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 Burroughes the founder

Mr. William Burroughes

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. THURSTON

Many years with J Thurston

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 Billiard Hall 1841

James S Burroughes

James S. 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 development.

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.

Steel Block Billiard Cushions

W. Buttery's 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."

Eureka Vacuum Steel Block Billiard Cushion (1903)

"Eureka Vacuum Cushion"

L H J Burroughes

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 printers.

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 onwards.

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.

Burroughes & Watts Billiard Shades

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 time.

Advert for Pocket Finder

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.

Burroughes & watts Art Noveau Billiard Table

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 involvement.

Tom Burroughes

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.

Burroughes & Watts Dublin staff

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 report.

J P Mannock Billiard player

 

Tom Burroughes 21st. 19 Soho Square

It is noted later than Tom Burroughes went to Canada to run the Toront Office.

Burroughes & watts catalogue 1920

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 Branch.

 

Burroughes & Watts staff 1923

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 Trade.

Burroughes & Watts booklet Frontcover 1923

The front cover of the catalogue (Size 12 ½.inches x 10 inches)

Burroughes & Watts Insidepage 1923

One of the inside pages of the 1923 catalogue listing not only the domestic branches but also the overseas branches and agents.

Burroughes & Watts The Georgian model

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.

Burroughes & Watts The Georgian

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.

In1931 the 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'.

J.S. Burroughes in Moscow
This picture is from 'The Burwat Billiard View'' of July 1931 and was used in an article explaining their global sales.

Burroughes & Watts support for Women's Billiards
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 Tournament.

Burwat Billiard View re Sundays

Burwat Billiards View re Sunday games

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

Burroughes & watts history Circa 1938

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.

Burroughes & watts Eureka Billiard Cushion plate

Burroughes & Watts arrowflite Billiard Cushion plate

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 fitted.


Burroughes & Watts Soho Square 1950

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.

Burroughes & Watts taken over by E.J. Riley

As the note in Norman Clare's handwriting shows this article was originally published in the march 1967 issue of 'Billiards & Snooker'.

Final programme from Soho Square

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 Heritage Collection.

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Thurston have recently (2010) exported the fully restored Georgian table illustrated below. It also had the original matching Life Pool marking board with it.


Georgian Snooker table restored by Thurston

The Georgian -Table no 12531 exported to the U.S.A.

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12478 Burroughes & Watts table
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 Liverpool showroom.

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

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