PAST MASTERS NO. 5 - (March 1983)
Joseph Bennett was born in Kent in 1841 and was
playing in public before either W. Cook Senior or John Roberts
He learnt the game at an early age. His father
had left the Excise Department to take the Billiard Room at the
Eagle Hotel in City Road, which gave him the opportunity to play
and so he rapidly improved and decided to be a professional. It is
said that in his early life Bennett's health was indifferent and
that he was of a nervous and highly strung temperament. When in
training for important matches he would not play with anyone, but
would shut himself away in a room on his own contending that he
could thus preserve all his nervous energy for the forthcoming
According to Major Broadfoot writing in his
Badminton Library Book "Billiards", when Joseph Bennett was just 18
years of age he was engaged to play and teach the art of Billiards
in Leeds, and whilst there played a match of 1000 up against W.
Moss for £100 a side, Bennett winning by over 500 points.
It is thought that his success caused him to turn
his thoughts again to London where he slowly established himself by
playing against such well known players as Dufton, Herst, Roberts
Junior and Cook Junior, etc. however he first came to special
notice when in October 1866 at St James Hall he played in a four
hander game partnered by Charles Hughes when they won very easily
against John Roberts Senior and Dufton.
This must have brought him to the notice of John
Roberts Senior because in his book "Roberts on Billiards" published
in 1868 he says "Amongst the second rank are Joseph Bennett, John
Herst, John Roberts Junior and W. Cook" (at this time he grouped
himself, Alfred Bowles and Charles Hughes as being in the first
rank), and he goes on to say that "Bennett plays a careful
defensive game never misses an opportunity and seldom offers a
It was also at this period of time that Major
Broadfoot in his book says "John Roberts Junior, William Cook, and
Joseph Bennett began to draw away from the rack of players and it
did not require much foresight to predict that old John (i.e.
Roberts Senior) would shortly find a dangerous rival or two".
Within a short time these assessments of playing
ability were fully justified - although Bowles and Hughes never
achieved the championship title, the other 3 players Cook, Roberts
Junior and our subject Joseph Bennett each in turn held the
championship title in quick succession during the year 1870.
It will be remembered from previous articles in
the "Past Masters" series that Cook had defeated John Roberts
Senior for the title of champion during February of 1870 and it is
interesting to note that on this occasion Joseph Bennett was the
Within 2 months during the following April
Roberts Junior had avenged his father's defeat by taking the title
from Cook, then during June he was unsuccessfully challenged by
Bowles, but Joseph Bennett then challenged Roberts Junior and on
28th November of the same year (1870) Bennett won the title by a
margin of 95 points in a contest of 1000 up lasting 4 hours 45
Unfortunately for Joseph Bennett in just 2 months
Roberts Junior challenged him again and on the 30th January, 1871
regained the title defeating Bennett by 363 points in 1000 up in a
game lasting 3 hours 22 minutes.
Joseph Bennett now faded from the championship
scene for a few years although he continued playing in the various
tournaments and was evidently still considered to be a formidable
player because in the Burroughes and Watts American Tournament of
November 1879 he was handicapped as the scratch player whilst the
other 7 players received between 60 points and up to 150 points
start in games of 500 up. Surprisingly it was the veteran John
Roberts Senior who at this date received the maximum start of 150!!
W. Mitchell (received 120) won the tournament - John Roberts Senior
was second whilst Bennett came third.
During the period May 1871 to February 1874 the
championship title was held by Cook who defeated Roberts Junior on
3 occasions and Joseph Bennett once. Following which during the
period May 1875 to May 1877 Roberts Junior regained and held the
title by defeating Cook on 3 occasions then there is a quiet period
during the year 1878/79 without any championship matches being
played although Cook had claimed the title during 1878 when nobody
accepted his challenge, but on departing on an overseas tour in
1879 he waived his claim.
Now Joseph Bennett
comes to the top again - Cook had returned from his tour and during
November 1880 Bennett defeated Cook by 51 points in 1000 up in a
game lasting 4 hours 10 minutes, thus regaining the title of
champion he had previously held for a brief 2 month period 10 years
Earlier in the year during May 1880, four
interesting exhibition games were arranged between Joseph Bennett
and the French Champion Maurice Vignaux at the Royal Aquarium,
Westminster. Two of the games were played on a French table (i.e. a
table without pockets) in each of these games Bennett received 500
points starting 1000 up losing the first game by 425 points! The
second by 400 points! The other 2 games were played on an English
"Championship" table Vignaux receiving 300 points in games of 600
up. Unfortunately, far from reversing the result Bennett lost the
first game by 53 points and the second by 71 points.
The next challenge for the championship came from
Tom Taylor and in the match played during January 1881 Bennett
retained the title winning by 90 points in 1000 up and during this
match Bennett made what was then a record break of 125 on the
Fred Shorter now challenged Bennett for the title
and the match was arranged to be played on 13th April, 1881 at St
James Hall. Shorter had made a deposit of £10 but he failed to make
good his final deposit and so at the last minute he forfeited the
match, although all the arrangements had been made. As the expenses
had to be met Bennett then offered him a start of 100 points in
1000 up. This game was then played on the same night instead of the
championship and Shorter actually won by 193 points (i.e. 93 more
than he received)!!
Unfortunately, shortly afterwards, during the
summer of 1881 Bennett met with a severe accident when he was
thrown out of a horse drawn gig and suffered a broken arm. This
caused him to resign the title of champion during September 1881
although it would seem that no contests for the championship took
place during the rest of 1881 or during the period of 1882 / 84.
When Bennett had recovered from the effects of this accident he
played again in various tournaments and matches and in fact during
June of 1885 he once again played Roberts Junior for the
championship (J.R. Junior having won the title by defeating Cook
during April 1885), but in a game now fixed at 3000 up he was
beaten by over half the points. He continued playing in various
matches for another, two or three years and then retired from
playing in public and devoted his time to teaching billiards.
Joseph Bennett also had 3 Younger brothers Fred,
Alfred and John who were all professional players, although John
died in November 1886 was not a very good player. Fred and Alfred
were both players of some skill and repute, but unfortunately
Alfred died at the age of 49 years in January 1896. It was said
that Fred could have been the best player for the family if he had
devoted himself to the game.
Joseph Bennett died as the result of two strokes
during January 1905 at 63 years of age and was buried in Brompton
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