The name the French use for the ‘small-table’ game of eight ball pool testifies to its origin.
The sport we now know as blackball pool was born in the bars of English pubs half a century ago.
Post-war Britain saw more pubs built throughout the country than at any other time in history and for many landlords competitive indoor games played a vital role in attracting customers and consequently generating income.
A host of pub games were played.
Seated at a table the locals might enjoy games such as euchre, whist, cribbage and dominoes.
Some standing room and just a little more energy were required for the likes of shove ha’penny, table skittles, darts and bar billiards.
In fact bar billiards in its current form was first introduced to pubs in the United Kingdom in the 1930’s, but generally cue sports were considered unsuitable for public bars because of limited space.
It was not until the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that the first of the small pool tables began to appear in British pubs.
Other countries in which the game was soon to gain popularity were France, South Africa and Australia.
After some early experimentation the basic specifications for the pool table, balls and rules of the game became more or less standardised.
The external dimensions of the pool table were quickly established at 7ft X 4ft.
That gives a playing surface of 6ft X 3ft.
The tables were by necessity coin-operated and designed to prevent the return of potted object balls during the course of a frame.
In the early days a heavily napped, woollen cloth of the sort found on snooker tables was commonplace.
Given the small size and weight of pool balls this was far from ideal and in due course faster surfaces with lighter nap were introduced.
Even more recently worsted cloth entirely without nap, sometimes referred to as ‘speed cloth’, has gained favour.
The fabric may be wool, nylon or a mix of the two. The composition and manufacturing process determine the nature of the playing surface as well as the cost and endurance of the cloth.
From the start the cloth was of the traditional green colour.
However in recent years blue fabric has been gaining acceptance for the game of blackball, particularly in those events played at national and international level such as the World and European Blackball Championships.
Upon the introduction of the game it was played with seven solid-coloured object balls numbered 1 to 7 and seven striped balls numbered 9 to 15.
In the United Kingdom these two groups of balls were referred to as ‘spots and stripes’.
Nowadays red and yellow ball sets, alternatively known as ‘casino’ balls, are exclusively used.
All object balls are 2 inches in diameter.
The cue ball is slightly smaller. It is 1/8th of an inch less in diameter to enable it alone to return to a player through the mechanism of coin-operated machines if accidentally be potted.
The smaller cue ball is still used when the game is played on tables without a coin mechanism, a so-called ‘free-play’ table.
Since the introduction of the game the object ball to pocket ratio has remained approximately the same as that of snooker. The tightest of pockets are favoured for matches played at the highest level.
The reduced size of the cue ball used in this form of pool (compared to both snooker and American pool balls) is an important factor in determining cue specifications, such as the optimum weight and tip diameter.
There follows some vintage photographs.
In fact the small table in the first image is not something pub goers would have regularly come across in those post-war years.
Pub-goers were more likely to encounter a bar billiards table of the kind depicted in the adjacent photo.
The French made René Pierre table was demonstrated at an Amusements Trade Exhibition in London.
It was a moderately successful coin-operated table introduced in 1972.
It was soon superseded by the the Superleague slate bed table which was first manufactured in 1973 by Hazel Grove Music.
That table was tremendously successful.
By the 1990’s over 120,000 had been manufactured and distributed throughout the UK and Europe.
The Superleague table was endorsed by the snooker player Alex Higgins.
Several of these photographs show the numbered object balls favoured in the early days for the small table game.
Those familiar with pool in the 1980’s, possibly the heyday of the game as a pub pastime, will no doubt recall the row of coins which players placed along the side of the table in an attempt to establish whose turn it was to play next… a practice not unknown to precipitate the occasional set-to amongst those waiting for a game!