be closing down all its South Wales branches.
...."The Lucania was used as a meeting place for the boys when they were on the 'plank' (broke.)"

RARELY NEEDED
It had about 800-1,000 members. Unlicensed, it served cups of tea and company.
....Where else is there for youngsters to go?
....A club which has discipline but doesn't show it, is the answer.
....Mrs Edward's discipline was enforced by suspension. And, because of the worth of the Luke, this was rarely needed.
....The Luke was not a plastic palace, with an artificial induced atmosphere of do-goodery: it was a place. People didn't look on it sentimentally, but will miss it, certainly in their hearts.
....A youth club doesn't have to have P. T. and needlework, though I know Mr. Raymond Jones, energetic youth organiser for the area, would disagree with me.

MUTUAL PLEASURE
A club grows. It is formed for mutual pleasure by a group of people with the same idea. It is not formed by other people for youngsters. Though today, this has to be done.
....A club today should have these ingredients: juke box, tea and coffee, soft drinks, tables, chairs, and room to dance.
....Today, such a club also needs bouncers.
....If it were pointed out to the teenagers that if the police were called in too often, the place would close, that would have a salutary effect on them. There would be a vigilante committee formed.
....Out of this self-defence would come a progressive outlook. Committees would be formed.

LEAVING TOWN
Representative of the crowd of teenagers thrown out on their own devices is a group I spoke to this week. They were idly kicking a ball up and down the street. They asked each other "What shall we do?" And others replied: "What is there to do?"
....Three of them said they were going to leave Ammanford as soon as possible, because there is nothing for them to do. None of them go dancing any more, though they sometimes go to the Teen and Twenty Club at Garnant.
....They were bored, at a loss for something to do. It is this sort of attitude which fostered juvenile crime from the North of England down to Clacton, across the Atlantic to the Bronx, and even to the Moscow zone.

"BORED STIFF"
"I'm bored stiff. We used to up to the Luke every day, sometimes during the lunch-break. But now, well, I'm going drinking, and so's my butties. There just isn't anything left to do."
....Eventually they ambled up the road, four very bored, tough-looking teenagers, who looked as if they would cut your throat for tuppence.
....They were going to a cafe for a cup of tea. As innocuous as that. They were not going to buy purple hearts. They were going for a cup of tea.
....No zest, no élan: a cup of tea has never been the symbol of youth.
....Mrs. Edwards says she knows the perfect centre for such a club: the Ammanford Welfare Hall.

RARELY USED
"This is rarely used. There you have the space, and indoor sports facilities are already there. They have four billiard tables.
...."There would also be a chance of making a rarely used building into a really paying proposition," she said.
...."This would involve the voluntary services of those people who always say they will help teenagers if they had the chance."
....There it is. The Luke is gone. Whatever becomes of it, whatever plans a buyer may have for it, could depend whether or not Ammanford keeps its young people here, or whether discontented and frustrated, they seek wider, brighter towns.

[South Wales Guardian, 25th June 1964]

Postscript
Ammanford Miners' Welfare Hall, which the people in the above article held out so much hope for as an alternative venue to the Lucania, experienced its own decline in use, but solved the problem a year later by transforming itself into a working men's drinking club. The closure of its snooker room in the process dashed any hopes of it replacing the Lucania, while the sale of drink on the premises effectively ruled it out as a youth venue.

1...Introduction
2.
..Agnes Davies
3...Press Reports
4.
..The Lucania Temperance Billiards Hall
5.
..The Closure of the Lucania Billiards Hall
6
...Links
7.
..A Potted History of Billiards and Snooker

6...LINKS

Here are just some Internet links to other snooker websites:

Global Snooker Centre
There is a detailed history of billiards on this website.
Terry Griffiths' Matchroom, Llanelli
World Snooker Association
This website includes the rules of snooker
and billiards.

 

 

 


1...Introduction
2.
..Agnes Davies
3...Press Reports
4.
..The Lucania Temperance Billiards Hall
5.
..The Closure of the Lucania Billiards Hall
6
...Links
7.
..A Potted History of Billiards and Snooker

7...A POTTED HISTORY OF BILLIARDS AND SNOOKER

Although the games of snooker and billiards are played on the same table, they are actually quite different games with totally different histories. On television the only game you will see played today is snooker, and the Cinderella game of billiards is all but invisible. But just a hundred years ago it was quite the reverse – billiards was regarded as the main game and snooker was just a curiosity not to be taken seriously at all.

Billiards is played with just three balls – a red, and a white cue ball for each of the two players (one of the cue balls has a black spot to distinguish it from the other one). Scoring in billiards is achieved by potting another ball, going in-off another ball, cannoning into the two other balls, or any combination of these. Snooker is played with 22 balls at the start of the game – a white cue ball, 15 red balls and six colours. This difference in the number of balls needed was the reason why the equipment manufacturers started promoting snooker over billiards when they eventually realised they would achieve better sales this way. Here is a brief history of both games.

BILLIARDS

Although doubts have been voiced about the origins of snooker, it is generally accepted that the game came into being in India in 1875. Billiards is a far older game with an even more clouded history, but Louis X1 of France is recorded as having a fledgling billiard table in the 15th Century.

The word 'billiard' is believed to be derived from various words for 'ball' such as pila (Latin), billa (Medieval Latin) and bille (French), as well as words for 'stick' like bille (Old French), billette (French) and billart (Old French). Shakespeare was one of the first recorded users of the word: "Let's to billiards; come Charmian," in Anthony and Cleopatra (act II, scene V). Other early writers who refer to billiards are Ben Jonson in his simile: "smooth as a billiard ball" in 1637, and Charles Cotton in his book The Compleat Gamester of 1674. And for those who prefer their history dripping with blood, when Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded at Fotheringay Castle on February 8th 1587, the cloth used to cover her headless body was torn from her billiard table!

Billiards reputedly began life as a lawn game similar to croquet before being brought indoors and onto a table by the aristocracy. At first two balls were pushed with a mace, a stick flattened and curved at one end, but in around 1670 players began to use the thin end of the mace more often. By about 1800, the transformation from mace to cue was complete with the addition of a leather tip around 1809.

In the early years, billiards kept in touch with its 'grass roots' by using hoops and posts, but they died out by the end of the 18th Century. During this century, English billiards also became distinct from the continental version. The French, closely followed by the British, introduced a red ball into play and the British incorporated cannons into their point scoring. The French took a different route and abandoned pockets altogether to concentrate solely on cannons. To this day continental billiards is still played on pocketless tables.

SNOOKER

1875 – 1909
In the time-frame of sporting history, snooker is a modern game. In fact, if by definition a sport is born once its rules have been officially formulated, snooker was 100 years old on the 11th December 2000. For it was on that date in 1900, at the offices of the Billiards Association at 140 Fleet Street, London, that the draft rules of 'Snooker's Pool', were passed by the committee of the governing body. Those eleven gentlemen present were not to know then, but by the turn of the next century, snooker would have long superseded English billiards as the number one indoor table game, and become the multi-million pound global sport we know today.

Some 25 years previous to that historic meeting in Fleet Street, a very basic form of snooker was evolving in India. British Army officers, while stationed in 'the jewel of the British Empire', combined two late 19th century table games to form the embryo of this new game of 'Snooker's Pool'. One game was Pyramids, purely a betting game, which used just 15 reds. The first person to pot eight won the stakes. The other game was Life Pool, which employed various coloured balls, depending on the number of players and an agreed stake would be placed into the 'pool'.

Colonel Sir Neville Chamberlain

Colonel Sir Neville Chamberlain, inventor of the game of snooker in 1875 in India.

It was Col. Sir Neville Chamberlain, a young subaltern in the Devonshire Regiment, who claimed to combine these two games while stationed at Jubbulpore, India in 1875. It did, however, take him until 1938, just before he died, to claim the honour. The reason for his long silence is not known. Perhaps his modesty was swept aside when a rival claim forced him to supply the facts as he saw them; snooker was becoming extremely popular in the late 1930s, and maybe he thought he should reap some of the glory. But his account was authenticated at that time by the distinguished novelist, Compton Mackenzie. (Col. Sir Neville wasn't related, incidentally, to that other Neville Chamberlain, the one who waved a piece of paper around before the 2nd World War proclaiming 'Peace for our time'.

Plan view of a snooker table at the start of a game. This layout with six colours didn't appear until about 1906.

The word 'snooker' certainly has military origins, as it was slang for a first year cadet at the Royal Military College. Having little military knowledge, the new recruits were consequently of low standing to their superiors. The term 'snooker' had been recently explained to Sir Neville, and he soon had an opportunity of exploiting it when one of his party failed to pot a coloured ball which was close to a corner pocket. 'Why you're a regular snooker!' he proclaimed. To soothe the player's feelings, Chamberlain qualified his remark by saying as they all played like beginners, it would be appropriate to call the game snooker. This was adopted with enthusiasm, so Chamberlain claims, and the game has been called Snooker ever since.

What is certain, however, is that 'snooker's pool' became very popular amongst servicemen in the 1880s, and quickly spread from one military station to another throughout India. Chamberlain himself did a great deal of travelling around India, and was constantly asked on his travels to demonstrate how the game was played. He and fellow officers drew up their basic rules in 1882, which were displayed in the Ooty Club, at Ootacamund, set in the lush Nilgiri Hills of southern India.

As the regiments came home on leave it was introduced to Britain, with the Woolwich Arsenal being the most likely home of its introduction. The game soon spread to London's Gentlemen's Clubs, as retiring officers demonstrated to their fellow members this new Anglo-Indian game.

World-travelling British billiard professionals and seaman voyaging to India would also transport the rules back to England. One such seaman was Captain Sheldrick, who wrote the following to his brother in England on the 2nd February 1886:

"At our club in Rangoon, we play a game called "Snookers", a first rate game, any amount of fun in it, especially if one of you gets snookered. The way it is played is the same as shell out, but you put in the Yellow, Brown, Green and Black balls. If you take the yellow it is double the ordinary life; if the brown, treble; if the green, four times; and if the black, 5 times as much as the ordinary life. Of course you must put a red ball in before you can play on one of the other beggars, but sometimes you run in off one of them, and got to pay up the price of the ball. I played the other night and very soon tumbled into it. They thought they had a mug. I think before we had finished playing I had "Snookered" them for 14 rupees, about 25 bob. They didn't ask me to play Snookers again that evening. They were rather sold I think. You ought to start the game, old man."

From this letter, which was either the first, or very close to being the first description of the game sent to England, we can glean that it was very much a gambling game, and with the 15 reds, only 4 colours were used.

How the game spread throughout the provinces is clearly illustrated by this letter sent to the Billiard Player magazine by an enthusiast in 1939:

'In 1892, I was a billiard marker at Ingam's Hotel in Manchester. One morning in that year, a military officer on leave from India entered the billiards room, asked for the pyramid and pool balls, and offered to show me a new game called Snooker's Pool. He told me it was a new game played among the officers in Calcutta and that it had been invented by one of the officers a short time before.
.....I wrote out the rules from his dictation, went to see Mr. Ackland, manager of Messrs. Burroughes & Watts, and gave him a copy. He offered to get them printed and so did Messrs. Orme's to whom I gave a copy. At that time there were only four coloured balls, yellow, green, brown and blue; the pink and black were introduced later.'

No records of breaks at snookers were kept in the beginning, and we have to go to the first decade of the 20th century before breaks of any consequence were recorded.

Until Mr. Chamberlain, by then a colonel and knighted, revealed his part in the birth of snooker to eminent novelist Sir Compton Mackenzie in 1938, it was widely reported that the game was invented by an officer in the Bengal Lancers named Captain Snooker!

1910 – 1919
Although the rules to 'Snooker's Pool' were formalised by the governing body in 1900, this did not mean that suddenly the game was played universally to one code of play. The only way to acquire the official rules was to purchase a booklet or sheet of rules from the governing body, for one shilling and sixpence (seven and a half new pence). As this was one of their main sources of income, the Billiard Association did not supply them freely to the billiard press or general public.

Consequently, for a number of years, although the official rules were basically as today, confusion still reigned, as billiard table firms independently published their own rules. By 1906, Burroughes & Watts in their 'National Rules' booklet had increased the number of coloured balls to 6, but compared to the official rules, the green and brown were placed the wrong way round.

Another major problem came later, when from 1908 to 1919 there were two governing bodies, the Billiard Association and the Billiards Control Club. Both bodies produced their own set of rules, and their own championships. The amateurs stuck mainly with the older Billiard Association, which was formed in 1885, while the professionals played under the then newly formed Billiards Control Club rules. The confusion this brought about in snooker is well illustrated by an article in The Sportsman newspaper on June 22nd 1915.

"It is ridiculous that the rules of snooker pool as issued by the BA and the BCC differ so considerably in essentials as to create all kinds of pitfalls for the unwary player. Both bodies should come to some agreement on matters that are of vital importance to a game that is growing daily in popular estimation. Take two instances; under BA rules if in playing at a red you miss it and strike no other ball, the penalty is one away, but under BCC laws it is four. Then when playing on the coloured balls, the BA code rules that if you put the cue ball down as well as the colour, the colour comes up, as it has not been pocketed according to the rule, but under BCC laws it remains down. That a game now so old and easy to play that its rules should be standardised and known thoroughly is clogged in this manner is disgraceful, and the sooner this state of affairs is ended the better. Nobody cares a button over the legislative bickerings of the two bodies, but they should clear matters up for the poor player who is no way responsible for the existing state of affairs".

This was obviously an unsatisfactory situation, and in June of 1919, the two bodies finally merged, amalgamated their rules, and formed the Billiards Association and Control Council.

It was during 1907 that a professional 'Snooker's Pool Championship' was first played for. Admittedly each game was tagged on the end of a billiards match, which was promoted by Burroughes & Watts at their match room in Soho Square, London. This billiard equipment firm soon tumbled to the commercial realisation that compared to billiards a player needs more balls for snooker, and so promoted the game quite keenly. It was also noticed for the first time that the paying public began to show a great interest in the 22 ball game. The ultimate winner was Charles Dawson, billiard champion from 1899-1903, and curiously, the scoring was recorded in billiard terms, as it was the total aggregate points scored, and not the frames won, which decided the winner of this round robin event.

One of the first authenticated breaks at snooker was recorded in 1908, a 73 by James Harris against Albert Raynor in a bonzoline tournament in Manchester ('bonzoline' was the trade name for balls made of synthetic resin, and not ivory). This break was equalled a few months later by John Roberts Junior, who was the King of English billiards from the mid 1870s.

In these early days of snooker, even a high aggregate points score was worthy of a certificate from the game's governing body, for in 1910, a Mr. F. H. Garside received a certificate from the Billiards Association for aggregating 99 points in a single frame, made at his home against one Sir Charles Kirkpatrick.

In 1915, George Hargest, who was manager at the Lucania Billiard Hall in Blackwood, Monmouthshire, is credited in making the first century, when he made a total clearance of 112. The break was certified by the Billiards Association, which meant it was made on a standard table with official size pocket openings

The honour of being the first professional to make a century goes to Frank Smith Junior of Australia in making 116 at Belfield Hotel, Sydney in 1918. This was followed with a 102 by E. J. O'Donoghue at Te-Azoah in New Zealand in 1919, and a 119 by Conrad Stanbury, the Canadian professional, at Winnipeg in 1922. England's best at this time was an official break of 89 by Tom Newman in 1919.

Unlike billiards during this period, there was little difference in standards between the amateurs and the professionals at snooker. Strategy then was not to make large breaks but to take loose balls, and "tuck up" the opponent as much as possible. The blue ball, with the 6 pockets in close proximity, was the vital break-building ball, and it was not until the mid 1920s, when a certain Joe Davis developed a revolutionary new game strategy, that the black ball took prominence.

1920 – 1929 and JOE DAVIS

Joe Davis, who developed the game of snooker as it is still played today.

We have looked at the early development of snooker after the official rules were formulated in 1900. For the first two decades of the 20th century, snooker was not taken too seriously. It was a relaxing break between the much more important bouts of billiards. One man changed this, setting the game up as a real test of strategy and skill, turning it into an exciting spectator sport and dominating it completely for over 30 years, both on and off the table. That man was the legendary Joe Davis, and all recent leading players, from Ray Reardon in the seventies, Steve Davis in the eighties, Stephen Hendry in the nineties and Ronnie O'Sullivan today, play the game in essentially the way pioneered by Joe Davis.

Although born in the coal mining village of Whitwell, Derbyshire, on April 15th 1901, Joe was fortunate that his parents soon moved to the Queens public house at Whittington Moor, near Chesterfield, which housed a full size billiard table. He made his first billiard century break at 11 years of age, and became local amateur billiard champion at 13.

At the outbreak of the First World War, with his father being called up to serve his country, Joe was taken under the wing of Ernest Rudge, who owned a billiard hall in Chesterfield. From there, Joe was used to "field the balls" for all the leading players of the day, witnessing what could be done on the table, which encouraged him greatly.

Early reports of his professional career gave a clear indication of his potential, and the success which was to follow. There were new, quite distinctive features in Joe's cue action, which held him in good stead when he turned his attention to snooker. For example, his method of bending low to sight right down over the cue, instead of standing upright, and his ultra rigid stance, were both considered worthy of note in the billiard press of 1923. Tom Newman remarked some years later, when Joe was getting the better of him in the billiards championships, that it was Joe's potting which made the difference, as much as 3000 points over a fortnight's play.

Joe's first win over Tom Newman for the Professional Billiards Championship came in 1928, and his only defeats in the event were against Walter Lindrum in 1933 and 1934. Although quite capable of making century breaks, Walter never took to snooker. If he had, maybe the record books would read differently today. The Australian Lindrum is credited with the highest ever billiards break in match conditions of 4,137. As he amassed this total over two days on the 18th and 19th January 1932, it is perhaps no surprise that snooker was becoming more popular, at least among spectators. (In an exhibition session in 1907, Welshman Tom Reece had scored 499,135 points! It took him five weeks, and resulted in the rules of billiards being changed to prevent it happening again. Click HERE for more on this.)

In 1924, Joe Davis, together with two billiard traders, first put forward the idea of a Professional Snooker Championship to the Billiards Association and Control Council, to complement the Amateur Championship which started in 1916. The idea was met with a marked lack of enthusiasm. The secretary of the governing body, the BA&CC, commented, " The suggestion will receive consideration at an early date, but it seems a little doubtful whether snooker as a spectacular game is sufficiently popular to warrant the successful promotion of such a competition."

At a meeting on September 1st 1926 however, it was finally agreed, and in 1927 the first professional championship was held. There were 10 contenders for this first title, most of them far better known for their prowess at billiards. Perhaps the relatively low entry was something to do with the 10 Guineas (£10.50) entry fee demanded, half of which was to go towards the purchase of a suitably impressive trophy. As the first prize was a mere £6-10s (£6.50), no player made a fortune on the championship, but the title, trophy and prize money were duly won by Joe Davis. He beat Tom Dennis 20-11 in the final held at Camkins Rooms in Birmingham, making a top break of 57.

He was never beaten in the world championship, winning it 15 times in succession between 1927 and 1946 (there were no championships from 1941 to 1945 due to the war) and he won the world professional billiards title from 1928 – 1932. He was originally a great billiards player who taught himself to play snooker before most people even knew the game existed, and he brought snooker to the attention of the masses. His exhibitions drew large crowds and he was one of the most popular sportsmen of his day. He turned his exhibitions into show business occasions and played at theatres like the Palladium with a large mirror set up over the table so that the audience could see what was going on. Joe Davis was, without doubt, the father of modern snooker and he dominated billiards and snooker in a way no one person has done before or since. He made his first snooker century in 1928 and by 1953 had made 500 of them. He set new record breaks five times, 137 in 1937, 138 (1938), 140 (1947), 146 (1950) and finally, in 1955, he achieved the first officially recognised 147 against Willie Smith at London's Leicester Square Hall. He also made the first century in the world championship in 1935.

Joe eventually retired from all play in 1964 with 687 snooker centuries to his name and 83 billiard breaks of over 1000. Only one person ever beat him on level terms and that was his younger brother, Fred.

(Source: Much of this history of billiards and snooker has been summarised from the website www.billiardsandsnookerarchive.co.uk)

1...Introduction
2.
..Agnes Davies
3...Press Reports
4.
..The Lucania Temperance Billiards Hall
5.
..The Closure of the Lucania Billiards Hall
6
...Links
7.
..A Potted History of Billiards and Snooker



Date this page last updated: March 4, 2011