E Diggle



Past Masters number 12
Edward Diggle

According to Riso Levi – in his book entitled “Billiards in the 20th Century” Mr Edward Diggle was nicknamed “The Mechanical Methodical Mancunian” having been born in Manchester in January 1864, he records that he did not begin billiards at an early age, but that as he had a Billiard Room in Manchester he was always playing and practising, coming to the front in 1891 when he won the Lancashire & Yorkshire Championship by defeating Charles Dawson by 560 points in a game of 3,000 up.

Major Broadfoot in his book “Billiards” in the Badminton Library Series published in 1896 refers to Edward Diggle as being amongst the young players who have come most prominently to the front since 1888 and indeed goes on to say that Diggle is generally regarded as the most promising, but that he is not a pretty player and does not appear to have the least idea of making a bridge, sometimes playing through his forefinger and sometimes between his first and second finger and in various other extraordinary fashions – but keeps on scoring.

Another writer, George Reid, also recorded that Edward Diggle was a very great player, but just about the “Queerest Fish” ever known in high grade billiards. Tall lean and taciturn to an unusual degree for a billiard player “Teddie” flouted nearly the whole of the accepted playing standards and yet retained for more years than one cares to count, his position amongst the elite. He had no bridge, no stance and a cue delivery that was a cross between a “poke” and a “shove”, with both legs bent or sagging at the knees and his left hand laid flat on the cloth. Extra ordinary, but all you could get out of “Teddie” when you asked questions was a drawling Lancashire reply of “Aye, Billiards is a funny game”. Walter Lindrum is reported as saying – during an interview on his return to Australia back in 1912 – “Diggle and Harverson are fine players – the former especially although most unconventional in his methods”.

In the “Sportsman” of 19th February 1896 there was a report concerning a letter published in “The Times” and signed by John Roberts (Champion), C. Dawson and E. Diggle in which these three players – who were clearly looked upon as leading professionals of that period defended the “Push Stoke” in the following strong words …”Sir, we have observed that in some reports of Billiards Matches which have appeared of late in one of the Sporting Newspapers, the push shot is described as a “Foul Shot” . . . as is well known the stroke has been played and allowed for many years and it seems to us 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 at the unfair reports alluded to” . . . and obviously Diggle was considered by his co-signatories as being a First Class Professional Player.

The arguments between Roberts, Dawson and Diggle on the one side – and Mitchell and the Billiards Association and others on the opposing side continued via letters to the press day by day published in “The Globe” – the “The Topical Times” – “The Referee” and the “The Sportsman” throughout the rest of February 1896. Roberts finally responding to a statement published in the “Referee” . . “That Mr. Mardon and Jonathan Kentfield did not play the “Push Stroke” . . . saying . . . “Of course they didn’t because they did not know how to play it as the stroke had not been invented in their time” . . . and that . . . “they did not, as suggested by “The Referee”, always hit the ball for in those days it was permissible to play with the butt of the cue”. However as we all now know the “Push Stroke” was finally outlawed in 1898 when it was suggested that Diggle’s play would be killed by the new rule, however, he soon accustomed himself to the new conditions.

It is recorded by Riso Levi that Diggle made his first notable break of 530 whilst playing against Peall on 2nd November 1893 and just over 12 months later on 4th January 1895, whilst playing against John Roberts in a “Spot Barred” match at the Argyll Hall he made a break of 985, a very notable achievement at that time although it must be remembered that the “Push Stroke” was then permitted. In fact Diggle was sometimes called “The Push Champion” and this break of 985 included runs of 21 – 25 – 37 and then 41 close cannons which were then also permitted, and so it is safe to presume that this break included a very large number of the “Push Cannons” and would not otherwise have been achieved.

After the “Push Stroke” was abolished in 1898 Diggle did not make as many large breaks but nevertheless he evidently adjusted his play to suit the new conditions fairly quickly as he was able to regularly achieve breaks over 500, and indeed whilst playing against Dawson at Brighton on 22nd February 1902 (Note: Riso Levi says 22nd February – but in the “Billiard Monthly” of August 1914 the date is given as 27th February). During a match when both the “Spot” and “Push Strokes” were barred he achieved what at that time was record break of 791 and kept his opponent “Sitting Out” for the whole of the session, this being the first such occasion under the new rules.

Further proof of Diggle’s skill is shown by a table of averages published for the period 12th October 1895 to 18th March 1896 where in a list of 13 players Diggle ranks as No. 3 with an average of 39.89 points. Number one is Roberts with 53.77 whilst Mitchell ranks as No. 2 just slightly ahead of Diggle with 40.82, Diggle at No. 3 is followed by Dawson at No. 4 with an average of 37.92 and at No. 5 position is Peall with 36.71. John Roberts who was himself described at the “High Priest” in the “World Of Billiards” dated 29th May 1901 includes Diggle with Stevenson and Dawson as being amongst the first rank, followed by Mitchell, Bateman and Inman.

Diggle never held the Championship title and in fact he entered the Championship for the first and only time in 1900, but unfortunately in the preliminary heat to decide who should play the champion he met Stevenson who dominated the game with an early break in excess of 600 and Diggle never really recovered.

Diggle also made quite a name for himself when during January 1902 whilst playing against Dawson at the Argyll Hall, a situation occurred when after making a “Five” stroke the object white ball came to rest on the billiard spot and so the red ball was correctly placed on the pyramid spot from which position Diggle twice made “Winning Hazards” by potting the red. Now although the rules prevented a repetition of this stroke from the billiard spot – the rules did not prevent a sequence of “Spot Strokes” off the pyramid spot and although Dawson claimed that the red should now go on the centre spot referee (who did not have much time to consider the matter) decided, quite correctly it would seem that as the rules did not contain anything to the contrary the red ball must continue to be placed on the pyramid spot so long as the billiard spot was occupied by the object white and so it was that Diggle made the “Headlines” by making use of four pockets to pot the red 56 times in succession off the pyramid spot and so for a short while this method became known as “Diggle Spot Stroke”. However, no other great player had the opportunity of exploiting this situation as the Billiards Association acted very quickly and at a special meeting a few days later amended the rule No. 7 so that the red ball could not be pocketed more than twice in succession off the pyramid spot unless in conjunction with another score and that when this situation occurred the red should be placed on the centre spot and after one pot from the centre spot to go back on the pyramid spot.

During February 1902 it was reported in “The World of Billiards” that Dawson and Diggle appeared to have made up their minds to devote the remainder of their careers to exhibition matches between themselves, and during this month they played a match of 18,000 up at Orme & Sons Match Room at Manchester when Diggle (who had received 2,000 points won 18,000 to 16,574), whilst in a similar exhibition game of 9,000 up in Leeds, when Diggle received 1,000 start, Dawson won by 94 points, thus, indicating that there was not much between these two players.

It is perhaps worthwhile repeating an item which was included in “Past Masters No. 7” of July 1983 re-H. W. Stevenson, when during January 1903 an exhibition game was arranged between Stevenson and Diggle at the Eastham Ferry Hotel – some 6 miles up river from Liverpool, the special ferry boat which was put on to convey spectators from Liverpool was so speedily packed to capacity that many intending spectators were left behind.

Diggle was playing so well during the early part of 1903 that it was thought that he would challenge Dawson for the Championship although he was said to be singularly short of ambition. Who knows however, Diggle might have gained the title but due to the long running dispute between Dawson and Stevenson and the Billiards Association no contests took place after Dawson beat Stevenson in 1903 until 1909 when Inman won the Championship although he had been declared champion in 1908.

Thus for some 6 years when Diggle was the only serious challenger for either Stevenson or Dawson they were refusing to take part and the rest were considered nowhere, thus Diggle was denied the opportunity, maybe the Billiards Association should have held the contest without them!

During 1907 Diggle had made a notable break of 672 under the rules of the Billiards Control Club (not to be confused with the Billiards Association, they were two separate bodies both claiming control of the game of billiards which were later amalgamated to form the – “Billiards Association and Control Club”).

Australian Billiards enthusiasts having tried to tempt Diggle to pay them a visit finally succeeded when it was arranged for him, accompanied by Cecil Harverson, to make a tour of 14 weeks duration during mid 1912, but despite much research the writer has not been able to find any reports on his Australian tour. We know however that he was definitely back in the United Kingdom as several reports on his play during 1913 appeared in the press and in the January 1914 issue of the “Billiard Monthly” it was reported that during the tournament played the previous month (December 1913) Diggle had never played so badly against Aiken and he had never played so well in succession against Stevenson. He was also reported as doing some occasional brilliant work against Inman during January 1914. Now however the records are quite “Silent” possibly the result of the outbreak of World War I, but an article published in the “Billiards Player” during 1924 (this journal commenced publication in 1920) indicated that Diggle was still alive at that time since when the writer has not so far been able to find any other information concerning the closing years of his professional career, other than the report of his death at 72 years of age, in the “Billiard Player” of November 1934 which refers to him of the last of the “Old Brigade of First Class Professional Players.

Norman Clare

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