The 'Forgotten History' of English Billiards & Snooker

Snooker Cue

Introduction to the Players.

Throughout the history of the game there have been many individuals whose contribution made them household names. Even today people wonder how Joe Davis would have fared against the modern players.

Yet further back in time some made a far greater contribution, and became more than merely the greatest players of their respective generations.

John Carr, credited with discovering the side stroke, Edwin Kentfield, whose suggestions transformed the equipment to the standards we enjoy today. Captain François Mingaud who perfected the leather tip, and John Roberts Senior - the "Father of English Billiards".

These players are now generally unknown to the modern generation, yet their stories are told in rare billiard books hidden in museums and private collections.


Introduction to the Games.

Although many variations of billiard games have existed most enjoyed only a brief period of popularity before fading into obscurity.

Carline was the 'original' Russian Pool dating back to at least the 1830's and of which there have been so many variations.

The American Game was well known around the 1860's and can perhaps be best described as English Billiards with an extra ball.

Until around 1900, Pool was perhaps the second most popular game played in the United Kingdom, but it was not the game that we see played in pubs today.

Snooker gradually overtook pool and finally English Billiards to become the most popular game, with the first official rules being published in 1901. In its earliest days the game was known as "Snooker's Pool" or "Snooker Pool" and while the basic structure of the game has hardly changed, this set of rules from 1896 is sufficiently different to be of interest.

"The Spanish (or Skittle) Game" was just one of many games that required the use of skittles. If you'd like to try it these skittles can still be bought today.

The White Winning Game appeared in many billiard books published during the 1800's, but many of the later books considered it to be little more than an historical oddity. These rules from 1803 are probably the most complete you will find, and are of some interest as they cover the options available when playing with cue or mace.

And here are three of the strangest games, each with their original rules.

Fortification BilliardsThe German Pyramid GameThe German Sausage Game


Introduction to the "Rest".

This section covers everything that doesn't fit into the other two categories. The History of Hand Stroke Billiards though could easily have been included in the 'Players' section had it originally been titled "The History of Herbert Roberts", as the story seems to be more about him than the method of play. It seems he had quite a talent for playing billiards without a cue. This form of play is now mostly referred to as finger billiards but is rarely, if ever, seen practiced today.

How Billiard Balls Are Made describes how ivory billiard balls were sourced, manufactured, and stored.

Anyone buying a full-sized table and wanting to put it up themselves will find How to Assemble a Billiard Table incredibly useful. Though the article is from 1896, nothing of any note has changed, especially the importance of these words from the author: "If you can secure an expert to erect your table, never do the work yourself."

Trick Shots, Fancy Shots, and Catch Bets comes from "Billiards" by William Cook, published back in 1891. Although you may know some of these strokes and tricks, you may not have been aware of just how old they are.



Snooker Cue