Billiard Table Development
DAYS OF OLD No.
3 - (September 1982)
Any information added is shown in italics
As mentioned in a previous article, it was during the first
decade of the 19th Century (1807 to be exact), that Monsieur
Mingaud, a retired French Infantry Captain, introduced the first
leather cue tips and, at this time, the billiard cue was rapidly
taking the place of the mace, but it was not until 1826 that we
find any evidence of further improvements in the billiard table
itself, which was still of very primitive construction.
At this time too, billiard tables were always specially made to
order by cabinetmakers. Mr Gillow was the earliest known maker of
these custom built tables and he originally made his tables in
Lancaster, during the late 1700's. In the absence of railways, (the
first railway was not opened until 1830), and also in view of the
difficulty of transportation by horse and cart over long distances
(there were no motor vehicles), Gillow delivered his first billiard
tables to London by ship, from Lancaster via the River Lune - The
Irish Sea - The English Channel - The River Thames! Later Gillow
also made billiard tables in London, and John Thurston is said to
have worked with him as a cabinet / furniture maker.
A rare example of a Gillow's
Rules of Billiards
displayed in theBilliard &
Snooker Heritage Collection
In 1799, John Thurston opened his own
cabinet making business in Newcastle Street, off The Strand in
London. He soon recognised that there was growing demand for
billiard tables, and so, in 1814 on moving his business to
Catherine Street (also off The Strand), he decided to specialise in
making billiard tables and billiard room furniture only.
It was John Thurston who, a few years later, introduced the
first major improvement in the billiard table, when working with
the advice of Mr Edwin Kentfield. (Kentfield was the first true
professional player; See Norman's Articles Past Master
No1..) Thurston was the first maker to use slate to
replace the wooden beds which were so unreliable, being prone to
shrinking, warping and swelling, according to the climate and the
season of the year. John Thurston called his slate beds Imperial
A page from THURSTON's 1893
catalogue extolling the quality of the slates used in THURSTON
The earliest record of the supplying
of a slate bed is to White's Club in London, during 1826. (The Club
is still in existence). The first slate beds were rather thin,
having a thickness of about 1 inch. This was understandable, as
they were originally made about the same thickness as the previous
wooden beds, which they were replacing. Slate was, of course, much
heavier, and so it now became necessary to increase the strength of
the supporting framework of the billiard table, in order to carry
the extra weight, and thus the tables became more substantial in
appearance and construction.
The early thin slates however, were not by any means perfect.
Many readers may be surprised to learn that thin slate, like glass,
is quite flexible, and so unless adequately supported, the slate
will sag and become quite hollow, so that it was then impossible to
level the table accurately. Also thin slate beds can be quite noisy
as a rolling ball causes a rumbling sound. Finally, the cushion
rails can be more securely fixed against the edge of a thick slate,
thus providing a more solid foundation for the cushions. This solid
foundation provided a better rebound. This was true even for the
list / stuffed cushions, which were still in use when slate beds
were introduced. So it was that the thickness of the slate
gradually increased, from 1 inch to 1 ¼ inches - 1 3/8 inches - 1 ½
inches - 1 5/8 inches- 1 ¾ inches, and, finally, even up to 2
inches in thickness. It followed, as a result, that the
construction of the table also became more and more substantial in
order to carry all this additional weight.
The point was reached however, when too much weight became a
problem; involving much greater cost of manufacture, much greater
cost of transport every time the table was moved and sometimes even
requiring the expensive strengthening of a billiard room floor in
order to carry the weight.
A Thurston table was selected in 1892 as the 'STANDARD' by
the then Governing Body of Billiards. As you will see from the
signatures to the documents the committee was made up of the
leading players of the day.
Signed by - John North, N.I.
Peall, Harry Coles, N. Mitcell and N. Cook
Experience soon proved that there was
no technical advantage beyond 1 ¾ inches of thickness, so this now
became accepted as the optimum, an opinion which is still supported
by most present day Billiard Table Manufacturers. It is also
adhered to by the Union Mondial de Billiard (The Governing Body for
the Continental Game of Billiards), which stipulates in their rules
a slate bed of 45mm thickness (1 ¾ inches) for their billiard
Our own Governing Body, The Billiards and Snooker Control
Council (the Council is no longer in existence, and it is the WPBSA
[World Professional Billiard & Snooker Association] who now
control the rules), does not specify the thickness of the slate bed
in its Official Rules. Perhaps they should think about it. Having
so greatly improved the billiard table by introducing slate beds,
another nine or ten years elapsed before John Thurston made the
next great improvement by introducing rubber cushioning. This will
be the subject of my next article.
© Norman Clare 1990. © E.A.
Clare & Son Ltd. 2018.
Reproduction of this article allowed only with the 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 - firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone - 0151 482 2700