William Cook Senior
Past Masters No. 3 - Published September 1982
During the years 1866/67 John Roberts Senior, who
was now over 50 years of age, was still the undisputed billiards
champion. There were however quite a large group of up and coming
younger players, including William Cook - John Roberts Junior and
Joseph Bennett. These three were now coming to the front and so
sooner or later, one or other would begin to threaten the Champion,
who by this time might have been finding with middle age that his
eyesight was not as good as it used to be, although none of his
photographs show him wearing glasses, and contact lenses, (as
currently worn by such professionals as Mr Fred Davis), were
something like 100 years into the future.
During late 1868, John Roberts Junior (aged 21
years) played William Cook (aged 19 years), and Roberts won - but
in the return match of 1000 up, early in 1869, Cook won easily by
323 points, and later that year, playing better than ever, he made
record breaks of 351 in Liverpool, and 359 in Manchester, and so
before the end of the year, Cook had issued a challenge to John
Roberts Senior, to play him on level terms for the
William Cook was born in Sandy near Bedford, in
June 1849, so he was not quite 21 years old when the Championship
Match took place, during February, 1870. His great strength was
evidently his ability to achieve hazards off the spot, with
absolute certainty time and time again and there does seem to have
been some gamesmanship as the size of the pocket openings was
greatly reduced for this Championship.
Young Cook evidently did not realise that this
would handicap him more than his opponent - who did not rely to the
same extent on "spots" (the term used at this time) and so he
agreed to the smaller pockets and in fact it seems that the pockets
were twice reduced in size, with the intention of making "spots"
almost impossible, which young Mr Cook evidently did not
At this date, the size of the pocket openings
became a serious matter for discussion (and / or for argument)
especially when championship matches were arranged as there was no
governing body to control the rules, or to stipulate the size of
the pocket openings , and the baulk and spot positions varied.
There was perhaps and understandable desire to
"limit" the spot stroke, and so "for championship" tables, it was
agreed that the corner pocket openings would only measure 3 inches
across the fall - the radius of the half circle was first fixed at
9 ½ inches and later increased to 10 inches - the baulk line was 28
inches from the face of the bottom cushion, and the spot 12 ½
inches from the face of the top cushion!!
And so, it was under these conditions that the
Cook versus Roberts Senior match for the Championship was held, at
St James Hall, on the 11th February, 1870. The Prince of Wales
(later to be King Edward the VII) was present for most of the game,
and is said to have remarked "That he would prefer to see the
larger breaks which could be achieved on "ordinary tables".
After a keen contest of 1200 up, William Cook won
the very first professional championship to actually be
As already mentioned, William Cook's ability at
the spot stroke play was unequalled, and immediately after winning
the Championship, he issued a challenge offering to give any player
in the world a 200 points start, in a game of 2000 up, to be played
on table with 3 5/8 inches pockets.
However, within 3 months, on the 14th April,
1870, John Roberts Junior avenged his father's defeat by playing
William Cook for the title on a "Championship" table with 3 inches
pocket openings, and defeated Cook very easily by a margin of 478
points in a game of 1000 up, which was completed three in hours and
Within a few months Joseph Bennett - the third
man of the up and coming youngsters, challenged Roberts Junior for
the Championship and beat him - thus the year 1870 is remarkable
for the fact that , during this one year, four different players
viz..- Robert Senior - William Cook - Roberts Junior and Joseph
Bennett, all held the Championship.
It seems that conditions governing challenges for
the Championship were drawn up requiring than at least two months
should elapse between these events. And so it was early 1871, on
the 30th of January, when Roberts Junior again played Joseph
Bennett, and easily regained the title.
then challenged Bennett, and in the contest, on the 25th May 1971,
won by the extreme narrow margin of only 15 points. Cook, however,
then definitely established himself as superior to all others, and
held the Championship for the next four years. In 1873, he also won
the first great "all in" Billiards Handicap, which was promoted by
the late well known Billiard Table Manufacturers, Messrs.
Burroughes and Watts Ltd. of London. (Burroughes and Watts
business was acquired by E.J. Riley, who for a period traded as
Riley-Burwat, before reverting back to the Riley name. For a number
of years after the name of Burroughes & Watts was only
remembered for the quality tables they produced, however, the name
has been re- registered)
William Cook visited the United States of
America, where he played several matches - it is not clear however,
whether he played the English or the Continental game of billiards,
however, he brought back with him and introduced the tournaments
played on the American principle, wherein every player plays every
other player during the Tournament.
It seems that Cook did not organise his own
finances in a prudent and sensible manner. He must have earned a
great deal of money, but was evidently a "soft touch" never turning
a deaf ear to appeals for assistance, and so he died penniless in
Brompton Consumption Hospital, on the 30th of June 1893.
© 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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