Bar Billiards -The strory of the tables & the game

Bar Billiards-The Story of the Table & Game

 There are several articles about the history of Bar Billiards in the U.K. Basically all agree that the game was imported into the U.K. after being seen in Northern Europe in the early 1930's.

 There is one area of dispute as to which business first introduced Bar Billiard Tables into the U.K. Sams always claim it was them and Bar Billiards Ltd. also make the claim and Bar Billiards Ltd. have there claim quite well documented! Both Sams & Bar Billiards Ltd., who at first used Jelks made tables had to use French made clock mechanisms but it was Sams who sourced a U.K. made version, basically a clone of the French mechanism, it became the standard clock for U.K. Bar billiard tables. As mention in the Sams history the clocks were eventually made in the Isle of Man.


The above picture is a of a French made clock, note - the pull bar is not original. The cover plate nut is of the original design as well as the retaining bolts.


The faceplate of the French made clock confirms its French origin

Interstingly Ivor Champion has also provided a picture of an early French made clock on which it can be ,just, read the BREVETE name.



The mechanism cover on this clock has a poignant message to the players to 'shame' them into paying for their games. It reads "DON'T CHEAT THE CLUB"!

It can clearly be seen that the U.K. Made clocks copied the French design by comparing the internal workings as shown in the following two pictures..


Above the French made clock mechanism


UK made clock mechanism

The edge of the face plate has made in the UK complete with a patent number


As other firms saw that bar billiard tables were becoming popular they also made tables but in the early days the name Bar Billiard had not become the recognised name for the tables. So Russian Billiards, Russian Bagatelle and Snookerette were also names used.

 Whilst sorting out some old files some interesting pieces of corespondence turned up concerning the use of the name to describe the game and tables used. It seems that in the mid 1960's Bar Billiards Ltd. claimed the name Bar Billiards as their own and that other businesses, who made similar tables, should not described their tables as being Bar Billiard Tables. The letters were sent from Bar Billiards Ltd to the Federation of British Manufacturers of Sports & Games Ltd. In one of the letters it states that the name given to the game and tables in Europe was "Billards Russes a Trous" the direct translation being "Russian Billiards with Holes".


 It seems that in the mid 1960's it was not considered to be good marketing to use the name Russian in the name for a table or game and so the corespondance relates to other firms use of the name Bar Billiards..

Further in the 1970's a solicitors letter was sent on behalf of Bar Billiards Ltd. To E. A Clare & Son objectiong to a Clare catalogue containing a table being called a 'Bar Billiard' table. The solicitor's letter states ….. You are accordingly required to give your undertaking forthwith to desist from using the name "Bar Billiards" … .

Although legal action was threatened a reply to Bar Billiards Ltd. From Clare's solicitors pointed out the following … "The term Bar Billiards" is used as a term of general description in trade directories and sales catalogues. For example, in the"Sports Trader" the term is used as describing similar tables manufactured by Messrs. E.J.Riley, Messrs. Sams Bros. and Thurstons. Further, Harpers "Guid to the Sports Trade" lists as dealer in Bar Billiards Tables, E.A.Clare & Son, Lawrence Fraser (Bristol) Ltds., Sams Bros. Ltds Sport Craft Ltd.. and Thurstons. Four of those firms in that guide are listed as manufacturers and "Bar Billiards" is not listed as a brand name in that guide. The two publications we have mentioned are those in most general use in the trade. No further action was taken and Clare's continued to use the name Bar Billiards for their tables and in their catalogues.

Ivor Champion has been able to provide a picture of a SNOOKERETTE clock and even in 2012 one league still used the name. The name relates to the 4 pin tables and has a strong following in and around the Norwich area.





In this picture of a Riley Bar Billiard table in the top right hand part of the picture is a sign headed

"Russian Bagatelle". A close up of that part of the picture shows the sign more clearly.


The name 'Russian Bagatelle' has perhaps northern link as E.J. Riley were based in Lancashire and the E.A. Clare & Son Rules , Liverpool based firm, list Russian Bagatelle before Snookerette on their printed bar billiard rules. Ashcroft, another Liverpool firm, also mention 'Russian Bagatelle' in their catalogue circa 1959.


Another name used was Nine Hole Snooker as the picture taken from a 1950's Burroughes & Watts booklet show.


Basically the name Bar Billiards seems to have become the recognised name for the game and the following article adds some further information as to its possible origins and also the slight variations in similar table games found in other European countries.

English Bar Billiards - (This part of the article is published with the kind permission of James Masters who retains the copyright)

The similarity of Bar Billiards with Bagatelle, a game that was very popular for more than a century after 1770 is so evident that it seems highly likely that Bar Billiards is a derivative of Bagatelle via some lineage but that lineage is, at present, unknown. It isn't known how Bar Billiards originated but in the early 1930s an Englishman called David Gill observed a game called Russian Billiards (Billiard Russe) being played in Belgium. A Russian link is therefore a possibility but it seems more likely that the game was named so as to sound slightly exotic to the ears of West Europeans at the time (in the same way as for Chinese Checkers and Polish Draughts).

Gill convinced the English manufacturer Jelkes (no longer trading) to make a version of the game which he called Bar Billiards.  Pubs seemed keen to buy tables and other manufacturers soon got in on the act, notably Sams Brothers (later Sams Atlas who were bought by Greys of Cambridge who then went out of business). It is still possible to obtain reconditioned versions of these lovely old Bar Billiard tables.


The first pub league was created in Oxford in 1936 and shortly afterwards leagues sprang up in Reading, Canterbury and High Wycombe.  Before the war, there was apparently an organisation called the National Bar Billiards Association. The now-defunct Canterbury league team won the NBBA challenge cup beating a team from Oxford just before the war. After the war a governing body was formed called the All-England Bar Billiards Association appeared although the relationship with the NBBA is not clear. The AEBBA now supervises the game across 18 counties, mainly in the South of England. However, the old cup was somehow retained in Canterbury and proceeded to be played for as the 'Canterbury Team Challenge Cup for the next 50 years from 1947. The game emerged in Jersey 1933 and their game was administered by the Jersey Licence Victuallers League. This body has worked closely with the AEBBA, despite variations in their respective games and the British open, the largest competition in the Bar Billiards calendar continues to be played in Jersey each year.

There are a number of variations in table sizes and rules. The Jersey tables were apparently based on those from the manufacturer Burroughs & Watts and are slightly bigger (Riley bought out Burrows & Watts to form Riley-Burwat at a later date). In Jersey, all shots must be played from the same spot whereas in England, they can be played from anywhere within the small D at the foot of the table.


The table shown (above) is Thos. Padmore table (picture by kind permission of Richard Hodson). Padmore was eventually Part of the Clare-Padmore-Thurston group. Now trading as Thurston.

Skittles come shaped like mushrooms or as small thin posts with metal crosspieces (both designed so that the skittles cannot fall into a cup). The author is also aware that many tables feature 4 skittles instead of 3. Since both the Jersey and All-England Bar Billiards Association rules stipulate that one black and 2 white skittles be used, it's not clear where this variation came from nor which leagues play with it. Perhaps it's only played in individual pubs and bars.

Whoever designed the game cleverly ensured it was more economical on space in pubs and clubs than ordinary billiard and pool tables because players strike from one end of the table so there is no need to walk around the table at all. The game itself is unusual since play is limited by time, a single coin giving from between 10 and 20 minutes of play according to preference (or the avarice of the landlord).

During the playing period, players attempt to accumulate points by striking the balls, 7 of which are white and one of which is red, up the table so that they fall down the holes at the other end. There are 9 holes in all scoring from 10 to 200 points depending upon the difficulty and potted balls run back to the front of the table in hidden channels so that they can be used again. The game is deceptively difficult due, in part, to the additional 3 skittles that are placed near the high scoring holes. If either of the two white skittles are knocked over, the break finishes and any points made during it are lost. Worse, if the black skittle is toppled, the guilty player's entire score is reset to zero, a drastic event, indeed.

Eventually, the time runs out and a bar drops inside the table preventing any more balls returning to be replayed from the front of the table.  The remaining balls are then cleared one by one in the normal way until only one remains.  At this point, the final fiendish rule comes into play - the only way to pot this last ball is into the 200 hole by first bouncing off a side cushion.  Since the 200 hole is situated directly behind the fatal black skittle and since 200 points is often enough to decide the outcome of the game, the finish is commonly fraught with tension....

Bar Billiards is still going strong especially in the South of England and the Channel Islands but has unfortunately lost a lot of its popularity due to the emergence of UK pool


French Bar Billiards

The link with France and Belgium became more clear in the years following the initial launch of this page by the author. Several people have since written in with information about the French version of Bar Billiards. The interesting thing here is that the table is almost identical and the only significant difference is that it misses the hole behind the black skittle.


Simon Ward wrote in about the table (above) which has a plaque which says "Ameublement. Leonard Leclercq, Rue de Reims, Wattingeies, Templemars (Nord)". He assumes, therefore, that it is made in France by this chap.

Below is a picture of another French table kindly contributed by Mike Jakeaways. The owner of the table lives in the Poitiers area, and says she remembers that tables were common in the cafes and coffee-bars of her youth in the area (ie maybe 60s & 70s).  They were replaced with the arrival of electronic games.  The sign on the table says "Fabrique de Billards. Maba. Tulle, Corrèze".


Here's a third table, kindly sent to the author by Chris Saville, with a very unusual feature. The middle skittle is a teeototum - numbered 1 to 6. We aren't sure how the teeototum is used.




Italian Bar Billiards

The 5 hole game pictured above is from Italy. It was sent in by another kind contributor, Stecher Josef, who owns this table which features four holes and two skittles.  Apparently the table, has been in his family since at least the 1930s so it seems to be a good possibility that the game is older than the English game.   Shown below are two pictures of the Italian table by kind permission of Stecher Josef.


It may be no coincidence that Italy is the place where pin  billiards appears to have originated. Given the Italian penchant for putting skittles on billiard tables, could it be that someone in Italy decided on day to come up with a new game based on Bagatelle but using skittles? And perhaps this game or another version of it was the pastime discovered by David Gill in Belgium. It's a possiblity - there is a lot more research to be done.


Swiss Bar Billiards


This is a table owned by Pat Bartlett in Switzerland who kindly sent some pictures of it after renovation. He found a date on the table - 21.2.1936 and it apparently it was prduced by Paul Brunner who had originally a carpentry workshop and was also known to import snooker tables to Switzerland several which are in use today. He also produced pool/billard tables in his workshop. So it seems likely that Brunner made this table originally - whether he copied a design or came up with his own is unknown.

As you can see, the table has the 2 wide holes set nearest in the table and there are 3 holes at the back compared with 5 on an English table.


Atlas Bar Billiards Table

Stanko Milosavljevic of Belgrade, Serbia wrote in with about this table which he got from his grandfather's bar. It has seven balls, one red and six white ones, seven holes and one skittle (although possibly there were more skittles which are lost). On the front is a plaque that simply says "Atlas". Atlas was an English manufacturer who were eventually bought by Sams Brothers. Presumably this is a design of table that they made at one time. Stanko is interested to hear from anyone with any information about his table.



In May 2016 James Master help a renovation project in Trieste, this bar Billiard Table had yet another hole format as the picture below shows.



Mystery Bar Billiards


Stuart Rumsey sent the photo, above, of another table from France, this time with the configuration of holes around the edge. It is about 1.2m wide by 2.1m long overall. It came with one mushroom, perhaps there were more. The clock mechanism is German from Saarbrucken with 'Automatenfabrik' written on it and its restorer estimated it was made during the world wars. It takes a 1 franc coin.

Nothing like this has surfaced anywhere else yet. Stuart is looking for more information - especially rules, number of skittles etc.

Many thanks to James Masters for allowing the above article, which is his copyright, to be incorporated in Bar Billiards article.

 BB_rules _R


Sadly, as also mention in the James Masters article, the game of Bar Billiards has decline pushed out of many sites by the popularity of U.K. Pool tables, however, there are strong pockets of players especially in the South of England and the Channel Isles. Information on these leagues can be found on the web and they are very informative and well worth looking at.

Just to fiunish off - not sure of the date of the advert below but is this a USA take on a version of bar billiards?



Ivor Champion Bar Billiards Table restorer see also links page

James Masters - on line guides to traditional games see also links page

Dennis Brisley - many years working in the Bar Billiards trade

Kenneth Hussey - many years working in the Bar Billiards trade -also BAPTO

© E.A. Clare & Son Ltd. 2018. © Peter N. Clare 2018
Reproduction of this article allowed only with the permission from E.A. Clare & Son Ltd. © Snooker Heritage Collection; English Billiards  © James Master

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