Bar Billiards Ltd.

Bar Billiards (Sometimes known as Russian Billiards) and Bar Billiards Ltd. part in its introduction into the U.K.

In 2013 Peter Clare with the help of Peter Ainsworth put together a an all too brief history of Jelks. As a result Ivor Champion (bar-billiards.com) spotted the scan of the Jelks 'Automatic Table' (Bar Billiard table) and contacted Peter. Ivor who has a long association with Bar Billiard Tables felt that the picture was one of the earliest examples of a British made Bar Billiard Table.

Early Jelks Bar Billiard Table

Note the table wasn't call a Bar Billiard Table & the square mechanism plate and rear mounted scoreboard also indicates it is an early table

As a result of the conversation it was decided that some further history of the tables be recorded. So a meeting was arranged with people involved with the promotion and servicing of BB Tables, this was arranged for April 2015.

At the meeting were Richard Gibbs, who had owned Bar Billiards Ltd for a number of years and had taken it over from its founder David Gill. Terry Hughes who started work with the company on a 6 weeks trail and was there for forty years. Ken Hussey was with Bar Billiards Ltd until the business ceased and is now active with BAPTO. Ivor Champion, who learnt the trade at Bar Billiares |(Kent) Ltd and now restores B. B. Tables, and Peter Clare of E.A. Clare & Son Ltd. , made up the group.

The introduction of the game of Bar Billiards into the U.K. Is fairly well documented in that David Gill had been visiting Northern Europe in 1934, some say on a walking tour others on a bicycle tour. He had observed the game Billiard Russe being played in Europe and thought it would work in licensed premises in the U.K. When he came home he worked with Mr. S.W.M. Jelks to produce a British version of the table that Gill had seen on his travels. The first Bar Billiard table installed was in the 'Rose & Crown' in Elham nr. Canterbury in early 1934, there is a plaque in the pub recording this fact.

The picture of the Jelks table at the start of the article is not called a Bar Billiard Table so it is believed to be from about 1934.The front plate of the mechanism is square probably a French made mechanism. Could it be that the business set up by Gill - Bar Billiards Ltd had the rights to the descriptive name? Interestingly the other firm that made Bar Billiard Tables Sams Bros Ltd. Didn't call them Bar Billiard tables. As shown by the tables listed in their catalogue sent out in 1935.

Sambros Bar Billiard table Cata;ogue page 5 

Domestic Table Top models were available

 Sambros 1935 catalogue page 6

'Free play' version

 Sambros catalogue 1935 page 8 

Recognisable as a Bar Billiard Table and the price was a 'CASH' price!

By 1936 the name Bar Billiards was recognised as shown by the newspaper articles which reported the first ever Bar Billiard tournament held in Newbury in February 1936. The reports state that there were 32 local teams and the finalists were the 'Two Brewers' and the 'King Charles', with the 'Two Brewers' winning the cup, which had been donated by Bar Billiards Ltd. ( of the two articles the one from the Licensed Victuallers has the correct story about where the game was seen but attributes it to the wrong person. Mr Dixon was the organiser Mr. Gill was the person who introduced the table to the U.K.). Interestingly the report also states that - "the contest was not held under the auspices of the National Bar Billiards Association the newly formed controlling body of the game, it was conducted under the rules of that Association.

LIcensed Vituallers Gazette 1936

1936 Newspaper report bar Billairds match 

It can be seen that the game developed quickly and the licensed premises were the target customers. During the meeting it was mentioned that by the late 1960's early 1970's Bar Billiards Ltd had over 2000 tables out at pubs via the breweries on a shared basis.Such was the demand for table, that sometime the wait for an installation could be as long as 6 months!! It was obviously a popular game as in the 1970's Oxford district had 9 divisions with 111 teams.

The popularity seems to have been highest and most significant in the South (East & West) of England and the Channel Isles. Although North Companies such as Ashcroft and E.A. Clare ,both based in Liverpool, listed bar Billiard tables in their catalogues.

E.A.Clare & Son 1953 catalogue

Page from a 1953 E. A. Clare catalogue

Ashcroft 1959 catalogue

page from 1959 Ashcroft catalogue

It is interesting that both these northern businesses offered Bar Billiard Tables as the game was never as popular north of Birmingham as it was in the South of England.

Initially Bar Billiards Ltd. was owned jointly by David Gill and Jelks. Harry Gipps (Richard's father) worked for the business from the start and the game , which was not expected to last more than a few years! In the 1950's Harry Gipps, who had kept the firm going through the war years, whilst also running a lime quarry, purchased the shares owned by Jelks in the 1950's and continued to run the business with David Gill. (Note Jelks ceased trading in 1958 , which would fit with the H.Gipps purchase of the Jelks shares. -See the Jelks article).Richard Gipps returned from travelling overseas in 1969 and joined the business to learn the trade so he could take over its running. At that time Bar Billiards Ltd was based at 122 Nine Mile Ride in Finchampsted.

 In 1973 the business purchased Heath Works in Ascot, just across the road from the Ascot racecourse. Some pictures of the building as it was in 1973 are shown below.

R_Heath Works _1973

The breweries were the main customers for the Bar Billiard Tables and the new site proved to be useful in allowing Bar Billiards Ltd. to promote the game by hosting 'Brewery Day' during the Ascot Races, as the picture illustrates -

 Bar Biilliards Ltd Brewery day Ascot 1988_R

At the height of the Bar Billiards boom Bar Billiards Ltd had some 2100 tables out in brewery sites in Southern England. The game also proved to be popular in the Channel Isles where there is still a strong following of the game.

In the 'history of Bar Billiards in Jersey' they note - The game was introduced in 1933 when George Jeune, the landlord of Caeserea, imported four tables. By 1962 Jersey had over 50 tables with competitions being organised by two associations.

Bar Billiards Ltd exhibited both Bar Billiard Tables and Pool Tables at the Lords exhibition in 1979. The pictures below show the stand.

Bar Billirads exhibition Lords 1979 

Not only was 1984 Bar Billiards 50th anniversary but they also rebuilt and extended their Heath workshop premises. For their 50th celebrations the Gill and Gibbs families were presented at their celebration with a trophy as a memento of the event.

 50th anniversary trophy

Bar Billiards ltd 50th anniversary

The building of the extension was also captured by Richard Gibbs

Workshop _1984_R

 

Some internal pictures of the Heath Works with staff and it can be seen that UK pool tables were becoming an important part of the business.

Bar Billiards Work Shop

 Bar Billiards Ltd. advert

Sales leaflet circa 1990

 

In the late 1980's Richard and his sisters bought all the Gill family and their own parents shares and they continued to run the business until they sold in in 2006. sadly a few years later the business ceased to trade.

 

Additional Bar Billiards information -

Bar Billiard; Russian Billiards

 The Rules of the Game

In the 1960 the game became popular around the Caribbean in fact E.A. Clare had a major export of their tables to Guyana. The picture shows some of the tables being prepared in their St. Anne Street workshop-

Bar Billiard Tables at E.A. Clare & Son

Some examples makes and models of Bar Billiard Table -

 Jelks type 'B' Bar Billiard Table

Jelks table made mainly of Ash with octaganal legs. Sometimes called threepenny bit legs. Picture copyright Ivor Champion

Bar Billiard table by E. A . Clare & Son 

              An E.A. Clare & Son table circa 1960, narrow width Picture copyright Ivor Champion

 Riley Bar Billiard table

        An early Oak E.J. Riley complete with original scoreboard  Picture copyright Ivor Champion

Early Sams Bar Billaird table 

Fairly early Sams table there are four holes in the cushion body for storing the cues.  Picture copyright Ivor Champion

 

Notes:-

At its height Bar Billiards Ltd. had 2100 tables out on shared basis

Bar Billiards Ltd. sold in 2006 and ceased trading a couple of years later

See Jersey BB association

 

Acknowledgements

Ivor Champion

Richard Gipps

Ken Hussey

Terry Hughes

©2015 Peter N. Clare & E.A. Clare & Son Ltd. - reproduction of any part of this article only allowed with permission of the author Peter N. Clare

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