Origins of the game of billiards
I am afraid nobody really knows how
the game of Billiards really started, so it is that as with many
other things in life there are a number of theories, or should I
say "fairy tales'' in existence which endeavour to explain the
origin of the game, and you must choose whichever story you think
best. One thing however is quite definite, and that is that it is
an extremely old game, which has gradually developed so that the
present day game is completely unrecognisable from the
I believe that the French people give credit to the English for
originally inventing the game, but on the other hand the English
think that the game originated in France.
In the Encyclopaedia Britannica it is suggested that the name
almost certainly originated in France, as the French word "Bille"
meaning Ball Seems to provide the first syllable of the
A booklet published by the Billiard Congress of America, states
quite clearly that the evidence suggests that England was the first
place of Billiards, but it goes on to say that it was the Spaniards
who brought the game to St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565 thus you
will not only note that this is over four centuries ago, but that
it was the Continental game that was originally introduced into the
United States, and the game was apparently very popular even before
the American Civil War.
Referring once again to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, it states
that in an American Text Book entitled "Modern Billiards" it is
stated that a King of Ireland (Catkire More) sometime during the
Second Century AD left behind him 55 Billiard Balls of Brass with
the Pools and Cues of the same materials. Also in the Text Book
"Modern Billiards" it refers to the travels of a gentleman named
Anacharsis through Greece some 400 years BC, during which he saw a
game very similar to Billiards.
So it is we can only apparently agree that it is a very very old
game in its original form. We just do not know where it actually
Once again referring to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, it seems
that an artist by the name of "Henrique Devigne" who lived in
France during the reign of Charles IX was the first to give some
form and rules to the game. However a French Universal Dictionary,
and `the Academy of Games, credits the invention to the English,
suggesting that the game itself appears to be originally derived
from the game of Bowls (which also of course is a very ancient
game) and that it was brought into France by Louis XIV.
It is further suggested that
originally it was the ancient game of 'Pael Mael' (Pall Mall) ,
which was played on the ground, but for the greater convenience of
the players it was brought above ground level and played upon a
Whatever its actual origin may be,
we certainly know that Shakespeare was acquainted with the game, for in
Act 2, Scene 5, of "Anthony and Cleopatra" the Queen invites her
attendant Chairman to join her in a game by saying "Let us to
Billiards, Come Chairman."
Now to conclude these few words concerning the origin of the game,
let me tell you a short amusing story which I heard some many years
ago (before 1939/45 War) but I cannot now remember the actual
source. However, the story goes something like this:
"That the game was originally played with small balls on the
ground, small holes being made in the surface of the
pitch, the balls being played by hand, rather like the old
English Game of "Bogies", a game which we used to see quite
frequently played by unemployed men before the Second World War,
but which I have not seen since.
The story goes on to relate how this game was played by a
group of men in a yard behind the house of a man called Bill and so
when they went to play the game they went to Bill's
yard which, when spoken quickly became
(Perhaps needs to be said with
a Liverpool accent! Another version has it that Bill was a Pawn
Broker and when he closed his shop he took down the three balls and
that is what was used in his yard!)
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