PAST MASTERS NO 7 - July 1983
Like many of the professional
billiards players of yesteryear, Stevenson, was a North
country-man, being born at Hull on 15th July 1874, although he
moved South and spent much of his time at the Hotel Metropole, in
Brighton, where at the age of 16 years he made his first century
In 1892, at only 18 years of age, he accepted an
invitation to go to South Africa, where he stayed for some 18
months. During this time he invited Cecil Harverson, another of the
rising young professional players to join him and they played many
exhibition games together in nearly all the principal towns.
Whilst there he held the title "Champion of South
Africa", and it seems that when he returned to England in 1894, the
English Press referred to him as "The South African", which
resulted in the erroneous idea that he was born there.
On returning to London, he made his professional
debut on 2nd April 1894, in a series of short games promoted by
Thurstons, at the Royal Acquarium against J. Lloyd, and during
October of the same year, he first met and played against Dawson -
who was later to become his great rival - at the Argyll Hall, when
he received 150 points to start in each of 12 games of 700 up.
Dawson at this time being the better player winning 9 of these
Major Broadfoot, in his book (which was published
in 1896) noted Stevenson amongst the players who have come
prominently to the front since 1888, and describes him as being …
"By far the youngest of the professional players being still under
age at the time of writing, and there are great possibilities
before him for he has a beautiful, delicate touch, strongly
resembling William Cook"…
This postcard states that H.W.
Stevenson was the first player to make a 1000 break (1016) with
Bonzoline Billiard Balls - at Thurston's match Room Leicester
Square in October 1916
Later in 1894, Stevenson first played
John Roberts at Shrewsbury, receiving 2250 points start in a game
of 6000 up, which Stevenson won by 200 points. They played against
each other again at the Egyptian Hall, in 1896, when according to a
report in the "World of Billiards", dated 1st January 1902, Roberts
said … "he (meaning Stevenson) is a better player than I was at his
age"…From now on, Stevenson was recognised as a leading player, and
his improvement became more and more marked.
It was also in 1896, that Stevenson made another
visit to South Africa. Whilst in South Africa, he played against
John Roberts in Johannesburg, receiving a start of 1000 points in a
game of 3000 up, played over 3 evening sessions. During this match
Stevenson made a break of 343, but in the end was beaten by 15
About 2 years later, on 13th January 1898,
Stevenson made his largest "spot barred" break of 660 in 43 ½
minutes on a standard table in a match against Roberts, in the
Egyptian Hall, and later in November of the same year, he made a
break of 582, under the revised rules, whilst playing against
Diggle, at Orme & Sons Match Room, Soho Square, London.
By December 1900, Mr. Sydenham Dixon, editor of
the "World of Billiards", stated that he placed Roberts, Dawon -
Diggle - Stevenson and Mitchell, as being in the first
classification of players. Stevenson and Dawson , now became the
main contenders for the Championship.
Finally however - during January 1901, at the
Gaiety Restaurant, Stevenson won the title of Champion in a game of
9000 up against Dawson.
issued a challenge, and on 3rd April 1901 an advertisement was
published in the "World of Billiards" announcing a match of 9000 up
for the Championship to be played at the Argyll Hall, from Monday
8th, to Saturday 13th April, with afternoon and evening sessions,
seats at 2s / 6d (12 ½ p) 5s/0 (25p) and reserved seats at 10s/0
(50p). Stevenson is reported to have been "far from well" and
Dawson improved his average day by day in extraordinary fashion,
culminating with a brilliant display on the Saturday, and so Dawson
regained the title, defeating Stevenson by 3204 points.
Stevenson immediately issued another challenge
for a return match. It appears that the regulations for the
Championship stipulated that the title must be defended within 3
months of challenge, except during the period between April 30th
and October 1st. Thus Stevenson was entitled to play during the
week commencing 7th October 1901, but he agreed to waive his right
and defer the match until sometime during November. However
whenever he suggested dates Dawson made excuses for not keeping to
This resulted in the Secretary of the Billiards
Association, remarking that it seems …"The majority directly they
attain the top of the tree in any sport or game become ridiculously
inflated with and idea of their own importance and imagine
themselves to be superior to all rules and regulations and to be a
law unto themselves"…
The dispute continued throughout October, with
the players and the Secretary of the Billiards Association all
writing long letters to the Sports Press, and finally at a meeting
of the Association, held on 4th November, it was decided that
Stevenson would be declared "Champion" on 11th November, and so
regained the title by default.
Not surprisingly the dispute continued with
Dawson offering to play Stevenson for the Championship in a game of
18000 up when he (Dawson) was free from other engagements.
On December 3rd, Dawson called at the offices of
the "Sporting Life" and deposited £50 to bind a match with
Stevenson for the Championship, (not the Billiards Association
Championship), the match to be 18000 up, on a neutral standard
table in a neutral hall, using a set of ivory balls with 2 plain
white balls. The referee to mark the spot ball each day before play
commenced. This stipulation was evidently due to the fact that
experts always considered the ivory spot ball to be of inferior
quality - originally having an open nerve at the centre of the
grain, which was then plugged with a small piece of ebony to make
the spot, with some knowledge of the nature of ivory, the writer
feels that this was almost certainly true!
The players were to toss a coin for the choice of
table - Dawson denying that he was "tied" to any particular Firm of
Table Manufacturers, but he wanted to know if Stevenson was "tied"
to the Billiard Association Championship!
In view of these disputes it is not surprising
that there was no match for the Championship during 1902, however
Stevenson and Dawson evidently became sufficiently reconciled to
agree to play a series of 3 matches, each of 18000 up, on level
terms during March and April 1902, the first 2 games to be in
London and Manchester and the third in London or Glasgow. The games
to be on a neutral standard table, using 3 plain ivory balls
(presumably 1 was red). 1 to be marked with a spot by the referee
(who was to be mutually agreed upon), and with a choice of 3 sets
of balls available at each game.
Although these games were not to be recognised as
for the Championship the "Daily Express" published the opinion that
the winner would be justified in styling himself "Champion of
Despite an attack of influenza, Stevenson easily
won the first match at the Argyll Hall, London, by 2806 points. The
second of the 3 matches at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, was won
by Dawson, with a small margin of 18000 points to 17090, which
caused opinions to be expressed that the result had been engineered
in order to produce a 1 game situation, and so secure public
interest and a larger attendance and gate for the third game which
had now been fixed for the Argyll Hall, London.
The third and final game was also won by Dawson
with a margin of 1169 points. However, although Dawson had won 2
games to 1, the aggregate scores favoured Stevenson, with a total
of 51,921 points, to Dawsons total of 50,194, so over a total
period of 6 weeks play, there was very little to choose between the
skill of these 2 players. Throughout the rest of 1902, Stevenson
and Dawson continued their "disagreement", an article in the
"Sunday Chronicle" in December 1902 stated … "The probability of
Dawson and Stevenson settling their lengthy warfare of words on the
billiard table seems to grow more remote"…
During January 1903 Stevenson visited Merseyside
playing in Liverpool and Eastham, and my fellow Merseysiders will
be interested to learn that in order to travel to see the match
against E. Diggle at the Eastham Ferry Hotel, a special boat was
put on to convey the spectators from Liverpool, became so speedily
packed that many who intended to witness the contest were left
During early January 1903, Dawson finally issued
a challenge, and arrangements were put in hand for the match to
take place during March. After considerable dispute concerning the
venue, it was arranged to take place at the National Sporting Club
in Covent Garden, although Dawson objected to the Club Members
being admitted to the gallery free of charge, thus reducing the
gate receipts which were usually divided between the players in
addition to the "stake" monies.
The match was later described in a 4 page report
as "A phenomenal struggle", resulted in Stevenson losing by 300
points, (Dawson 9000 to Stevenson 8700), and so Dawson once again
became Champion in March 1903.
Before the end of March Stevenson, still only 29
years of age, set sail for Australia, accompanied by his wife and
elder son, visiting and playing in Columbo en Route.
Stevenson's visit to Australia was managed by
Alcock & Co., (the Firm Alcock, Thompson Taylor is still very
active in the Australian Billiards Trade). At the conclusion of his
tour he visited New Zealand and Canada, before returning to England
having completed a highly successful and profitable tour. He
immediately issued a challenge for the Championship title and
suggested Monday, 14th March 1904, for the suitable date on which
The players however seemed to have agreed not to
play for the Championship, arranging instead another series of 3
matches, each of 18000 up, which they evidently considered would be
more profitable. To the surprise of all concerned, Dawson resigned
his title during early February 1904 and this was immediately
followed by Stevenson withdrawing his challenge, saying he refused
another "walk-over", and that he agreed with Dawson the "the
players should be permitted to select the table, there-by gaining
any financial benefit". Thus, the title became vacant and remained
so until 1908 when Inman was declared Champion.
Now we are short of accurate information about
Stevensons's career, as the last issue of the "World of Billiards"
seems to be the one dated 19th April 1905, although the Billiards
and Snooker Control Council handbook records show that despite his
earlier refusal of a "walkover" Stevenson was once declared
Champion in 1909. He did subsequently win the Championship by
defeating Inman, in the year 1910/11/12, and later was the runner
up in 1919.
More information on Stevenson's career in the
early years of the 20th century, would have been recorded by Riso
Levi, in his book "Billiards in the 20th Century", published about
1931, in the Chapter under the title "Great Players I Have Seen",
but Riso Levi states that whilst he has been able to publish
biographies on most of the well known professionals who had
responded to his request for information - only Stevenson had
refused his request saying …"I regret I cannot give you the
information you require, as you have offered me no
However, Riso Levi does say that Stevenson was
the first player to make a 1000 break, as far back as 12th Octboer
1912, this being a break of 1016, and is evidently the break
referred to by S. H. Fry in his book "Billiards for Amateurs".
Thus I am afraid this article on the career of H.
W. Stevenson does not reach a very satisfactory conclusion. Should
any readers be in possession of accurate information concerning him
the writer would be pleased top receive it.
In 1998 the Billiard & Snooker Heritage
Collection received a letter 'out of the blue' from a Mrs. Joan
Plumley, who explained in the letter that she was H.W. Stevenson's
daughter. So Norman's request was answered some eight years after
In the correspondence with Joan Plumley, who
in 1998 was 83 years old and living in a small town in northern New
South Wales, Australia. She kindly sent the Billiard and Snooker
Heritage Collection photocopies of her scrap book of press cuttings
and letter about her father.
We have added some of these items which add
significant pieces to the H.W. Stevenson story. The notes confirm
that he travelled the World playing Billiards, particularly in
Australia and New Zealand. He even played on ships of the British
Grand Fleet in January and May 1918, whilst they were moored in
Rosyth! In a short article he wrote he listed the vessels and noted
"even then the wind and turn of the tide, or hoisting a pinnace was
enough to call in the use of the spirit level frequently.
interesting to note The Tom Webster highly rated 'Harry'
This break was made at the
Thurston Match Hall Leicester Square and amongst the telegrams and
letters he received in congratulations was one from Thurston
Burroughes & Watts - this
shows a nice sense of humour!
It seems that the Eccentric Club
was used by the top players not only as their Club but also their
'letter box' as well. (The use of the Eccentric Club continued up
to Joe Davis. It was from the Club that Billiard & Snooker
Heritage Collection received Joe's Cue, which had originally been
presented to the Club by Joe's son Derrick.) It also indicates that
to a large extent the players managed themselves.
The above seems to indicate that Stevenson
was in poor health in 1929 but we still have no knowledge of when
or where he died.
In 2014 Mr. Leo Hare provided the following
H.W. Stevenson was born in Hull on 14th
June 1874 to Henry Brown Stevenson (a Billiard Table Marker) and
Emily Maria Thumbwood, who had married in 1873. After a
period in South Africa H W returned and became a professional
Billiard player in 1894. He married Florence Emma Snelling and they
had two sons Norman & Henry. After the death of his first wife
he married again in 1911 to Daisy Elizabeth King, who survived him.
Stevenson died on 11th june 1944..
Note: Additional photographs and information
have been added to the original article which are shown by the use
© E.A. Clare & Son Ltd.2009 - All items
displayed are from the N. Clare collection. reproduction of article
allowed only with permission from E.A. Clare & Son Ltd.
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