The History of Snooker

On this page I would like to give some information on the history of snooker and this must necessarily involve references to its sister game, English billiards, from which it originally evolved. There is some dispute about the actual origins of snooker, but I shall attempt to give the standard account of its history.

Before I start, I would like to acknowledge my sources for this information: The History of Snooker and Billiards by Clive Everton (Partridge Press 1986) and Snookered! by Donald Trelford (Faber & Faber 1986), two excellent books which unfortunately are now out of print, but which can still be picked up in second-hand bookshops both on and off-line. I hope to review both of these books in more detail at a later time. For the moment, I will summarise the important features of the early history of our game, with a couple of anecdotes thrown in! One could not describe the history of snooker without first mentioning its sister game, billiards. Suffice it to say that billiards is centuries old whereas snooker in still in its relative infancy.
A form of billiards on a lawn is recorded as early as the 1340's, and Louis XI of France had a billiard table in the 1470's. Maces were used before the advent of the cue around 1800. From 1820, Edwin Kentfield, John Carr, John Roberts Senior and John Roberts Junior were important players. More on these and others later.

The Birth of Snooker
The term 'snooker' is reputed to have been given to the game by Colonel Sir Neville Chamberlain (no relation to the wartime Prime Minister) in 1875. In the Officers' Mess at Jubbulpore in India, gambling games such as pyramids, life pool and black pool were popular, with fifteen reds and a black used in the latter. To these were added yellow, green and pink, with blue and brown introduced some years later. One afternoon Chamberlain's Devonshire regiment was visited by an young officer who had been trained at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. This officer explained that a first-year cadet at the Academy was referred to as a 'snooker'. Later, when one of the players failed to hole a coloured ball, Chamberlain shouted to him: 'Why, you're a regular snooker.' He then pointed out the meaning and that they were all 'snookers' at the game. The name was adopted for the game itself. Chamberlain himself joined the Central India Horse in 1876, taking the game with him. After being wounded in the Afghan War, he moved to Ooatacamund and the game became the speciality of the 'Ooty Club', with rules being posted in the billiards room.
roberts jpg The aforementioned John Roberts (Junior), pictured left on a cigarette card, who was then Billiards Champion, visited India in 1885, met Chamberlain at dinner with the Maharajah of Cooch Behar and enquired about the rules of snooker. He then introduced the game into England, although it was many years before it became widely played there. Manufacturers of billiards equipment, however, soon realised the commercial possibilities of snooker. John Roberts Junior, incidentally, is the subject of a very amusing anecdote as told in Donald Trelford's book 'Snookered'. Roberts was described as Billiards Champion for many years around the turn of the century, meaning English champion, which the English, considering themselves the dominant race, also assumed to mean World Champion. Roberts was very proud of his title and was also involved in manufacturing and supplying tables and equipment. Roberts' work often took him to India, and, on one occasion on that continent he was in a billiards room when a man, reputedly a marker, approached him. The man had evidently not recognised Roberts, but considered himself a good player. "Do you fancy a game?" he asked Roberts. "I'll give you 40 start, up to 100." Roberts was amazed and affronted by the man's audacity, and promptly produced his card from his wallet. The card read 'John Roberts, Billiards Champion'. After reading the card, the man, unabashed, declared: "Ah! In that case I'll make it 20 start."

More to follow!

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