Bar Billiards -The strory of the tables & the game
Bar Billiards-The Story of the Table
several articles about the history of Bar Billiards in the U.K.
Basically all agree that the game was imported into the U.K. after
being seen in Northern Europe in the early 1930's.
There is one
area of dispute as to which business first introduced Bar Billiard
Tables into the U.K. Sams always claim it was them and Bar
Billiards Ltd. also make the claim and Bar Billiards Ltd. have there claim
quite well documented! Both Sams & Bar Billiards Ltd., who at first
used Jelks made
tables had to use French made clock mechanisms but it was Sams who
sourced a U.K. made version, basically a clone of the French
mechanism, it became the standard clock for U.K. Bar billiard
tables. As mention in the Sams history the clocks were eventually
made in the Isle of Man.
The above picture is a of a French made
clock, note - the pull bar is not original. The cover plate nut is of the original
design as well as the retaining bolts.
The faceplate of the French made clock confirms its
Interstingly Ivor Champion has also provided a
picture of an early French made clock on which it can be ,just,
read the BREVETE name.
The mechanism cover on this clock has a poignant
message to the players to 'shame' them into paying for their games.
It reads "DON'T CHEAT THE CLUB"!
It can clearly be seen that the U.K. Made clocks
copied the French design by comparing the internal workings as
shown in the following two pictures..
Above the French made clock
UK made clock
The edge of the face plate has made in the UK complete with a
As other firms saw
that bar billiard tables were becoming popular they also made
tables but in the early days the name Bar Billiard had not become
the recognised name for the tables. So Russian Billiards, Russian
Bagatelle and Snookerette were also names used.
out some old files some interesting pieces of corespondence turned
up concerning the use of the name to describe the game and tables
used. It seems that in the mid 1960's Bar Billiards Ltd. claimed
the name Bar Billiards as their own and that other businesses, who
made similar tables, should not described their tables as being Bar
Billiard Tables. The letters were sent from Bar Billiards Ltd to
the Federation of British Manufacturers of Sports & Games Ltd.
In one of the letters it states that the name given to the game and
tables in Europe was "Billards Russes a Trous" the direct
translation being "Russian Billiards with Holes".
It seems that
in the mid 1960's it was not considered to be good marketing to use
the name Russian in the name for a table or game and so the
corespondance relates to other firms use of the name Bar
Further in the
1970's a solicitors letter was sent on behalf of Bar Billiards Ltd.
To E. A Clare & Son objectiong to a Clare catalogue containing
a table being called a 'Bar Billiard' table. The solicitor's letter
states ….. You are accordingly required to give your undertaking
forthwith to desist from using the name "Bar Billiards" … .
action was threatened a reply to Bar Billiards Ltd. From Clare's
solicitors pointed out the following … "The term Bar Billiards" is
used as a term of general description in trade directories and
sales catalogues. For example, in the"Sports Trader" the term is
used as describing similar tables manufactured by Messrs.
E.J.Riley, Messrs. Sams Bros. and Thurstons. Further, Harpers "Guid
to the Sports Trade" lists as dealer in Bar Billiards Tables,
E.A.Clare & Son, Lawrence Fraser (Bristol) Ltds., Sams Bros.
Ltds Sport Craft Ltd.. and Thurstons. Four of those firms in that
guide are listed as manufacturers and "Bar Billiards" is not listed
as a brand name in that guide. The two publications we have
mentioned are those in most general use in the trade. No further
action was taken and Clare's continued to use the name Bar
Billiards for their tables and in their catalogues.
Ivor Champion has
been able to provide a picture of a SNOOKERETTE clock and even in
2012 one league still used the name. The name relates to the 4 pin
tables and has a strong following in and around the Norwich
In this picture of a
Riley Bar Billiard table in the top right hand part of the picture
is a sign headed
A close up of that part of the picture shows the sign more
The name 'Russian
Bagatelle' has perhaps northern link as E.J. Riley were based in
Lancashire and the E.A. Clare & Son Rules , Liverpool based
firm, list Russian Bagatelle before Snookerette on their printed
bar billiard rules. Ashcroft, another Liverpool firm, also mention
'Russian Bagatelle' in their catalogue circa 1959.
Another name used
was Nine Hole Snooker as the picture taken from a 1950's Burroughes
& Watts booklet show.
Basically the name Bar Billiards seems to have become the
recognised name for the game and the following article adds some
further information as to its possible origins and also the slight
variations in similar table games found in other European
English Bar Billiards
- (This part of the article is
published with the kind permission of James Masters who retains the
The similarity of Bar Billiards with
Bagatelle, a game that was very
popular for more than a century after 1770 is so evident that it
seems highly likely that Bar Billiards is a derivative of Bagatelle
via some lineage but that lineage is, at present, unknown. It isn't
known how Bar Billiards originated but in the early 1930s an
Englishman called David Gill observed a game called Russian
Billiards (Billiard Russe) being played in Belgium. A Russian link
is therefore a possibility but it seems more likely that the game
was named so as to sound slightly exotic to the ears of West
Europeans at the time (in the same way as for Chinese Checkers and
Gill convinced the English manufacturer Jelkes
(no longer trading) to make a version of the game which he called
Bar Billiards. Pubs seemed keen to buy tables and other
manufacturers soon got in on the act, notably Sams Brothers (later
Sams Atlas who were bought by Greys of Cambridge who then went out
of business). It is still possible to obtain reconditioned versions
of these lovely old Bar
The first pub league was created in Oxford in
1936 and shortly afterwards leagues sprang up in Reading,
Canterbury and High Wycombe. Before the war, there was
apparently an organisation called the National Bar Billiards
Association. The now-defunct Canterbury league team won the NBBA
challenge cup beating a team from Oxford just before the war. After
the war a governing body was formed called the All-England Bar
Billiards Association appeared although the relationship with the
NBBA is not clear. The AEBBA now supervises the game across 18
counties, mainly in the South of England. However, the old cup was
somehow retained in Canterbury and proceeded to be played for as
the 'Canterbury Team Challenge Cup for the next 50 years from 1947.
The game emerged in Jersey 1933 and their game was administered by
the Jersey Licence Victuallers League. This body has worked closely
with the AEBBA, despite variations in their respective games and
the British open, the largest competition in the Bar Billiards
calendar continues to be played in Jersey each year.
There are a number of variations in table sizes
and rules. The Jersey tables were apparently based on those from
the manufacturer Burroughs & Watts and are slightly bigger
(Riley bought out Burrows & Watts to form Riley-Burwat at a
later date). In Jersey, all shots must be played from the same spot
whereas in England, they can be played from anywhere within the
small D at the foot of the table.
The table shown (above) is Thos. Padmore table
(picture by kind permission of Richard Hodson). Padmore was
eventually Part of the Clare-Padmore-Thurston group. Now trading as
Skittles come shaped like mushrooms or as small
thin posts with metal crosspieces (both designed so that the
skittles cannot fall into a cup). The author is also aware that
many tables feature 4 skittles instead of 3. Since both the Jersey
and All-England Bar Billiards Association rules stipulate that one
black and 2 white skittles be used, it's not clear where this
variation came from nor which leagues play with it. Perhaps it's
only played in individual pubs and bars.
Whoever designed the game cleverly ensured it
was more economical on space in pubs and clubs than ordinary
billiard and pool tables because players
strike from one end of the table so there is no need to walk around
the table at all. The game itself is unusual since play is limited
by time, a single coin giving from between 10 and 20 minutes of
play according to preference (or the avarice of the landlord).
During the playing period, players attempt to
accumulate points by striking the balls, 7 of which are white and
one of which is red, up the table so that they fall down the holes
at the other end. There are 9 holes in all scoring from 10 to 200
points depending upon the difficulty and potted balls run back to
the front of the table in hidden channels so that they can be used
again. The game is deceptively difficult due, in part, to the
additional 3 skittles that are placed near the high scoring holes.
If either of the two white skittles are knocked over, the break
finishes and any points made during it are lost. Worse, if the
black skittle is toppled, the guilty player's entire score is reset
to zero, a drastic event, indeed.
Eventually, the time runs out and a bar drops
inside the table preventing any more balls returning to be replayed
from the front of the table. The remaining balls are then
cleared one by one in the normal way until only one remains.
At this point, the final fiendish rule comes into play - the only
way to pot this last ball is into the 200 hole by first bouncing
off a side cushion. Since the 200 hole is situated directly
behind the fatal black skittle and since 200 points is often enough
to decide the outcome of the game, the finish is commonly fraught
Bar Billiards is still going strong especially
in the South of England and the Channel Islands but has
unfortunately lost a lot of its popularity due to the emergence of
French Bar Billiards
The link with France and Belgium became more
clear in the years following the initial launch of this page by the
author. Several people have since written in with information about
the French version of Bar Billiards. The interesting thing here is
that the table is almost identical and the only significant
difference is that it misses the hole behind the black skittle.
Simon Ward wrote in about the table (above)
which has a plaque which says "Ameublement. Leonard Leclercq, Rue
de Reims, Wattingeies, Templemars (Nord)". He assumes, therefore,
that it is made in France by this chap.
Below is a picture of another French table
kindly contributed by Mike Jakeaways. The owner of the table lives
in the Poitiers area, and says she remembers that tables were
common in the cafes and coffee-bars of her youth in the area (ie
maybe 60s & 70s). They were replaced with the arrival of
electronic games. The sign on the table says "Fabrique de
Billards. Maba. Tulle, Corrèze".
Here's a third table, kindly sent to the author
by Chris Saville, with a very unusual feature. The middle skittle
is a teeototum - numbered 1 to 6. We aren't sure how the teeototum
Italian Bar Billiards
The 5 hole game pictured above is from Italy. It
was sent in by another kind contributor, Stecher Josef, who owns
this table which features four holes and two skittles.
Apparently the table, has been in his family since at least the
1930s so it seems to be a good possibility that the game is older
than the English game. Shown below are two pictures of the
Italian table by kind permission of Stecher Josef.
It may be no coincidence that Italy is the place
where pin billiards appears to have originated. Given the
Italian penchant for putting skittles on billiard tables, could it
be that someone in Italy decided on day to come up with a new game
based on Bagatelle but using skittles? And perhaps this game or
another version of it was the pastime discovered by David Gill in
Belgium. It's a possiblity - there is a lot more research to be
Swiss Bar Billiards
This is a table owned by Pat Bartlett in
Switzerland who kindly sent some pictures of it after renovation.
He found a date on the table - 21.2.1936 and it apparently it was
prduced by Paul Brunner who had originally a carpentry workshop and
was also known to import snooker tables to Switzerland several
which are in use today. He also produced pool/billard tables in his
workshop. So it seems likely that Brunner made this table
originally - whether he copied a design or came up with his own is
As you can see, the table has the 2 wide holes
set nearest in the table and there are 3 holes at the back compared
with 5 on an English table.
Atlas Bar Billiards Table
Stanko Milosavljevic of Belgrade, Serbia wrote
in with about this table which he got from his grandfather's bar.
It has seven balls, one red and six white ones, seven holes and one
skittle (although possibly there were more skittles which are
lost). On the front is a plaque that simply says "Atlas". Atlas was
an English manufacturer who were eventually bought by Sams
Brothers. Presumably this is a design of table that they made at
one time. Stanko is interested to hear from anyone with any
information about his table.
In May 2016 James Master help a renovation
project in Trieste, this bar Billiard Table had yet another hole
format as the picture below shows.
Mystery Bar Billiards
Stuart Rumsey sent the photo, above, of another
table from France, this time with the configuration of holes around
the edge. It is about 1.2m wide by 2.1m long overall. It came with
one mushroom, perhaps there were more. The clock mechanism is
German from Saarbrucken with 'Automatenfabrik' written on it and
its restorer estimated it was made during the world wars. It takes
a 1 franc coin.
Nothing like this has surfaced anywhere else
yet. Stuart is looking for more information - especially rules,
number of skittles etc.
Many thanks to James Masters for allowing the
above article, which is his copyright, to be
incorporated in Bar Billiards article.
Sadly, as also
mention in the James Masters article, the game of Bar Billiards has
decline pushed out of many sites by the popularity of U.K. Pool
tables, however, there are strong pockets of players especially in
the South of England and the Channel Isles. Information on these
leagues can be found on the web and they are very informative and
well worth looking at.
Just to fiunish off
- not sure of the date of the advert below but is this a USA take
on a version of bar billiards?
Ivor Champion Bar Billiards Table restorer see also links page
James Masters - on line guides to traditional games see also links
Dennis Brisley - many years working in the Bar Billiards trade
Kenneth Hussey - many years working in the Bar Billiards trade
Heritage Collection; English Billiards ©James
44(0)151 482 2700