Billiard Table Lighting
Days of Old No.
6 - First published May / June 1983
Billiard Table Lighting
(Some additional information and pictures have been added to
Norman's original article)
From the earliest times, man has employed artificial
illumination to utilize the hours of darkness. Until the first
electric light became available late in the 19th century, all
artificial light was produced by fire or flame. Wax candles are
said to be of Phoenician origin, oval cup type oil lamps of stone
or clay with a wick, using animal oils had their origin several
thousand years B.C., whilst it is accepted that the Chinese used
natural gas conveyed in bamboo tubes in prehistoric times!!
Going back to the early 1700's, when billiard tables had wooden
beds with stuffed cushions, and the players used wooden balls, and
maces instead of cues, there is no doubt that the only form of
indoor illumination was by candlelight. However, in the early
illustrations of billiard room scenes, as shown by the accompanying
picture dated 1770, there is no form of lighting over the billiard
table, although at night there may have been some candles, in wall
brackets around the room.
Note, in the picture of Bartley's
Billiard Room Circa 1820 there is a large wooden framing suspended
from the ceiling over the billiard table and candles can clearly be
seen in brackets on the inside of this wooden framing so that the
candles illuminated the billiard table. Nevertheless, playing at
night time must have been very difficult, if not impossible.
King Louis XIV of France, played regularly "at" billiards, and a
picture of the king (who died in 1715) playing, clearly shows quite
an elaborate chandelier of candles hanging over the table. Maybe he
could afford such a luxury before the ordinary citizens of that
The chandelier has been
The first evidence we have of lighting
over a billiard table in England is provided by the illustration of
Thurstons Billiard Room in Catherine Street, London, taken from the
front piece of the second edition of the book dated 1831 by
Monsieur Mingaud (the French Infantry Officer who invented the
leather cue tips). From the small picture with this article, it
will be difficult to discern the form of illumination used in the
"New Revolving Light", but in the large original print, candles are
clearly visible with flat plates below to catch the drips of wax.
This method of lighting by candles is described in the "World of
Billiards", page 39, dated 28th November 1900, and it is said that
much of the light was lost by reason of the drip plates.
This same picture was subsequently revised and reprinted as a
front piece to Edwin Kentfields book "Billiards", first edition,
published 1839, with some small changes to the billiard room scene,
the light fitting now includes oil lamps. In one of the early
reports of a billiard match, it mentions that "the lamps were set"
which seems to refer to the setting and adjusting of oil lamps.
Small saucer like receptacles under each lamp were used to catch
the drips of oil, nevertheless, there can be little doubt that some
drips would disfigure and damage the playing surface.
The room with candles
The room with oil lamps (note
new table leg design !)
Thurston's Catherine Street
Match Room in the late 1800's with electric light fittings
depicting a match between W.J.
Peall and J. North
Illustrations of Billiard Table
Oil Lamp Fittings
An oil lamp was still illustrated and listed in and old E.J.
Riley Catalogue, published about 1900, claiming that 10 hours of
light costs just one penny (remember this would be one old
Early experiments in the use of
natural gas were carried out about 1664, by the Rev. John Clayton,
in Wigan, Lancashire, which he suspected came from a local Coal
Mine, but it was more than 100 years later that a Professor
Minckelers at Louvain University, (Belgium), distilled gas from
coal (amongst other substances), and used it in 1785 to light his
lecture room. In 1792 a William Murdock, lighted his home by gas
and in 1802 he developed a type of open burner. The use for
lighting developed during the first half of the 19th Century, and a
Mr Nielson, of Glasgow introduced the "the fish tail" burner in
After much research, the earliest record which the writer can
find of gas being used to light a billiard table is in the book by
John Roberts Senior, published 1868, were he recommends gas - using
the "Ring and Argand", in the form of a treble "T" (total 6
burners). This would be a "bat wing" flame without any form of
mantle, as although a primitive form of mantle was first used about
1866, incandescent mantles were note known until 1890. Gas
Chandeliers for lighting billiard tables became the standard
equipment during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and it was
reported in the "World of Billiards", of 19th December, 1900, how a
young marker when instructed that ….. "The gas jets surmounting the
table required lighting" ….., they found him match in hand, walking
about on the surface of the table from jet to jet, whilst wearing
By 1904, William Lindop, of Shudedill, Manchester (The company
is still very active in the Sports Trade), was advertising "The
Perfect Billiard Light", with less heat - increased light and
claimed to be more economical, the consumption of gas being reduced
In the second edition of the book "Billiards for Everybody",
published 1906 by Charles Roberts, brother of John Roberts Junior,
he says that …… "Anti-vibration Incandescent Lighting is more
economic than electric light and is the best he has seen"….. See
the illustration taken from the Sales Brochure of Foster &
A few years later the same Company were supplying the earlier
type of electric light pendants for billiard lighting. The
development of electric lighting was a gradual process, the first
incandescent electric lamp appeared in 1820, but it had a very
short and inefficient life. Progress was very slow during the next
100 tears, and many individual inventors worked trying to produce
more efficient and more durable lamps, but it was not until 1910
that a William Coolidge, produced a drawn tungsten filament vacuum
lamp and 3 years later his associate Dr. Langmuir, developed the
gas filled lamp in the laboratories of the General Electric Company
in 1913, which finally made electric lighting a practicable
possibility for domestic and industrial purposes, including
billiard table lighting.
As will be seen from the various illustrations, the early
electric billiard lighting fittings followed the pattern of the
original gas pendants, with electric lamps and holders taking the
place of the gas jets, usually with 3 square shades in line or 6
circular shades in 2 parallel lines of 3.
During the 1920's, electric lighting rapidly displaced gas for
lighting billiard tables, although the author of this article (who
can be seen making circular billiard shades for electric lights in
photograph of 1933), can well remember as a young apprentice, still
making billiard shades for gas lights in the early 1930,s.
Norman Clare (The
Although electric billiard lighting was a tremendous improvement,
the individual circular or square shades had the great disadvantage
of throwing their own shape in the form of shadows on the surface
of the billiard table, and so during the 1930's, many "non shadow"
shades were developed. One of the first being the "Skidmore" shade,
as seen in the 1933 picture of Thurstons Match Hall.
Skidmore Shade over the
Thurston Leicester Square Match Room
Another view of the Thurston
Match Room in Leicester Square showing the lighting shade in use
(note: The match is Tom Newman v Walter Lindrum)
It was an efficient shade using two 150 watt lamps but it was
very large and ugly appearance and it required 6 ceiling suspension
points and 2 electric points. This shade has now disappeared in
favour of the almost universal shallow inverted trough type shades
requiring only 2 ceiling suspension points and one electric point
which connects to the integral wiring carried on the roof of the
shade itself, linking 3 or 4 or 5 lamp holders together. The
internal baffles are carefully positioned in relation to the lamps
to avoid both shadows and glare. Providing the reflecting surfaces
are well maintained, pearl type tungsten filament lamps totalling
300 watts are ample for ordinary Club play - lighting of greater
intensity is only necessary for the benefit of spectators or
television programmes, not the players.
The illustration from the V
& N Hartley brochure shows their the popular versions of the
trough 'non shadow' shade. Note the how they advise the correct
height to hang the shade. (note they mention it as a Snooker
Another version of the trough type
shade was designed by Norman Clare the first design of which is
illustrated and was called the 'Eralc' shade.
It should be particularly noted that tungsten filament lamps
give a much better colour rendering than most fluorescent tube type
lighting and this is obviously very important when playing snooker.
Readers may be surprised to learn that about 9% (almost one person
in 10) of the male population suffer some degree of defective
colour perception as compared to only 0.5% of females - so the
ladies are correct when they say that their men folk have no colour
sense in matters of dress or domestic decorations. Fluorescent
lighting also produces an undesirable "stroboscopic" effect, this
is not a problem when the balls are stationary, as when taking the
shot, but when the balls are moving, can cause the players to think
the balls are not running true, this effect is more noticeable when
playing American Pool using the striped and numbered balls.
Ordinary electric lamps are also easier to renew in Club situations
- were the failure of one lamp does not prevent play and in any
case a replacement lamp can usually be borrowed from elsewhere in
the Club, whilst if a fluorescent tube fails, spare tubes
especially of the necessary "true colour" type are not so readily
available, and the fitting of same can present something of a
problem for Club Stewards.
(With the advance in lighting it is probably now true to say
that the disadvantages of fluorescent fittings referred to by
Norman Clare have been overcome. There is certainly now a demand by
players for brighter playing conditions, due in part to what is
seen at televised tournaments. The Low Energy bulbs now available
with an equivalent output to a 100 watt standard bulb are ideal in
a shade such as the 'Stanfast' rather than the previously
recommended maximum for a standard bulb of 60 watts.)
The modern inverted trough type billiard lighting shade can also
be upholstered in coloured dralon and other fabrics with matching
fringes when required to accord with the decorations in domestic
The following examples are of
the current Thurston 'Stanfast' shade, the revised design
based on Norman Clare's earlier design, in the standard
spray finish as well as an upholstered version.
Also proving to be popular
especially in private house is to return to a lighting fitting
harking back to the gas and oil lighting of earlier years, an
example of such a fitting is illustrated.
Since Norman wrote this article,
back in 1983, there has been a shift in what the players
expectations of the lighting requirements for Snooker (BIlliards)
tables. This has probably come about because of what has been seen
on televised tournaments. So now the modern lighting units are slim
'tornament' style luminaires.
These not only give good high quality economic illumination
but with the slim profile and the fact they are hung higher off the
table allow for clear views across the Snooker room.
© 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.
Visit our e-shop - www.thurston.co.uk
email - email@example.com
Phone - 0151 482 2700