Snooker is generally held to have been developed from a combination of pyramid pool and life pool. Although snooker’s origin is not recorded explicitly, it is generally held that a Colonel Sir Neville Chamberlain (no relation to the World War II Prime Minister) conceived the game in the Bristish Army Officer’s Mess in Jubbulpore, India, in 1875.
The name "Snooker", it is said, was applied to the game, when a young subaltern visited Sir Neville’s Devonshire regiment and explained that first year cadets at Royal Military Academy, where he had trained, were called "Snookers".
Then, during a game of the new "Pool game", when one of the young officers missed a pot, Chamberlain called him a "Snooker" referring to his lack of experience. Subsequently the name "Snooker" was adopted for the game itself.
Chamberlain subsequently promoted the game in Army establishments throughout his postings in India and in 1882 in Ootacamund, the first rules were drafted and recorded. The game of Snooker then spread widely, with the movement of Army personnel, throughout the British Empire However, these rules were not recognised by the Governing Body of the time, "The Billiards Association" until 1900.
Snooker eventually took over from English Billiards as the dominant cue sport in the 1930’s when the legendary Joe Davis actively promoted the game throughout the World.
Modern Snooker tables are actually derived from Pool games originally played on English Billiards tables, and therefore to understand the development of the modern table, it is helpful to look at the history of early Billiards tables.
The origin of Billiards is very vague and there appear to have been games similar to both billiards and croquet originally played on the ground. There is some documented evidence that such games existed in ancient Greece at least as early as 4th Century B.C.
It would seem that games similar to these were brought indoors and elevated to table top level where, of course it was necessary to have a raised border to stop the balls falling onto the floor. Thus, the cushion was developed.
The "Billiards Tables" which developed from this, were originally made entirely from wood, with no cloth and no pockets. Hoops were used as the targets (similar to croquet). Later, cloth lined the bed of the table and the early "cushions" which later again were covered with several layers of felt
Until the early 19th Century, these ancestors of modern snooker tables were made to a size to suit the room which accommodated them. However, by consensus, the manufacturers established the 12ft x 6ft size as the accepted norm. Still it was not until 1892 that the Governing Body, the Billiards Association, established a "standard" for tables. This "standard table" has been only slightly modified for today’s Snooker tables and the basic overall dimensions have remained the same.
Around 1835, rubber replaced the felt "stuffing" of earlier cushions. However, vulcanising had not yet been invented and the rubber was glued to the wooden cushion in thin strips. Before vulcanising, rubber was only pliant above room temperature and so the cushions had to be heated before play. Devices similar to long, thin, metal hot water bottles were used for this.
This was, of course, not really satisfactory, and shortly after the development of the vulcanising process, vulcanised rubber cushions were introduced by John Thurston, a pioneering billiard table maker of the time. These new cushions revolutionised the performance of that generation of billiard tables.
Slate beds were first introduced into English billiards tables in the 1830’s although they had been used in Europe many years earlier.
In the early 1900’s an excellent snooker table maker, Burroughs and Watts, intoduced a steel backing, as an option, to the cushion rails. This improved the speed and consistency of the rebound of the balls. This innovation has been incorporated into the modern Tournament standard Snooker tables.
And so, the modern snooker table was born.
Snooker tables for the modern game have an internal playing size of 11ft 8 ½ “ x 5ft 10” and so are not exactly 2 equal halves if bisected across the middle pockets.
In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s an attempt was made to correct this by introducing a new "metric" size snooker table. This corrected the anomaly by adjusting the size of the snooker table so that each half of the table was an exact square measuring 1.75m x 1.75m. However, although many snooker table suppliers produced tables to this specification, it was not generally accepted and the standard reverted to the earlier Imperial specification.
Today the cloth is 100% pure wool specially developed for snooker tables, with no other commercial use.
The pocket openings of modern standard snooker tables conform to special templates owned and controlled by the Governing Body of World Snooker. These templates are used for the snooker tables used in all professional snooker tournaments.
However, snooker players in most snooker clubs would find it very frustrating to play on tables with such small pocket openings. So, manufacturers tend to produce snooker tables intended for club and domestic use with pocket openings the same shape as the standard template but slightly more generous in their width.
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