The Billiard & Snooker Heritage Collection in Thurston racks up 50 years

PUBLISHED: 15:40 12 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:54 20 February 2013

The Billiard & Snooker Heritage Collection in Thurston racks up 50 years

The Billiard & Snooker Heritage Collection in Thurston racks up 50 years

A Liverpool museum has been putting sporting memorabilia in the frame for almost 50 years, as Ray D'Arcy reports

The print version of this article appeared in the January 2012 issue of Lancashire Life

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Something in their demeanour marks them out as posh. Its not arrogance but a certain self-confidence as they stand in what is obviously a grand house, cues in hand, enjoying the favourite game of the time; billiards.

But the smiling players of what now is widely considered a male-dominated sport along with snooker are not the wing-collared, waistcoat-wearing men you might expect. These billiards aces are women, hair worn high, in the tight-waisted dresses favoured by young and fashionable Edwardian females.

They gaze from beautiful prints on the walls and in books of what must be one of the most unusual and least-known museums a Lancashire shrine to billiards and its younger offshoot, snooker.

Its a myth largely put about by men, of course that women dont make good players, said Peter Clare, who now looks after the museum started by his father, Norman. Another myth is that women are more likely to accidentally tear the cloth with the cue. They arent. In fact women play at world championship level in their section of the game.

The museum, near Liverpool city centre, was started by Norman, after the Clare family firm of billiard table makers took over the famous London billiards firm of Thurstons in 1963. Peter said: When we bought Thurstons, dad was so taken with so much of the stuff they had in their premises they were real treasures and some of them were just lying around but were of such significance to the games of billiards and snooker that he decided to save them.

Hundreds of items, large and small, are on display at the museum in what is probably the largest collection of billiards and snooker memorabilia in the world. It is a living exhibition, much added to over the years. And talking of myths there is, Peter confirms, no such thing as a snooker table. The more senior game, billiards, technically still retains the name, although Peter and his staff are entirely happy with either term.

Peter, who is actually managing director of the firm which is now called Thurstons, is a true enthusiast of both games and has added to the collection started by his father, who died in 1990. The whole history of the games is lovingly displayed along with some amazing facts. For instance, ivory balls replaced wooden ones in the early 1800s. In those days about 12,000 elephants, mostly female, were being killed each year to supply Britain with billiard balls. Their ivory was, apparently, of a better quality for the purpose. Thankfully, by 1890 artificial balls invented by an American were available in Britain.

Many of the tables on display are beautiful, works of art. Modern tables, just as elegant, made at the Thurstons premises next door to the museum in St Anne Street, are constructed of wood, with a slate bed for smoothness. But there are some true oddities in the museum from times past, like the octagonal table made in 1908 to fit into a bay window in a private house.

There is a portable table with a wooden base rumoured to have been used by the Duke of Wellington and his officers during the Napoleonic Wars. All sorts of materials have been used by various manufacturers over the years to make tables including concrete.

A modern table costs about 5,270 and takes three weeks to make. The slate used was once from Wales but Thurstons now mainly use Italian. There is a four to five-year apprenticeship for the trade of making billiard tables. The firm, which also sells all sorts of items and trophies connected with the games, plus, of course, pool, in their bustling modern showroom, also make the cues.

John Thurston is regarded as the father of the modern billiard table. In 1826 he introduced the first slate bed and a few years later the first cushions of rubber.

Peter Clare is quite relaxed about the divisions between billiards and snooker and, indeed, pool, but he does say: Good billiards leads to good snooker, although, of course, nowadays it is mainly the older generation who still play billiards.

How did those games start? Well the origins of billiards, played with three balls, is obscure and centuries old but it probably originated in France. Its offspring, snooker, is Victorian, created by officers of the Devonshire Regiment serving in India. Its massive popularity, eclipsing billiards, was due largely to Joe Davis, one of the earliest stars of the game. Players who came later have continued to ensure that it retains its following.

The museum is open for small guided parties to tour. For details, call
0870 607 1336

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