Burroughes & Watts
Founded in 1836
The main part of this article was written by
Peter Ainsworth, the dedicated historian and researcher into all
things written about the Billiard game. The information that he has
put together for the article on this famous Billiard business is
remarkable. Some of the pictures are from Peter Ainsworth others
are from magazines and books in the Norman Clare Collection. When
anything additional has been added to Peter Ainsworth's article it
will be shown in italics.
This firm, which would become one of the most
famous of the English billiard table manufacturers, was founded in
1836 by William Burroughes in partnership with F. Watts.
William had learnt his
trade with Thurston's, and set up his new business at 19 Soho
Square, London. He brought with him from Thurston's all the latest
innovations for billiard tables, immediately starting to produce
models with rubber cushions and slate beds. Even though the natural
rubber cushions would give extremes of elasticity according to
temperature, and the slates where only an inch thick, this was to
be the future of billiard tables, and Burroughes and Watts were at
the forefront from the very beginning.
An old set of Billiard Rules in the
Heritage collection published by Burroughes & Watts which shows
under the business name 'Many Years with J.
a plate on the
frame of the rules states-
These old rules
were loaned to Burroughes & Watts by Thurston & Co. Ltd.
For their Centenary celebrations 1836-1936. L.H.J. Burroughes
Chairman - W.T. Rainbow Managing Director.
The Burroughes family lived on the premises at
Soho Square. Their dining room was at the rear of the front shop,
and the living quarters were at the back of the first floor, with
other tenants living on the second and third floors. Mr. Burroughes
worked in the factory, "trying" frames, and occasionally he
attended to installations at clubs and at noblemen's mansions.
In Bob Mitchell's
book 'Billiards & Snooker A Trade History' it is mentioned that
when they first set up at 19 Soho Square there was a pickle factory
near by which on hot summer days polluted the atmosphere, happily
it moved out of the city!
Mr. Watts also worked at the bench and dealt with
correspondence. As a hobby, he filled some of his leisure time by
practising photography, an early pioneer of this new science.
In an article in 'The Billiard Player'
magazine dated November 1923 it mentions Mr. Frank Watts as follows
- 'the later gentleman being "chief" of the clerical staff in those
days, conducted all his correspondence from his work bench, mending
his own quill pens and filling his own sand caster, which was used
then instead of blotting paper'.
They were quickly recognised as a world-class
manufacturer and received a prize medal for a table entered for the
Great Exhibition of 1851, with a similar award being received at
the subsequent London Exhibition of 1862.
Burroughes -taken from the 'Burwat Billiard Review' - if
he was only 13 in 1884 the picture above must indicate when he
started or he grew a good beard at a very young age!!
In 1854, a young (Ainsworth
calculates he was only 13 years of age!) James Samuel
Burroughes joined the firm, and it would be under his stewardship
that the company would experience its greatest
In 1860 they were making a modest 150
full-sized tables a year, but by the end of this decade production
had doubled. In 1869 they followed the lead of Thurston's and
improved their cushions with "vulcanised" rubber, which were
designed to minimise the effect of temperature variations.
The business now looked for expansion away from
London, and in the early 1870's they opened up branches in Dublin
and Belfast. At this time most tables in Ireland were made with
cast iron frames, and the wooden framed Burroughes & Watts
tables proved popular with the locals.
Mr. J. S.
Burroughes at this date began to display his keenness and
foresight, and was always experimenting with something new. He
installed his own electric lighting plant, and the acid for this
was stored in a shop above the stables at Richmond Buildings, Soho.
In this connexion, one anecdote tells of the acid leaking through
into the stable beneath and burning the horses' backs. When it is
considered that all business transport relied on horse-power, this
was potentially a serious issue.
In 1873 the company secured a major
contract for billiard tables to "Her Majesty's War Department and
Admiralty" and around the same time received the warrant of Queen
Victorian and Edward, Prince of Wales.
The following year, the
champion, William Cook, returned from a tour of America with the
idea of running billiard tournaments on a "round-robin" basis
rather than the straight knock-out principle which had hitherto
been used in England. Cook mentioned the idea to Mr. J. S.
Burroughes who was sufficiently impressed to promote a tournament,
putting up prize money of £100. It was recounted that there was
some difficulty in working out how matches could be arranged so
that the eight players met each other once on each of the planned
seven days of the tournament. Cook admits that " This exercise was
probably not helped by the hospitality of Mr. Burroughes who
supplied the assembled notaries with a constant supply of good
champagne." For many years thereafter, the Burroughes & Watts
"American" tournament was a feature of the professional season.
By 1875 provincial showrooms and offices had been
established in Manchester, and expansion increased with a branch at
Newcastle in 1890, by which time agencies had also been established
in Australia and New Zealand. In 1893 showrooms were opened in
Glasgow, and by the end of that decade, premises in Birmingham and
Sheffield were also operating.
Burroughes & Watts were more active in the
provinces than any other London maker, and in 1876 they established
the Scottish Professional Billiards Championship, providing a
silver challenge cup.
Walter Buttery became a partner in the 1870's
taking charge of the London offices and showroom. Of a very
inventive turn of mind he is credited with the invention of the
"steel-block" cushion, which was registered as a
patent in 1888. Within a few years, this invention was standard on
all Burroughes & Watts full-sized tables, and protected by this
patent, they were the only manufacturer to offer this feature, now
standard on all professional tables.
patent listed in the abridged booklet for 1886
Mr. Buttery also took credit for devising the
"Eureka Vacuum Cushion" which was introduced in 1895 and also
became a standard feature of their tables over the following
decades. This cushion contained an air space for which the
following claims were made in one of their adverts: "The ball
rebounds with a speed as yet unequalled; vibration and noise are
reduced to a minimum; elasticity is unrivalled, and is continual
even in the warmest and coldest climates."
In the Burroughes
& Watts booklet 'The Burwat Billiard View' published in between
1930/32 indicated that Mr. L.H.J. Burroughes joined the business in
1893. The picture is taken from the booklet. The booklets were
published by Burroughes & Watts and printed by William Morris
The year of 1896 was significant as the time that
the company decided to adopt a general policy of supporting amateur
competitions by providing trophies, and many leagues in England can
still boast possession of a Burroughes & Watts shield, these
items being distributed in large numbers from this date
Burroughes & Watts promoted many professional
matches from the 1870's onwards, which were held at various
locations in London and the provinces. However it took until 1890
before they had established their own match room, the first of
which was at Deansgate, Manchester and was used for the
Professional championship of Yorkshire and Lancashire, amongst
other events. It was five years later, when the business was also
incorporated as a limited company, that they opened their London
match-room, which was in Dean Street. This subsequently moved to
Soho Square in 1902, and would be the venue for many famous
encounters which are now part of billiards history. Thereafter,
additional match rooms were established at many of their branches
including Birmingham, Newcastle, and Glasgow, which would host
amateur and professional events alike, Burroughes & Watts being
a generous sponsor of the game.
Having established the Scottish Professional
billiards championship in 1876, the competition had lapsed for some
years when in 1902 Burroughes & Watts were instrumental in its
revival. Not long afterwards, in 1908, they put together a national
championship for the Scottish Amateurs, the first event being held
at their recently opened match room in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow.
However, this initiative was not well received by the Billiard
Association, who had been trying to make similar arrangements,
without success, for several years. Nevertheless, the competition
had been established at the sole initiative of Burroughes &
Watts, and was still being run until very recently.
Illustration from a 1907
Burroughes & Watts Billiard Accessories catalogue
The Edwardian era was
the time of strange innovations and Burroughes & Watts produced
their fair share of these novelties. Such items included the
"Burwat Pocket-Finder," which was essentially a ball on a string.
This was intended to allow losing hazards to be practised without
having to set up the object ball in the same position each
They also introduced a
"Revolving Billiard Table" for a room with restricted access, which
would allow any shot to be taken in a position where cueing was
easy. Also, during a time when strangely shaped tables were an
unlikely fashion, Burroughes & Watts joined in with the Ovallo
(Patent) Billiard Table Attachment, which converted an oblong table
into an oval.
In 1907 when Tom Reece and others were running up
huge breaks by means of the "cradle cannon" Burroughes & Watts
picked up an invention patented by Scotsman John Thompson, which
had the pockets set in the top cushion rather than the corners. A
prototype was produced and named the "No-Bar" table, specially
designed to prevent the "cradle cannon." In a blaze of publicity
this seemed to be set for a high-profile launch, until Tom Reece
spoiled the theory by demonstrating that he could still obtain
position for the stroke. The project was abandoned more quietly
than it had been announced.
From a 1909
catalogue when Burroughes and Watts must have been at their height.
The Billiard room in Art Nouveau style completely fitted
out by them.
In 1911 the
Billiard interest of Cox & Yeman were taken over by Burroughes
& Watts and moved in house at Soho Square.
James S. Burroughes died in 1912, by which time
the company claimed to have 50,000 billiard tables in use
throughout the world. About three years previously he had met with
an accident while in his bathroom and broke two ribs. An operation
had to be performed, and from the effects of this he never fully
recovered. His personal estate was valued at over £90,000.
The First World War did not have as significant
an impact on Burroughes & Watts as many of the smaller firms, a
significant number of whom did not survive. They emerged with their
full network of branches intact and now added offices in four
Canadian cities, Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg & Vancouver.
In 1919 they opened a second London match room in
Piccadilly, this, and the existing Soho Square facility, being
respectively referred to as their "new" and "old" rooms. However
the new venture was not a great success. The hall proved to be
somewhat out of the way for the hardened billiards patrons, and
consequently the attendances were not good. It also had a low
ceiling, and after about an hour, the atmosphere became very stuffy
with cigar, cigarette, and pipe smoke. Additionally, spectators did
not get a good view of the table as the pitch of the seating
platforms was not high enough. With overheads exceeding income, the
hall closed after about four years.
In the early 1920's Burroughes & Watts match
room in Soho Square became synonymous with the amateur game;
national championships for both snooker and billiards being held
there from 1921 onwards. As for the leagues they have assisted, and
provincial competitions they have promoted, even a sample list
would be far too long to reproduce, but needless to say it is
extensive, and the amateur game owes a great deal to their
In the Burroughes
& Watts booklet 'The Burwat Billiard View' published between
1930/32 indicated that Mr. Tom Burroughes joined the business in
1920. The picture is taken from the booklet. The booklets were
published by Burroughes & Watts and printed by William Morris
printers, the cartoons that were on the front covers were drawn by
D. Burroughes, was he also a member of the family?
Although new models of tables continued to be produced,
Burroughes & Watts lagged somewhat behind their competitors
when it came to their cushions. Most English manufacturers had
switched to the use of strip-rubber from about 1910, and rather
belatedly, this feature was incorporated into the Eureka Vacuum
cushion in 1922.
A picture found in the Heritage Collection showing we
believe the Dublin shop and staff.(This is based on the fact that
the photographic studio's address is Dublin)
During the late 1920's
many efforts had been made to tempt Walter Lindrum to tour England,
but it was ultimately Burroughes & Watts who would be
successful in securing him with a contract for the 1929-30 season.
This contract specified that all matches would be played on
Burroughes & Watts tables, and as Lindrum subsequently set up
no less than twelve national or world records on these tables, the
advertising value must have been considerable.
From 'The Billiard Player' magazine dated
November 1923 there is a full page article reporting Mr. Tom
Burroughes coming of age celebration at 19 Soho Square on 5th
October of that year. In the report it mentions that two of the
directors present were Mr. L.H.J. Burroughes (Tom's father) and a
Mr. C.P. Lidbetter. Also at the celebration was Mr. J. P. Mannock,
the famous coach who gave his name to the famous cue made and sold
by Burroughes & Watts.. The picture below is taken from that
It is noted later
than Tom Burroughes went to Canada to run the Toront
In the Heritage
Collection there are a number of Burroughes & Watts catalogues
but one 'caught the eye' as the front cover was so unusual as shown
in the following picture. As you can see it has a rubber stamped
inked on it indicating it was issued from the Sheffield
Picture published in a1923 issue
of 'The Billiard Player'
In 1923 a very splendid catalogue in a bound
booklet form was produced by the Company mainly to show the tables
they were able to offer,but also confirming the high standard of
their work and their position as a leading player in the Billiard
The front cover
of the catalogue (Size 12 ½.inches x 10 inches)
One of the inside
pages of the 1923 catalogue listing not only the domestic branches
but also the overseas branches and agents.
Another page from the catalogue
showing one of their showroom displays built in the Soho Square
premises. The model of table shown is the 'Georgian' in
the Georgian showroom.
The page showing the 'Georgian'
model listing both the 'Rigidus' frame model (note the midle legs
are closer to-gether than on the conventional frame as ilustrated
at the bottom of the page) and a conventional frame model.
With a truly global network of sales offices,
manufacturing output continued to increase and by 1930, six hundred
tables a year were coming from their factory in Bow.
Manchester Billiard company of Orme & Sons was basically taken
over by Burroughes & Watts, although for a time both names were
still promoted. See Orme & Sons
article in 'Other Articles'.
This picture is from 'The Burwat Billiard View'' of July 1931
and was used in an article explaining their global sales.
Burroughes & Watts were heavily involved with the promotion
of the game of Billiards as a sport for the ladies and so they ran
competitions for Ladies and help set up the British Women's
Burroughes & Watts also used their 'Burwat Billiard
View' to push for the relaxation in the Law which banned the
opening of Billiard Halls on a Sunday. They used the cartoon on the
front cover of their magazine to make the point that other sports
could be played on a Sunday so 'Why not Billiards'. Note -
the drawings are by a D. Burroughes
a page from a Burroughes and
watts catalogue circa 1938
The manufacture of new tables
effectively came to an end in England with the introduction of the
Utility Scheme for furniture which was in force between 1943 and
1953. Even so, the company continued to trade, and in common with
all other English manufacturer's, concentrated on table renovation
and supply of cues and other requisites. Even so, timber for
smaller items was still difficult to obtain as this statement from
a 1953 advert for cues demonstrates: "High grade cues are still
scarce because high grade timber is at a premium. In consequence
prompt delivery cannot be guaranteed."
In 1939 the Eureka Vacuum cushion had been joined by a new,
low-cost option, called the "Arrowflite" cushion. This became
increasingly popular in the austerity years during and after the
war, and by the late 1950's was the only cushion offered by
Burroughes & Watts.
Two cushion plates - one showing
that the table had been fitted with the Eureka Steel Block cushion
the other showing 'The New Arrowflite cushion' had been
Soho Square 1950
With trading conditions continuing to be in a desperate state,
the company was ultimately wound up in 1967. The main assets were
taken over by property developers, Hurst Park Syndicate Ltd., and
the table renovation business sold to E. J. Riley. The match room at Soho Square
was in use right until the end, hosting the Women's Billiards and
Snooker Championships in March of that year.
As the note in Norman Clare's
handwriting shows this article was originally published in the
march 1967 issue of 'Billiards & Snooker'.
A special closing programme of
Billiards etc. was held to commemorate the final days of the Soho
Square Match Room and also Burroughes & Watts Ltd.
Norman Clare kept the programme card as a souvener for the
Thurston have recently (2010)
exported the fully restored Georgian table illustrated below. It
also had the original matching Life Pool marking board with it.
The Georgian -Table no
12531 exported to the U.S.A.
Table no. 12478
The above table is believed to be a
Burroughes & Watts table and has steel block cushions fitted it
has been carefully restored by Thurston and is on display in their
Acknowledgements - Peter
Ainsworth for his research, information and article
©2010 Peter Ainsworth -©2010 peter
Clare & E.A. Clare & Son Ltd. Reproduction only allowed
with their permission
phone -0870 607 1336 or
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