Charles Dawson



Past Masters number 6
Charles Dawson

In 1825 when John Carr through illness, failed to accept the challenge – Edwin Kentfield assumed and held the Championship title of billiards for some 24 years. Then in 1849, Kentfield in his turn failed to accept the challenge of John Roberts Senior, who then in similar fashion assumed the Championship title and held it for the next 21 years, until defeated by W. Cook in 1870 by 1200 points to 1083 points.

A few years earlier in 1866 it had been observed that John Roberts Junior, William Cook and Joseph Bennett began to improve and to draw away in front of all others – this turned out to be a very good prophecy, as first Cook, then Roberts Junior and finally Joseph Bennett all held the Championship for short periods during the year 1870, and during the following 19 years from 1870 to 1889, one or other of these three players held this honour until finally Charles Dawson broke the sequence by taking the Championship in 1889.

Dawson was born in Huddersfield on 20th December 1866, and according to his own book “Practical Billiards”, published in 1904, he first learned to play at the George and Dragon Hotel and the Central Liberal Club in his home town. He says that at the age of 16 years, he was apprenticed to learn the trade of a “heald and reed maker”, which had something to do with the manufacture or weaving of cloth. At first he had played bagatelle in a Temperance House, but when old enough to visit billiard rooms in hotels he regularly played pool – holding his own with the best players.

His first success would seem to be in a billiards handicap, organized on the opening of the Adega Billiard Hall, in Westgate Huddersfield. He was handicapped to owe 60 points in games of 200 up, and so he must have been known already as a good player. He won the first prize in the final, which took place on 13th January 1886, a little later he was handicapped to owe 160 points in games of 200 up, in another competition, and he again won the first prize.

As a result of his success, although he had not so far made any very large breaks, a Mr G Jackson (evidently a well known sportsman) backed Dawson to take 9000 points start in a “spot barred” match of 12000 up against the then Champion, John Roberts Junior, for £100 a side – the game commenced on March 1st 1887, at the Gymnasium Hall, Huddersfield on a new table by Orme & Sons of Manchester – Dawson winning easily by 12000 points to 6780. This success caused him to devote himself to Billiards especially as trade in the town was in a very depressed state through a strike of weavers, and so he became Manager of the Billiard Room at the George and Dragon Hotel, and later during the 1888 was employed at the Adega Billiard Hall.

During this period he played in many challenge matches with stakes of £25.00 to £50.00 a side, mainly in the Yorkshire area, although he also played several matches in London.

Major Broadfoot, in his Badminton Library Book “Billiards”, includes Charles Dawson, amongst the young players who have come prominently to the front since 1888, and goes on to say . . . “Dawson’s improvement was rapid and well maintained for several seasons, his form is generally consistent and would be even more so if he were less sensitive when luck seems to go against him” . . .

W. Cook, in chapter XLII of his book entitled “Billiards” covering the period 1887 – 1890, after describing Dawson as a “very likely novice” goes on to say how well he performed making breaks of 1207 and 1848 on a standard table, and the following a match in which he defeated Peall, it was apparent that . . . “Dawson possess all the qualifications necessary to make a player of the highest class” . . .

Strange to note however, although this chapter covers the period 1887 – 1890, he makes no reference to Dawson gaining the Championship title against J North, during 1889, and even Dawson in his own book makes no reference to his achievement. Indeed, there seems to have been a lack of interest during the four years, from 1885 (the last year Roberts Junior played for and won the Championship) to 1889, when Dawson won the title. Followed by a further blank period of 11 years, from 1889 to 1900, before Dawson defended the title in a match against H W Stevenson winning by 9000 points to 6775.

During this “blank period” however, whilst ordinary exhibition matches were still being played, the great controversy surrounding the “push stroke”, was very much in the news and Dawson, together with John Roberts Junior and E Diggle, were signatories of a letter to the “Times” on 19th February 1986 as follows: –

“Sir – we have observed that, in some of the reports of billiard matches which have appeared of late in one of the Sporting Newspapers, the push shot is described as “a foul stroke”

“As is well known the stroke has been played and allowed for many years, and it seems to us that it cannot properly be called a foul whilst the existing rules are in force”

“We utterly decline to alter our game at the bidding of a clique of sporting journalists, and second class professional players, and protest most strongly against the unfair reports above alluded to”

Dawson was also very much reported in the Sporting Press during November 1898, when arrangements were in hand for him to play Roberts Junior in a game of 18,000 up on a neutral standard table, in a neutral hall, and under neutral management for £100.00 a side – the gate money to go with the stakes if desired, this latter point being agreed, the match to commence on 20th March 1899, and the make of table to be agreed one week before.

All details seemed to be settled when a great argument developed concerning the balls to be used. Dawson said Ivories, whilst Roberts said Bonzoline. “Of course you have a Pecuniary interest in playing with Bonzoline, remarked Dawson!!!!

“Lets toss up for choice of balls” said Roberts.

“No” said Dawson – “There will be no match if you insist on Bonzolines”

“I insist on nothing” said Roberts – “My point is you challenged me to play under the rules of the Billiards Association and those rules make no stipulation of the sort of balls to be used”

“I never dreamt of anything but ivory in connection with an important match, besides the Billiards Association stipulates ivory balls for the World Championship it is promoting”

After several more meetings – with letters to the press the Billiards Association were called upon to make a ruling on the matter and the decision went in Dawson’s favour – ivories were to be used.

As already mentioned Dawson successfully defended his title as Champion in a match against Stevenson in 1900, however Stevenson had again challenged for the title and during the first week of January 1901 he won by 9,000 points to 6,406, and the editorial in the “World of Billiards” commenced with the words – “What’s the Matter with Dawson?”. According to the reports at this time, during the early stages of the match the leadership changed at almost every other innings, amidst great excitement, but towards the end it was Stevenson who won the day, whilst Dawson was playing badly. Dawson however took his defeat without complaint and immediately issued another challenge.

So it was in April of the same year (1901) the next match for the Championship took place, Dawson was reported as not playing well during the first half, and that he won in a rather hollow fashion – Stevenson having been far from well. In the second half Dawson’s play improved in an extraordinary fashion, so that he easily regained the title with a score of 9,000 points to 5,796, but the question in the “World of Billiards”, of 17th April 1901 reads – “Which is really the better player”.

Now there followed a great dispute over the time and place of the next Championship match and reading the record of letters to the press it really does seem that Dawson was avoiding the issue. As a result, at a meeting of the Billiards Association (who had fixed the date with ample notice), held on Monday 4th November 1901, it was proposed by Mr Haverson, and seconded by Mr Ayres, (themselves professional players), “that in view of the letter dated 9th October, written by Mr Dawson refusing to play on the date selected by the Committee, it is decided that Mr Stevenson will become Champion on November 11th next”. This was carried unanimously, and so the records show that Stevenson was declared Champion, but naturally the arguments continued for a long, long time, with the usual “fighting letters” to the press from both sides.

Now there is a two year gap until Dawson issues a challenge under the conditions stipulated by the Billiards Association, and the match for the Championship is fixed to commence on 16th March 1903, and after much argument and discussion the venue was settled to be “The National Sporting Club”. However without realising what was “in the wind” the Billiards Association, had agreed to allow the players to toss for a choice of table. It would seem that between them and to the astonishment of all concerned they agreed to select a table made by the hitherto unknown North of England Company – E J Riley Limited., of Accrington. After much discussion by the Billiards Association Committee, they decided they could not go back on their agreement with the players, and so for the first time a maker from outside the select circle of the three London Manufacturers – Burroughs and Watts, Cox and Yeman and Thurston, had the privilege which was described as “a marketable asset” of particular value to a newcomer to the trade.

Riley adverts began to appear in the press saying that their table had been “selected” for the event, and – believe it or not Thurston’s advertised in the same publication saying that after 90 years their table had NOT BEEN SELECTED!

In fairness to Riley’s however, it must be mentioned that in subsequent press reports, the quality of their Billiard Table was praised by all concerned.

The match was a close contest; Dawson regained the title, winning by 9,000 points to 8,700.

After this event there is another “gap” in the Championships. The next contest being five years later in 1909 – meanwhile Dawson had faded from the Championship scene.

© 1990 Norman Clare / 2018 E A Clare & Son Limited
Reproduction of this article allowed with permission from E A Clare & Son Limited