Thurston & Co
A Potted(!) History of a British Billiard/Snooker business from
The front cover of one of the Company's earliest catalogues
A sales leaflet produced by Thurston
in 1949 stated "The name of Thurston is synonymous with
billiards history". This statement should now be updated
to "…..synonymous with billiards and snooker
history". Snooker was a game originally invented to be
played on a billiard table. Whilst we now refer to snooker tables,
snooker cues etc. it is only since the end of the 1939-45 World War
that snooker came to dominate in the UK. (see article
'Origins of Snooker')
The founder of the famous
billiard & snooker business
John Thurston learnt about the trade
at Gillow's (of Lancaster) London offices, where they offered not
only high quality furniture but also billiard tables, and so it is
assumed that when he set up his own furniture business he too
offered billiard tables.
Gillow Billiard Rules
The Thurston furniture business
started in 1799 in premises in Newcastle Street (in the parish of
St. Clement Danes),in the Strand. However, could it be that before
John Thurston set up completely on his own he was in partnership
with two other cabinet makers? The evidence is from a copy of 'La
Belle Assemblee' or 'Bell's Court & Fashionable Magazine'
October 1809 which contained the following advert. Note the address
'6 Catherine Street, Strand'.
Perhaps the following two adverts
(possible typo error on initial 'T' should have been 'J' in the
first advert) confirms the 6 Catherine Street association with
the Thurston in the 1809 advert and also given the dates provides
some supporting evidence that it was 1814 when he specialised in
1816 [June] Advert: "Billiard
Catherine-street, Strand, having continual
applications for good second-hand Billiard Tables, beyond the
possibility of supplying them, is at length enabled by careful
purchase of materials, and manufacturing many together, to offer
new and superior tables, at very little more than the prices
demanded for old ones, he submits to the Nobility, Gentry,
Merchants, Captains, &c. a variety of portable and other
Billiard Tables, some with solid mahogany beds, from 10 to 80
guineas, each warranted accurate, maces,
cues, &c. Old Cushions re stuffed in
town or country." [T.08/06/1816 p.1]
1817 Advert: As June 1816
except, now "J.
Thurston" still 6, Catherine-street, prices
ranging from "10 to 70 guineas" and "a new-invented portable
billiard table with folding legs, very readily adapted, and most
conveniently adapted for the dining or drawing room." [T.04/04/1817
It is interesting to note in the
adverts the mention of the 'new-invented portable billiard table as
the collection has an example as illustrated in the following
The table has a wooden bed and
the legs lock into place with a dove -tail sections and metal
The letter from 'La Societe des
Amis de St. Helena. (it sufferd some damage in 1940)
Thurston also supplied the billiard
table to Longwood House on St. Helena which was used by Napoleon when he was
exiled there after he was defeated at Waterloo. Thurston had
confirmation of this when they made a presentation to 'La Societe
des Amis de St Helena, as recorded by the letter shown above.
In 1826 John Thurston introduced the
slate bed for billiard tables and the record's show that the first
made complete with a slate bed was supplied to 'White's Club in
1832. Also in 1826 John Thurston was granted the Royal Warrant to
His Majesty King George IV - sole appointment
There is also evidence that the
Company first moved in to 14 Catherine Street. An old set of
Billiard rules in the collection, shows the address as '14
Catherine Street, Strand and Salisbury Wharf, Adelphi, London'.
In 1833 John Thurston was granted the
Royal Warrant of His Majesty King William IV.
Perhaps one of the most significant
improvements that John Thurston introduced was in 1835 with the use
of India Rubber for the Billiard Cushion. This replaced the old
'stuffed' List ( made up of layers of felt padding) cushions.
This advert from January 1936
shows 1835 Ledger entry concerning the 'Restuffing' of a set
of cushions with India Rubber.
In 1837 John Thurston was granted the
Royal Warrant of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.
In 1845 John Thurston introduced and
patented the first vulcanised rubber billiard cushion.
The following announcement / advert
from 1869 concerning the improvement to the cushions has 14
Catherine Street and given that we understand this patent was
granted in 1869 it would indicate that Thurston's traded from 14
and 16 Catherine Street.
However this raises further questions
as John Thurston's death is recorded as September 1850 (see correct
dated below). In his will filed earlier in 1850 his address is 14
Catherine Street. So it could be that the shop and office was a 16
Catherine Street and he and his family lived at No 14?
(John Thurston's Will was written 29th June 1850 and
proved 16th September of that year. So he died sometime between
those dates. Beneficiaries were his wife Sarah and his daughter
Ruth Gabriel, wife of Christopher Trowell Gabriel, a timber
merchant and sole executor).From additional information provided in
2014 by Margaret Wilkinson it would seem that John Thurston married
twice. In 1799 he married Maria Cridland and they had a child Mary
born 3/8/1805 a second daughter Ruth was born on 8/2/1807. Although
no record of a 2nd marriage has so far been found John
mentions his wife as Sarah in his will. Ruth, as mentioned,
married Christopher Trowell Gabriel (Peter Gabriel founder member
of Genesis is a distant relative!!). John Thurston is burried in
Norwood Road Cemetery which confirms the date of his death as 7th
August 1850 aged 73 years( there is a photograph of his headstone
which can be seen by following the link - http://www.fownc.org/pdf/newsletter72.pdf
)Sarah died in 1857 and is also burried in Norwood.
The letters patent (One of the three
examples in the Billiard & Snooker Heritage Collection)
concerning the introduction of Vulcanised Rubber Cushions are still
in the Heritage collection and are an impressive sight with the
hand written description and massive wax seal.
After his death in 1850 he was
succeeded in the business by Mr. G.J. Atkins who entered into
partnership with Samuel Pitts. Samuel Pitts was followed by his son
Thomas Pitt and some time around 1896 a Mr. Stevens, who was the
general manager, with his wife's brother - John Craggs - purchased
the interest of the firm which was then turned into a limited
Confirmed by the following information provided by Peter
Ainsworth from research he carried out -
1896(*) The business of
Messrs. Thurston and Co. was registered as a Limited Company on
February 24th , by Gush, Phillips and Co., 8 Finsbury Circus,
E.C., with a capital of £100,000, divided into 100,000 shares of £1
each. Object: To acquire the business of manufacturers of and
dealers in billiard tables, and all accessories thereto, as now and
hitherto carried on by Thurston and Co, at 16 Catherine Street,
Strand, W.C., and 33 Cheyne Walk, and at Grass Market, Cape Town,
[South Africa] upon the terms of an agreement expressed to be made
between the above-mentioned Messrs. Thurston and Co. of the one
part and this company of the other part; and to carry on and extend
the said business in all or any of its branches. The signatures
are:-Shares (one each) Mrs. J. G. Craggs, Stone House, St. John's,
S.E; Mr. J. G. Craggs, Stone House, St. John's, S.E; C. H. Craggs,
16 Catherine Street, W.C; Mrs. C. E. Craggs, 9 Holies Street,
Cavendish Square, W; G. D. Stevens, 16 Catherine Street, W.C; Mrs.
D. Stevens, 35 Lavender Gardens, Clapham Common; H. H. Craggs,
Fressingfield, Wandsworth Common. The first directors-of whom there
shall be not less than three nor more than seven-are J. G. Craggs,
G. H. Craggs, and G. D. Stevens. Qualification, £1,000.
Remuneration, £10 each per annum. [Billiards Review 1895-96
The trade mark of Thurston & Co
circa 1896 which was also used as the Company Seal
(note the references to Australia and South Africa as well as
their Royal Warrants)
We had assumed that as some adverts have the date establishing
the business as 1814 (see picture below) that it tied in with being
incorporated as a Limited Company when they also listed their
address as 16 Catherine Street, with their 'Manufactory' at the
Waterloo Billiard Works, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. However information
from Peter Ainsworth indicates that the factory didn't move to
Cheyne Walk until 1872. So perhaps the 1814 date is when J.
Thurston decided to specialise in billiard tables and billiard room
Picture taken from an old
At the Great Exhibition in 1851
Thurston won a gold medal for the design of the table they
The Heritage Collection is fortunate
to have the certificate and also a picture from 'The Art Journal
Illustrated Catalogue' showing the Billiard Table that the Company
In 1892 the Billiard Association of
Great Britain and Ireland accepted a Thurston Billiard table as the
'Standard'. All Billiard (Snooker) tables since that date have
followed that standard. The five signatures are all leading
Billiard players of the day. In Norman Clare Past Master series
information can be found on these players.
The original of this certificate
is held in the Heritage Collection
They then specialised in billiards
tables and billiard room furniture. When the 'Waterloo Billiard
works' was set up Cheyne Walk was on the banks of the Thames,
allowing easy access for the planks of timber, slates and other raw
materials for billiard tables in to the factory from the river as
shown in the following picture.
The factory yard circa 1908, as
shown in an early Thurston catalogue.
The following pictures show parts of the factory at the Waterloo
Billiard Works Cheyne Walk and some of the work force - based on
the style of dress it seems to be from circa. 1900. It is
interesting to note that the export crates all seem destined for
The offices in Catherine Street also had a Match Room to host
Billiards competitions and there are two pictures of this room that
we have. The first picture is the one used as the 'front piece' in
the Kentfield book and the other is from one of the old Thurston
In the Kentfield Book on Billiards published by Thurston this
picture is used as the front piece.
In one of the copies of the
Kentfield 'Game of Billiards' that is in the
Heritage Collection John Thurston signature can be
Peall & North were the top
professionals billiard players of the day and were two of
signatures on the Billiard Association of Great Britain &
Ireland 1892 'Standard Billaid Table' certificate.
A Thurston advert from 1923
An oil painting copy of the Kazanecki portrait which is in
Billiard & Snooker Heritage Collection
John Thurston as an older
In the late 1890's a scheme to
redevelop the Strand was planned and so it was that Thurston's had
to move from Catherine Street. It seems that the company submitted
claims for the costs of the removal that had to be considered in
Other information provided also shows the problems surrounding
the move from Catherine Street to the famous Leicester Square
1900 (*) The Strand Improvement
Scheme-At the Guildhall, Westminster, yesterday, [20th November
1900] Mr. J. Troutbeck, high bailiff, and a jury, sat to assess the
amount of compensation to be paid by the London County Council for
acquiring the premises, 16 Catherine-street, Strand, in connexion
with the new street from Holborn to the Strand. The premises are
occupied by Messrs. Thurston and Co., billiard-table manufacturers.
Mr. Balfour Browne, Q.C., Mr. H. E. Duke, Q.C., M.P., and Mr. C. E.
Allan appeared for the claimants; and Sir Edward Clarke, Q.C., and
Mr. E. Morten represented the London County Council. Mr. Balfour
Browne said that Messrs. Thurston and Co.'s business was
established in 1814, The
premises comprised two sets of buildings, the front part being 16,
Catherine-street, and the rear being in Helmet-court. They were
held under two separate leases for a term of 21 years from 1892, at
rentals of £150 and £115 per annum. This was, according to the
evidence he could produce, an inadequate rental. He urged that the
claimants were entitled to compensation for the fixtures and
fittings, for the cost of removal, and the rent of temporary
premises, for the damage by the removal, and for the charge of
advertising such removal. Mr. John George Craggs, chairman of
Thurston and Co. (Limited), said the average net profit for the
past three years had been £5,930. The premises consisted of
show-rooms and offices, and a match-room. After making inquiries he
considered that it would not be possible to get suitable premises
in the district for less than £1,500 a year. Mr. W. Jeffery,
director of Sell's Advertising Agency, and Mr. King, advertising
agent, estimated the cost of advertising at £3,000 per annum. Sir
J. Whittaker Ellis, surveyor, estimated the rental value of the
premises at £1,000 per annum. This would make the profit rental
£735 a year for 13 years, which on the 6 per cent, table, equalled,
with 10 per cent. for compulsory sale, £7,120. He considered that
at least a sum equal to two years' profits should be allowed for
damages by removal. Sir Edward Clarke said the case for the
claimants was founded entirely on apprehensions for which there was
no justification in experience. He did not say that the claimants
were not entitled to be compensated, but he urged that the claim
had been unduly exaggerated. Mr. Farmer, of Messrs. Debenham,
Tewson, Bridgewater, and Farmer, surveyors, estimated the premises
as worth £525 a year, a profit rental of £260. This was worth
£2,531, and he considered that one year's profit, £6,000, would
amply compensate the claimants for any damage. The Court was
adjourned till to-day. [T.21/11/1900 p.12]
The high bailiff, and a jury
yesterday resumed the consideration of the case in which Messrs.
Thurston and Co. (Limited), billiard table makers, claimed damages
from the London County Council for their interests as lessees and
tenants of the premises at No. 16, Catherine street, Strand, which
had been acquired in connexion with the new streets.
The amount of the claim was nearly
£25,000, which was made up as follows:-Value
of leasehold interest, £7,000; fixtures and fittings, £700;
removal, £250; temporary premises, £250; loss of trade by removal,
£10,000; advertising, £6,000; stationary, &c, £100. The same
counsel appeared as on the previous day. The evidence on behalf of
the Council was continued by Mr. James Green, of Weatherall and
Green, Chancery-lane, surveyor, who said he had had an exceptional
experience in connexion with properties in the Strand and
neighbourhood. He estimated the present rental value of the
premises in Catherine-street at £530 per annum, or a profit rental
of £265 per annum. This for 13 years on the 6 per cent. table was
worth £2,345, and adding 10 per cent. for compulsory sale, £2,579.
The fixtures and fittings had been agreed at £700, and in his
opinion one year's profits would be a most ample compensation for
any loss of trade by removal. Thurston's was not a retail business.
It was a trade name and the firm would do as well in any suitable
position. Mr. W. S. B. Glasier, surveyor, of St. James's-street,
estimated the profit rental to the present tenants at £2,775. In
his opinion one year's profits would pay all the trade loss. Mr. B.
Walker, surveyor, 32, Moorgate-street, agreed in this valuation.
This concluded the evidence and Sir Edward Clarke addressed the
jury. Mr. Balfour Browne, in replying, urged that Messrs. Thurston
and Co. should be protected from the possibility of any loss by the
removal of their business. The high bailiff briefly summed up, and
the jury returned a verdict for £9,237, which
included all the items in the claim.
The following report and information is taken from the 'The
World of Billiards' , which was 'The Official Organ of The Billiard
Association of Great Britain and Ireland - India and The Colonies'
who thought it of sufficient interest to publish in the November
1900 issue the following :-
Mr. G. Stevens
(who we believe was related to Mr.
Craggs by marriage)
Before the move to their new premises in Leicester Square was
completed the Company looked to raise funds to help with the costs
involved and in the prospectus emphasised their South African
investments. The prospectus was printed in the February 1902 issue
of 'The World of Billiards'.
The outcome was the move to their most famous office and
showroom complete with Match Room in Leicester Square in 1901. What
a place it must have been, with extensive showrooms that must have
bee the envy of all their competitors.
Thurston Leicester Square office and
Thurston Leicester Square office
and showrooms as shown in one of the Thurston catalogues
The Main Billiard Table
all the above pictures are taken
from a Thurston catalogues
A view of the famous Thurston
Leicester Square Match Room
The Leicester Square Match Room
hosted many Professionl Matches. The above picture shows
Tom Newman at the table in a match against Waleter Lindrum.
Charles Chambers the marker stands by the Table.
Also at the end of the 19th century
and the beginning of the 20th century Thurston's were able to
commission some of the great artists and architects of that period
to design tables for them to offer to their clients.
The following pictures are from the
Thurston Catalogue of the period.
The Voysey designed table on
display in the Thurston showrooms
Thurston Billiard table designed
by Frank Brangwyn R.A.
Thurston Life Pool Combination Marking Board cabinets also
Frank Brangwyn R..A.
Thurston Billaird Table by G.B.
Thurston Table designed by
Thurston also enjoyed Royal Patronage and had several Royal
Warrants granted during the later part of the 19th Century and
early 20th Century. They displayed these at their Leicester Square
premises and fortunately a number survived the 1940 damage. An
example from 1907 is shown below -
In 1911 Thurston were granted the
Royal Warrant to His Majesty King George V.
All the great Billiard Players of the
day played matches at Thurston's, Walter Lindrum and Joe Davis
probably being the most famous. The painting of Walter Lindrum, now
hanging in the Australian National Portrait Gallery in Canberra,
shows him standing by the Thurston Match Table.
Walter Lindrum at the Thurston
Match table. This portrait is now part of the National Portrait
Collection in Canberra, Australia
Walter Lindrum standing in the Thurston Match Room with the
noted Australian Aritist Captain Will Longstaff
Joe Davis winner of the 1930
Professional Billiard Championships also in the picture taken at
Thurston Match Room Leicester Square are L - R - Rev. Herbert
Dunnico MP; Chas Chambers marker; Tom Newman losing finalist &
A painting of Thurston Leicester Square Match
Room by Charles Cundell 1938
depicting an early snooker match between Joe Davis, standing, and
Tom Newman playing the shot
Not only were Royalty customers but
other famous persons such as Charles Dickens and in fact Thurston's
kept one of his cheque's in payment as a memento. Sadly it suffered
some damage in 1940, as can be seen in the picture below.
Other famous writers visited the Match
Room such as Conan Doyle, who, in his book 'The Adventure of the
Dancing Men' has a part where Holmes deduces that Watson spent the
previous evening at his club playing billiards with a friend called
THURSTON. J.B. Priestley was so taken with his
visit that he wrote an essay, titled "At Thurston's" which was
published it in his book of essay in 1932. It is a tremendous piece
and conjures up the atmosphere of the Match Room as well as
Priestley's appreciation of the players and setting.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century the Thurston
Company expanded their interests overseas by opening offices in
South Africa. In fact some of the AGM's were held in Cape Town
(it must have been quite a trip, out and back on a Union Castle
liner just for a meeting!!).
The Cape Town shop, note the range
of sporting goods also sold as well as being
the sole agents for Merryweathers Fire Engines!
The Billiard Trade Dinner 1940.
Thoses members and players recognised have been named it should be
noted that Thurston's Chairman & Md were both in
Mr. S Gillett Thurston's Managing
Director in 1940 holding a mace on the Thurston table supplied to
H.M. Queen Victoria in 1838. It was replaced by the Company in 1936
and at the time of this picture was one of the items in the
Exhibition of Billiards Antiquiteies that was hosted at Thurston
Leicester Square premises. Sadly when the building suffered bomb
damaged later in 1940 the table was destroyed.
The catalogue for the Exhibition
mentioned above. As can be read it was to help raise funds for The
Lord Mayor's Red Cross & St. John War organisation Appeal. Item
No. 1 was the Thurston table mentioned above supplied on 16th
october 1838 and errected at Windsor Castle.
In May 1940 the Leicester Square
premise suffered severe bomb damage.
The Thurston Matchroom after the air
The report about the damage caused
by the 1940 bombing
So in 1940 they moved out of their
bomb damaged offices, leaving their famous Match Room, which was
later re-opened and run by 'new management' and Thurston
transferred to their Cheyne Walk premises.
The Match Room at Leicester
Square when it re-opened in 1947 under new
There Thurston stayed until in the 1960's their landlord
wished to redevelop the area. At that time new owners of
Thurston (the Partners of E.A.Clare & Son) took over the
then somewhat ailing Company and so the search was on for premises
to house a small manufacturing base, a retail outlet and the
Suitable, affordable premises were
difficult to find but a mews type factory and yard complete with an
end of terrace house was found and so the Company in 1964 moved
into 1/1a Sharples Hall Street, Primrose Hill in North London. It
was not ideal but met most of the search criteria.
The entrance to the office and
factory from Sharples Hall Street, Primrose Hill
During the 1960's the three businesses
of E.A. Clare & Son, Thos. Padmore & Sons and Thurston
trade under their separate identities but in the early 1980's they
traded as the Clare - Padmore - Thurston Group with a common
national and international identity. In 1969 the BBC broadcast the
first of the 'POT BLACK' programmes, Clare - Padmore - Thurston
were involved from the beginning installing the Snooker table in
the Birmingham studios.
Pot Black circa 1970
-Ted Lowe the famous 'whispering voice of Snooker'
commentator standing to the left of Eddie Charlton with John Pulman
taking the shot
In 1983 the Sharples Hall Street
factory was sold and larger factory premises at 15/17 Brecknock
Road London N7 were acquired.
Thurston Camden High Street, not
far from Camden Lock
In 1988 the Clare - Padmore - Thurston
Group amalgamated to trade under the historic, to the Billiard
& Snooker trade, name of THURSTON.
During the late 1980's Thurston
acquired (in 1986) the long established Belgium Billiard
business of Van Laere to build on the northern European demand for
Snooker Tables. Sadly the European venture was not
successful but for a time Thurston Van Laere office was in Brussels
Thurston - Van Laere: Rue Brabant
The Brecknock Road factory was
required due to the demand for Snooker tables first in the UK, then
in Hong Kong and followed by Belgium and Holland. Once the higher
demand had stabilised the table manufacture was transferred to the
Liverpool factory and the Brecknock Road premises were sold in
In 1991 it was decided that the Camden
High Street premises were not suitable to manage the business from,
it was impossible for either customers or the snooker / billiard /
pool service staff to park. Eventually the current premises at 110
High Street, Edgware were found and in 1992 the Company moved
setting up the showroom / retail area on the ground floor and the
offices on the first floor.
Thurston also sell bowling green bowls
and accessories for both the Lawn Green Game and Crown Green.
Thurston has another significant association with bowls because the
test table used for checking bowls is based on Billiard / Snooker
tables. The most common method is to place three tables end to end
but one bowls test table manufactured and installed was made up of
five table side by side, (should have been entered for the Guinness
Book of records as the largest Snooker Table ever made!!). So it is
that Thurston have supplied, installed and advised on many test
table not just in the UK but throughout the bowling world. The list
of test tables installed confirms Thurston the experts in such
Drakes Pride - Liverpool;
Thurston - London; Thos. Padmore & Sons -
Birmingham;Thos Taylor (Bowls) - Glasgow; Greys -
Worcestershire; Bill Irish Bowls - Pershore:Crown Green
Services - Lancashire; Pershore Bowls Centre - Pershore; Premier
Bowls - Cheshire;Drakes Pride Victoria - Bendigo,
Thurston have also undertaken
the up-grade of the test tables required by World Bowls Ltd.
at:- Drakes Pride - Liverpool; Pershore Bowls Centre -
Pershore;Drakes Pride Victoria - Bendigo
An example of Thurston installed
bowls test table made up of three snooker tables end to
end thus being 36 ft long.
In 2013 Thurston have supplied and
installed another bowls test table to Malaysia. Tthe picture below
shows in under construction in their workshop.
In 2008 due to the growth in on line
sales of Snooker items - our e-shop thurston.co.uk - the retail section in London
was closed leaving the administration and office in Edgware.
110 High Street, Edgware, London,
(this shop was closed in 2009)
Thurston also have a Birmingham office and an extensive showroom
and offices in Liverpool. Liverpool is also where the Billiard /
Snooker / Pool table factory is situated.
© E.A. Clare & Son Ltd. - All items displayed are from the
N. Clare collection. Reproduction of article allowed only with
permission from E.A. Clare & Son Ltd.
Please do not hesitate to ask should need any advice on snooker,
billiards or pool or wish to make a purchase. Thurston has the most
comprehensive range of tables and accessories available.
to contact us by phone
0870 607 1336
email - firstname.lastname@example.org
copyright E.A. Clare
& Son Ltd 2009. & 2011
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