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Sunday, 23 September 2012


The origin of billiards is not definitely known. It may have begun in France, Italy, Spain, or China. It also resembles an old English game called pall-mall, played on the ground with a four-inch wooden ball and a mallet.

Billiards had been adopted as a pastime both in England and France by the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Its name is French and is derived from billiart, a word describing a little staff or stick. It is the diminutive of bille, which means "log."

The earliest actual code of rules, framed about 1517 is attributed to Henrique Devigne (also spelled De Vigne), a French artist who lived during the reign of Charles IX. He also designed billiard tables. It was these traditions that led some authorities to regard him as the real father of the game.

The sport of billiards was pioneered in 1565 in America by a family which had settled from Spain at the site of present-day St. Augustine, Florida.
Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587) owned one of the world's first billiard tables. The game was popular in 16th-century France, where Mary probably acquired a taste for it, and she continued with the pastime on her return to Scotland. After she was imprisoned she was allowed to keep a table in her Tower of London cell and she was a keen exponent of the game right up to her death. In fact whilst awaiting her execution she complained of being deprived of her billiard table.

The game of billlards Mary Queen Of Scots would have olayed would have been with just two balls, which were struck with the edge of an implement resembling a hockey stick. The wooden table was covered in a green woollen cloth, and the cushions stuffed with strips of felt.

William Shakespeare’s reference in his play Antony and Cleopatra to Cleopatra playing billiards (“come, let us play billiards” Act Scene 5) is probably a joke as billiards hadn't been invented in Cleopatra's time.

Louis XIV (1638-1715) played  billiards under Doctor's orders as it was recommended that the exercise of stretching across the billiard table would improve his digestion.

The modern form of billiard cue, using the tip to strike the ball, emerged in France about 1735, and the third ball was introduced there some fifty years later. But other familiar features had to wait until the 19th century. Rubber cushions and the heavy slate bed of the table were novelties in the 1830s.

The dome in Thomas Jefferson's Monticello home concealed a billiard room. Billiards was illegal in Virginia at the time.

The first public billiard room in Britain was opened at the Piazza, Covent Garden, London, early in the nineteenth century.

London furniture-maker John Thurston came up with the idea in 1836 of adding slate to a table base to create a perfectly flat surface for the game of billiards.

At Queen Victoria's request, a billiard table was set up in Windsor Castle.

In 1843 two French gentlemen, Lenfant and Mellant, quarelled over a game of billiards and drew lots to see who should first throw the red ball at the other. Mellant won and hurled the red accurately at Lenfant’s forehead, killing him instantly.

The first big American billiards match was held at Malcolm Hall in Syracuse, NY in 1854 White and George Smith participated in the event for a $200 prize. White pocketed the award as winner of the match.

The billiard ball was patented by American inventor John Wesley Hyatt in 1865. He is mainly known for simplifying the production of celluloid, the first industrial plastic.

In 1873, a billiards match was played between the American Mr Jefferson and the British William Dufton. Dufton played as normal, but Jefferson played the balls with his nose and won by 47 points.

The Scottish philosopher, Herbert Spencer, one of Britain's greatest thinkers, was passionately fond of billiards. Until his health began to wane, he daily went to the Athenaeum Club to enjoy a game. He could be seen with his coat off, as intent on scoring a victory on the billiard table as he was known to wrestle with a controversialist in the philosophical arena.

It was Spencer who came up with the maxim "Proficiency in billiards is a sign of a mis-spent youth."

The first man to be convicted of a crime in the UK by fingerprint evidence was Harry Jackson in 1902. He stole some billiard balls.

Tom Reece completed the largest ever break in billiards with a score of 499,135 in 1907. The break lasted almost five weeks and brought him a check for £125.

Billiards used to be so popular at one time that cigarette cards were issued featuring players.

Nearly 80 per cent of the world’s billiard balls are made in Belgium.

Sources Europress Encyclopedia, Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia © 1998 The Learning Company, Inc.

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