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 original.
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 word Billiards.
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 started.
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 table instead.

 200 Pall Mall

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 "Billiards".

(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!) for snooker, pool, billiard tables - antique, bespoke, renovated as well as all accessories for the games. for bespoke snooker, pool, billiard and English pool cues

© Norman Clare 1990. © E.A. Clare & Son Ltd. 2018.
Reproduction of this article allowed only with the permission from E.A. Clare & Son Ltd.