PAST MASTERS NO 6 - April 1983
In 1825 when John Carr through illness, failed to
accept the challenge - Edwin Kentfield assumed and held the
Championship title of billiards for some 24 years. Then in 1849,
Kentfield in his turn failed to accept the challenge of John
Roberts Senior, who then in similar fashion assumed the
Championship title and held it for the next 21 years, until
defeated by W. Cook in 1870 by 1200 points to 1083 points.
A few years earlier in 1866 it had been observed
that John Roberts Junior, William Cook and Joseph Bennett began to
improve and to draw away in front of all others - this turned out
to be a very good prophecy, as first Cook, then Roberts Junior and
finally Joseph Bennett all held the Championship for short periods
during the year 1870, and during the following 19 years from 1870
to 1889, one or other of these three players held this honour until
finally Charles Dawson broke the sequence by taking the
Championship in 1889.
Dawson was born in Huddersfield on 20th December
1866, and according to his own book "Practical Billiards",
published in 1904, he first learned to play at the George and
Dragon Hotel and the Central Liberal Club in his home town. He says
that at the age of 16 years, he was apprenticed to learn the trade
of a "heald and reed maker", which had something to do with the
manufacture or weaving of cloth. At first he had played bagatelle
in a Temperance House, but when old enough to visit billiard rooms
in hotels he regularly played pool - holding his own with the best
His first success would seem to be in a billiards
handicap, organized on the opening of the Adega Billiard Hall, in
Westgate Huddersfield. He was handicapped to owe 60 points in games
of 200 up, and so he must have been known already as a good player.
He won the first prize in the final, which took place on 13th
January 1886, a little later he was handicapped to owe 160 points
in games of 200 up, in another competition, and he again won the
As a result of his success, although he had not
so far made any very large breaks, a Mr G Jackson (evidently a well
known sportsman) backed Dawson to take 9000 points start in a "spot
barred" match of 12000 up against the then Champion, John Roberts
Junior, for £100 a side - the game commenced on March 1st 1887, at
the Gymnasium Hall, Huddersfield on a new table by Orme & Sons
of Manchester - Dawson winning easily by 12000 points to 6780. This
success caused him to devote himself to Billiards especially as
trade in the town was in a very depressed state through a strike of
weavers, and so he became Manager of the Billiard Room at the
George and Dragon Hotel, and later during the 1888 was employed at
the Adega Billiard Hall.
During this period he played in many challenge
matches with stakes of £25.00 to £50.00 a side, mainly in the
Yorkshire area, although he also played several matches in
Major Broadfoot, in his Badminton Library Book
"Billiards", includes Charles Dawson, amongst the young players who
have come prominently to the front since 1888, and goes on to say
….."Dawson's improvement was rapid and well maintained for several
seasons, his form is generally consistent and would be even more so
if he were less sensitive when luck seems to go against him"…..
W. Cook, in chapter XLII of his book entitled
"Billiards" covering the period 1887 - 1890, after describing
Dawson as a "very likely novice" goes on to say how well he
performed making breaks of 1207 and 1848 on a standard table, and
the following a match in which he defeated Peall, it was apparent
that ….."Dawson possess all the qualifications necessary to make a
player of the highest class"…..
Strange to note
however, although this chapter covers the period 1887 - 1890, he
makes no reference to Dawson gaining the Championship title against
J. North, during 1889, and even Dawson in his own book makes no
reference to his achievement. Indeed, there seems to have been a
lack of interest during the four years, from 1885 (the last year
Roberts Junior played for and won the Championship) to 1889, when
Dawson won the title. Followed by a further blank period of 11
years, from 1889 to 1900, before Dawson defended the title in a
match against H. W. Stevenson winning by 9000 points to 6775.
During this "blank period" however, whilst
ordinary exhibition matches were still being played, the great
controversy surrounding the "push stroke", was very much in the
news and Dawson, together with John Roberts Junior and E Diggle,
were signatories of a letter to the "Times" on 19th February 1986
"Sir - we have observed that, in some of the
reports of billiard matches which have appeared of late in one of
the Sporting Newspapers, the push shot is described as "a foul
"As is well known the stroke has been played and
allowed for many years, and it seems to us that it cannot properly
be called a foul whilst the existing rules are in force"
"We utterly decline to alter our game at the
bidding of a clique of sporting journalists, and second class
professional players, and protest most strongly against the unfair
reports above alluded to"
Dawson was also very much reported in the
Sporting Press during November 1898, when arrangements were in hand
for him to play Roberts Junior in a game of 18000 up on a neutral
standard table, in a neutral hall, and under neutral management for
£100.00 a side - the gate money to go with the stakes if desired,
this latter point being agreed, the match to commence on 20th March
1899, and the make of table to be agreed one week before.
All details seemed to be settled when a great
argument developed concerning the balls to be used. Dawson said
Ivories, whilst Roberts said Bonzoline. "Of course you have a
Pecuniary interest in playing with Bonzoline, remarked
"Lets toss up for choice of balls" said
"No" said Dawson - "There will be no match if you
insist on Bonzolines"
"I insist on nothing" said Roberts - "My point is
you challenged me to play under the rules of the Billiards
Association and those rules make no stipulation of the sort of
balls to be used"
"I never dreamt of anything but ivory in
connection with an important match, besides the Billiards
Association stipulates ivory balls for the World Championship it is
After several more meetings - with letters to the
press the Billiards Association were called upon to make a ruling
on the matter and the decision went in Dawson's favour - ivories
were to be used.
As already mentioned Dawson successfully defended
his title as Champion in a match against Stevenson in 1900, however
Stevenson had again challenged for the title and during the first
week of January 1901 he won by 9000 points to 6406, and the
editorial in the "World of Billiards" commenced with the words -
"What's the Matter with Dawson?". According to the reports at this
time, during the early stages of the match the leadership changed
at almost every other innings, admidst great excitement, but
towards the end it was Stevenson who won the day, whilst Dawson was
playing badly. Dawson however took his defeat without complaint and
immediately issued another challenge.
So it was in April of the same year (1901) the
next match for the Championship took place, Dawson was reported as
not playing well during the first half, and that he won in a rather
hollow fashion - Stevenson having been far from well. In the second
half Dawson's play improved in an extraordinary fashion, so that he
easily regained the title with a score of 9000 points to 5796, but
the question in the "World of Billiards", of 17th April 1901 reads
- "Which is really the better player".
Now there followed a great dispute over the time
and place of the next Championship match and reading the record of
letters to the press it really does seem that Dawson was avoiding
the issue. As a result, at a meeting of the Billiards Association
(who had fixed the date with ample notice), held on Monday 4th
November 1901, it was proposed by Mr Haverson, and seconded by Mr
Ayres, (themselves professional players),
"that in view of the letter dated 9th October,
written by Mr Dawson refusing to play on the date selected by the
Committee, it is decided that Mr Stevenson will become Champion on
November 11th next". This was carried unanimously, and so the
records show that Stevenson was declared Champion, but naturally
the arguments continued for a long, long time, with the usual
"fighting letters" to the press from both sides.
Now there is a two year gap until Dawson issues a
challenge under the conditions stipulated by the Billiards
Association, and the match for the Championship is fixed to
commence on 16th March 1903, and after much argument and discussion
the venue was settled to be "The National Sporting Club". However
without realising what was "in the wind" the Billiards Association,
had agreed to allow the players to toss for a choice of table. It
would seem that between them and to the astonishment of all
concerned they agreed to select a table made by the hitherto
unknown North of England Company - E. J. Riley Ltd., of Accrington.
After much discussion by the Billiards Association Committee, they
decided they could not go back on their agreement with the players,
and so for the first time a maker from outside the select circle of
the three London Manufacturers - Burroughs and Watts - Cox and
Yeman and Thurston, had the privilege which was described as "a
marketable asset" of particular value to a newcomer to the
Riley adverts began to appear in the press saying
that their table had been "selected" for the event, and - believe
it or not Thurston's advertised in the same publication saying that
after 90 years their table had NOT BEEN SELECTED!
In fairness to Riley's however, it must be
mentioned that in subsequent press reports, the quality of their
Billiard Table was praised by all concerned.
The match was a close contest; Dawson regained
the title, winning by 9000 points to 8700.
After this event there is another "gap" in the
Championships. The next contest being five years later in 1909 -
meanwhile Dawson had faded from the Championship scene.
© Norman Clare 1990. © E.A.
Clare & Son Ltd. 2018.
Reproduction of this article allowed only with the permission from
E.A. Clare & Son Ltd.
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