John Roberts Junior
Past Masters No. 4 - December 1982
May I commence by referring to my article in this series on John
Roberts Senior (father of this month's "Past Master"), which was
published on page 39 of the August issue of Cue World.
I have been pleased to receive correspondence
from a number of readers including a letter from Mr. Harry Smith,
of West Kirby, Wirral, who drew my attention to the fact that John
Roberts Senior, was born in Liverpool, and not in Manchester as I
stated. Mr Smith also quoted a date of birth, whilst I had stated
"about 1815" although we agree that there is still some uncertainty
about the exact date.
This prompted me to carry out further research on
John Roberts Senior - whilst at the same time researching on the
life and career of his son J.R. Junior, with the following
In the book entitled "Roberts on Billiards", by
John Roberts Senior, published 1868, he writes … "the first table I
ever played on was at the Old Rotunda, Bold Street, Liverpool,
my birth place, when I had reached my ninth year. It was
an old fashioned wooden bottomed concern, made by Gillow, and the
cushions which were of list carried the ball about four times"…
As Roberts Senior is the author we must allow him
to know where he was born, and so Liverpool can claim to be the
birthplace of this famous billiards player. Roberts Junior together
with the editor Mr F.M. Hotine, was responsible for publishing the
monthly magazine entitled "The Billiard Review" during the period
1865/6, states on page 389 that … " My father was not born in 1815
as stated in the "Badminton Library" by Major Broadfoot… J. Roberts
Senior, was born on 27th March 1826"… and it would seem that the
son should know his father's birth date.
However, this cannot be reconciled with the state
that J.R. Senior, was 55 years of age when in 1870 he lost the
Championship to W. Cook - which brings us back again to 1815 as the
year of his birth!
In the book entitled "Modern Billiards" by John
Roberts Junior, which was published in 1902, he says that he was
born at Ardwick, Manchester, on 15th August 1847, his father (J.R.
Senior), being at that time in charge of the Billiard Room, at the
Union Club in Manchester. When he was about 10 years old his father
took the Billiard Room at the George Hotel in Lime Street,
Liverpool, and that he was sent to school at the Mechanics
Institute in Mount Pleasant. J.R. Junior is himself the author of
this information we should be able to rely upon it as being
He also had two younger brothers. Charles, who
also became a professional player and wrote a number of books on
the subject. And Herbert, who was also a professional player of
some repute, but it was John Roberts Junior, who in time became
without any doubt, the leading professional player of his day.
His skill can be traced back to his father's
Billiard Room in the George Hotel, where after school he would
"knock the balls about", and in the absence of his father would
play against John Herst - one of the markers, who himself became a
well known professional. So whilst young John learnt largely from
his own observations he must also have gained from Herst's
Further experience and opportunity for practice
became possible when the Roberts family moved to London in 1860/1
at the time when Roberts Senior became the lessee of the Billiard
Rooms at Saville House in Leicester Square, and young John Roberts
regularly acted as his father's assistant.
According to his own recollection Roberts Junior
won his first handicap in 1866, the final being played against H.
Evans (who later became Champion of Australia). In the following
year he won a big handicap competition promoted by W. Dufton, in
which 24 players took part. In games of 400 up the handicaps ranged
from - Roberts Senior owing 100 points, whilst Hughes, Christmas,
Bennett and Herst all receiving 10 points and Roberts Junior
received 35 points, all the other players receiving between 70 and
up to 130 points. Thus Roberts Junior at this date was ranked no.6,
whilst J.R. Senior was clearly way ahead of the field as no.1.
The final was played between J.R. Senior v J.R.
Junior, the father in fact only scored 28 points more than his son
who therefore with the benefit of his handicap won quite
During the period 1866/68, John Roberts Junior,
together with William Cook and Joseph Bennett, began to move ahead
of the other Junior professionals and indeed Roberts Senior named
these three players plus John Herst as being the second tank of
players (he himself of course being no.1.)
You will remember from the previous article that
William Cook became the recognised billiards champion when he
defeated John Roberts Senior on 11th February 1870. But John
Roberts Junior, soon avenged his father's defeat by challenging
Cook for the championship two months later and easily beating him
by 478 points in a game of 1000 up on 14th April 1870.
A few weeks later Alfred Bowles, challenged
Roberts Junior for the championship but failed completely.
Before the year 1870 was out, Joseph Bennett,
another of the so called "second ranked players" challenged Roberts
Junior and in the hard fought contest lasting nearly five hours,
finally won by 95 points in 1000 up.
Early in 1871, after a lapse of two months - as
now required by rules for the competition, Roberts Junior once
again challenged and again became the champion, winning by 363 in a
game lasting only three hours and twenty-two minutes. However, the
championship soon changed hands once more, when Cook again defeated
Roberts Junior, this time by only 15 points, but after this Cook
defeat all challengers, holding the championship for the next four
years, that is during the period 1871/5.
Roberts Junior finally asserted his superiority
on 24th May 1875, when he again defeated Cook, this match is
important as a turning point in the career of J.R. Junior; Cook had
been considered the better player but from now on Roberts
demonstrated his superiority and he continued to improve with each
succeeding year, leaving all his opponents a long way behind.
Cook challenged again on 20th December 1875, and
at the St. James Hall, in the presence of the Prince of Wales, a
keen contest took place. The players passing and re-passing each
other many times, but after nearly three and a half hours Roberts
retained the championship by a margin of 135 points (some reports
Roberts Junior now commenced his travels around
the world. At the invitation of Mr Alcock - a billiard table maker
of Melbourne, Australia, who was a friend of Roberts Senior (the
billiard company Alcock, Thompson and Taylor is still very active
in the Australian Billiards trade). John Roberts Junior, departed
on his first overseas tour on 6th April 1876. The tour was a great
success, and lasted a whole year. HE returned to England on 6th/7th
April 1877 having made about £7,000.00 altogether (a very handsome
figure in 1876/7).
Whilst away on this first overseas tour, Roberts
had sent a challenge to Cook to play for the Championship, and this
match took place at the Gaiety Restaurant on 28th May 1877, very
shortly after his return, when Roberts retained the Championship
winning by 221 points.
During the next several years 1877 to 1884,
Roberts Junior made so many overseas tours that he was not able to
defend the championship again until 1885. It is recorded that he
visited India, including Ceylon on 11 occasions, with 3 visits to
Australia, 2 visits to New Zealand, 2 to the U.S.A. and 6 to South
Whilst visiting India in 1878 his agent a Mr
Brelauer, evidently travelled ahead seeking engagements, and thus
he approached Ram Singh, the Maharaja of Jeypure, he declined to
give an engagement but said he did not think Roberts would go away
Roberts decided to make the visit
without having a firm promise of remuneration, and he must have
been more than satisfied to receive a present of 1000 Rupees,
together with a gold enamelled cup and saucer studded with diamonds
(see illustration). In addition, as hopefully readers can perceive
from the photograph of the accompanying letter, on 11th February
1878 he was appointed "Court Billiard Player" at a salary of
£500.00 per annum, which was paid until the Maharaja died.
During Roberts' second visit to India
in 1878 he founded the firm of John Roberts and Co., Billiard Table
Manufacturers in Bombay, with his agent Mr Breslauer, as partner.
The enterprise become a Limited Company and traded very
successfully as Roberts was - as himself says…"travelling with an
eye to business".
Examples of table
and cushion plates of J. Roberts & Co. Ltd., Bombay.
Note- The cushion
plate states 'NO BRANCHES' this is a reference to the fact that a
John W. Roberts billiard business was registered in
The John Roberts
& Co. business also had a branch in Calcutta and was still
trading up to 1939 when World War II commenced. He also traded
successfully as a billiard table marker etc…in London.
There were no contests for the Championship during 1878 and 1879,
although Cook did evidently try to assume the title. In 1880 Joseph
Bennett challenged either Roberts or Cook to play for the
Championship - during this period Roberts who had been away on
overseas tours waived his claim and so on 8th November 1880. Cook
played the challenge match and after a hard game his nerve failed,
he missed several easy strokes and so Bennett won by 51 points and
thereby was acknowledged champion.
Immediately after this Championship Roberts and
Cook departed together as "Ex-Champions" on a visit to India. In
their absence, T. Taylor now challenged Bennett to play for the
Championship and the contest took place in January 1881, Bennett
retaining the Championship, winning by 90 points in 1000 up.
Now there is a gap of 4 years without a
Championship. As it was not until 18885, that the next contest took
place, when the points required for game were increased to 3000
(previously 1000 except for the very first championship, when cook
won against Roberts Senior in a game of 1200 up).
In April 1885, Cook made his final attempt to
take the Championship in a contest against Roberts Junior, who was
suffering from malaria, no doubt as a result of his visits abroad.
Cook played well, but Roberts despite his illness played with great
determination and finally won by 92 points.
Within two months Joseph Bennett also made his
final attempt at the Championship when during June 1885 the contest
took place at the Royal Aquarium, Roberts wining easily. Having now
won the cup five times it became his own property for good.
Now there is another period of four years without
a contest for the Championship. It would seem that Roberts Junior
"retired", although he continued playing and travelling, giving
magnificent displays and offering any players a start of 9000
points in games of 24,000 up, saying he wished his opponents would
When is was suggested that he relied on the "push
stroke", he responded by saying he would allow any man in the world
a start of 7,000 in 24,000 "push shot" in or out at his option, for
any sum up to £1000. But it would seem nobody responded to this
Championship of Billiard Challenge Cup
Presented in 1870 by the three
main Billiard Companies at that time namely :-
Burroughes & Watts - Cox
& Yeman - Thurston & Co.
The plate on the cup tells some
of the history of the cup as it states :-
This Cup is the original
Professional Billiards Championship Cup, first played for in 1870.
It was won outright by John Roberts Junior in 1890 and given by him
to his son
Mr. J.W. Roberts of
Madras The latter has presented it to The Billiards
Association and Control Council in trust to be held by the winner
of the English Amateur Billiards Championship each year.
The shields would indicate that it
was first used for the amateur championships in 1931-32 and was won
by Sydney Lee. The last name on the shields is Chris Shutt 1995/96,
although there is a big gap in the dates.
(The cup was on display in the
Norman Clare Heritage Collection during 2008 as part of Liverpool
European Capital of Culture year. Sadly the cup has a severe dent
in it just where the THURSTON name is engraved!)
It must be said that Roberts Junior
was very "full of his own importance", and often published
disparaging remarks about other players and the Billiards
Association. Roberts and Mr Fred Hotine (the Editor) were
responsible between them for the publication of the monthly
magazine entitled "Billiards Review", in which his opinions were
Indeed it could be almost be said that his word was law. I quote
two examples, which I believe will give an insight to his
On page 114 (December 1895) Roberts Says "the Billiards
Association, is certainly not in a position either to make a new
rule which will find general acceptance or to interpret the
existing rules against the push shot. I for one would not pay any
attention to a ruling emanating from the Association and there are
many others of my way of thinking."
On page 574 (November 1896) Roberts says, " Why not institute a
fresh Championship…to be completed for by such of the players
(myself excepted) as care to enter. The winner might be styled
until I retire or he beats me - "Second Champion" or "Champion"
Roberts died in
Worthing in 1919 at 71 years of age, some 24 years after last
winning the Championship.
November 2013 addition to Norman's article
Possibly because the Collection has had T.V. Coverage this year
with Steve Davis visiting to do two pieces for the 'History of
Snooker' shown during the World Championships. Also a visit by the
the Antique Road Trip whose expert Christina Trevanion call in to
view some of the items and discus some of the items of historic
interest. (see TV
The Collection was contacted by Shanklin Collectors Centre on
the Isle of Wight who advised that they had a medal won by John
Roberts Jnr. and would we be interested in it.
Well after some confirmation information received from Peter
Ainsworth which details the date of the match and the place it took
place plus the firm that put up the medal as a prize. All of which
was engraved on the medal it was decided that this bit of Billiard
history should be preserved in the Collection.
photograph © Elspeth Clare
The size of the medal is 12cm x 5cm
and as can be seen has crossed cues over a set of billiard
photograph © Elspeth Clare
The engraving reads :-
Morrison & Co
BILLIARD TABLE MAKERS
JOHN ROBERTS JUN
for the highest score in four
Jany. 27th. & 28th. 1873
The information that Peter Ainsworth
was able to supply follows along with the actual newspaper report
that Peter also provided.:-
There is a summary of the encounter in Roberts' book, "Modern
Billiards," [page 19/20] which reads: "On January 27th and 28th
they played a somewhat sensational match at the Waverley Hall,
Edinburgh. The conditions were that four games should be played-two
of 1,000 and two of 750, the player making the highest aggregate to
be the winner. Cook won the first game of 1,000 up by 259, and the
following game of 750 by 516, thus securing a lead of 775. On the
second day Roberts won the 1,000 up by 405, and the 750 by 392,
thus beating Cook's aggregate by 22 points, and winning the gold
medal which was offered as the prize. Roberts also beat Cook at
pyramids on this occasion."
There are also contemporary newspaper reports available, which go
into more detail. I have attached copies of the actual publications
and reproduce a less verbose summary below, which I have included
in my records:
[The Scotsman - Tuesday, 28th January 1873, page 7]
Monday 27th January 1873.-W. Cook v. J. Roberts jun., at the
Waverley Hall, Edinburgh.
A champion match at billiards of considerable interest was
commenced yesterday afternoon in the Waverley Hall, Waterloo Place,
between Messrs W. Cook and J. Roberts, jun., the former champion
and the latter ex-champion of Great Britain, while both of whom are
recognised to be the most expert players of the scientific game.
The match was commenced and will be finished upon a new table,
specially built for the occasion by Messrs Morrison & Co.,
George Street, the most reputable billiard table makers in North
Britain; and that firm have offered as a prize a magnificent gold
medal, which shall be won by the highest aggregate scorer in four
games-two of 1000 points, and
two of 750, each at billiards. One round of each game was played
yesterday-Mr W. Cook securing the victory in the 1000 game by 259
points, and in the 750 game by 516. The game of 1000 up was played
in the afternoon, before a large assemblage of gentlemen interested
in this noble in-door
sport. Cook made breaks of 176 and 245 (84 spots). The game lasted
exactly two hours and twenty minutes. RESULT.-Cook, 1000; Roberts,
741. In the evening the 750 game was played, when Cook laterally
ran away from Roberts, who never could get the balls together for a
large break. On the other hand, Cook in one break scored 374
points, in which he made no fewer than 124 hazards from the spot
stroke. In the next break be scored 146, principally all round the
table, and concluded the game at 750 to Roberts' 234, thus winning
by 516. On the two games he consequently stands 775 ahead. Mr.
Roberts afterwards exhibited what are called "fancy strokes," in
his fingers be seemed to make the balls obey his every behest. The
two champions played the best of eleven games at Pyramids-the
victory eventually resting with Mr Roberts by six games to Mr
Cook's two. The remaining games will be played to-day (Tuesday.)
RESULT.-Cook, 750; Roberts, 234.
[The Scotsman - Wednesday, 29th January 1873, page 6]
Tuesday 28th January 1873.-W. Cook v. J. Roberts jun., at the
Waverley Hall, Edinburgh.
The match between Mr J. Roberts, jun., and Mr. W. Cook was
concluded last night in the Waverley Hall in presence of a large
number of gentlemen. The game, which was commenced on Monday
afternoon, was resumed yesterday, when in the 1000 game Mr Roberts
won by 405. In the course of play Mr Roberts scored 194, 126, 120,
and 126-the latter break being unfinished. Cook's highest break was
98. RESULT.-Roberts, 1000; Cook, 595. In the evening Roberts' first
break was a 58, then he went, on with 180, next 260, in which he
made 83 spot strokes. Cook succeeded with breaks of 94, 68, and 83;
but Roberts eventually secured the match by 392 points. In this
won the day by 797 points, whereas Cook on Monday had only won by
775 points, Roberts therefore won Messrs Morrison & Co.'s gold
medal by 22 points. The medal was presented by a well-known amateur
to Mr Roberts, who stated that be had never played on a better
table. In a game of pyramids afterwards played, Mr. Roberts won six
games to Mr Cook's three.
RESULT.-Roberts, 750; Cook, 358.
The Scotsman - Tuesday 28th January 1873
The Scotsman Wednesday 29th January
The Snooker Heritage Collection is pleased to add this bit of
'history' to the other items and the medal will be displayed along
side the watch that had been presented to John Roberts
Jnr. Father .
Acknowledgements - Peter Ainsworth for providing so much of the
- Shanklin Collectors Centre, Isle of Wight
The Snooker Heritage Collection is free to enter
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and factory a Guide is required. So please make anappointmentgiving
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round is limited to four. To make an appointment
phone 0870 607 1336.
© 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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