H W Stevenson



Past Masters number 7
H W Stevenson

Like many of the professional billiards players of yesteryear, Stevenson, was a North country-man, being born at Hull on 15th July 1874, although he moved South and spent much of his time at the Hotel Metropole, in Brighton, where at the age of 16 years he made his first century break.

In 1892, at only 18 years of age, he accepted an invitation to go to South Africa, where he stayed for some 18 months. During this time he invited Cecil Harverson, another of the rising young professional players to join him and they played many exhibition games together in nearly all the principal towns.

Whilst there he held the title “Champion of South Africa”, and it seems that when he returned to England in 1894, the English Press referred to him as “The South African”, which resulted in the erroneous idea that he was born there.

On returning to London, he made his professional debut on 2nd April 1894, in a series of short games promoted by Thurstons, at the Royal Acquarium against J Lloyd, and during October of the same year, he first met and played against Dawson – who was later to become his great rival – at the Argyll Hall, when he received 150 points to start in each of 12 games of 700 up. Dawson at this time being the better player winning 9 of these games.

Major Broadfoot, in his book (which was published in 1896) noted Stevenson amongst the players who have come prominently to the front since 1888, and describes him as being . . . “By far the youngest of the professional players being still under age at the time of writing, and there are great possibilities before him for he has a beautiful, delicate touch, strongly resembling William Cook” . . .

Later in 1894, Stevenson first played John Roberts at Shrewsbury, receiving 2,250 points start in a game of 6,000 up, which Stevenson won by 200 points. They played against each other again at the Egyptian Hall, in 1896, when according to a report in the “World of Billiards”, dated 1st January 1902, Roberts said . . . “he (meaning Stevenson) is a better player than I was at his age” . . . From now on, Stevenson was recognised as a leading player, and his improvement became more and more marked.

It was also in 1896, that Stevenson made another visit to South Africa. Whilst in South Africa, he played against John Roberts in Johannesburg, receiving a start of 1000 points in a game of 3000 up, played over 3 evening sessions. During this match Stevenson made a break of 343, but in the end was beaten by 15 points.

About 2 years later, on 13th January 1898, Stevenson made his largest “spot barred” break of 660 in 43½ minutes on a standard table in a match against Roberts, in the Egyptian Hall, and later in November of the same year, he made a break of 582, under the revised rules, whilst playing against Diggle, at Orme & Sons Match Room, Soho Square, London.

By December 1900, Mr. Sydenham Dixon, editor of the “World of Billiards”, stated that he placed Roberts, Dawson, Diggle, Stevenson and Mitchell, as being in the first classification of players. Stevenson and Dawson now became the main contenders for the Championship.

Finally however – during January 1901, at the Gaiety Restaurant, Stevenson won the title of Champion in a game of 9,000 up against Dawson.

Dawson immediately issued a challenge, and on 3rd April 1901 an advertisement was published in the “World of Billiards” announcing a match of 9,000 up for the Championship to be played at the Argyll Hall, from Monday 8th, to Saturday 13th April, with afternoon and evening sessions, seats at 2s / 6d (12½p) 5s/0 (25p) and reserved seats at 10s/0 (50p). Stevenson is reported to have been “far from well” and Dawson improved his average day by day in extraordinary fashion, culminating with a brilliant display on the Saturday, and so Dawson regained the title, defeating Stevenson by 3,204 points.

Stevenson immediately issued another challenge for a return match. It appears that the regulations for the Championship stipulated that the title must be defended within 3 months of challenge, except during the period between April 30th and October 1st. Thus Stevenson was entitled to play during the week commencing 7th October 1901, but he agreed to waive his right and defer the match until sometime during November. However whenever he suggested dates Dawson made excuses for not keeping to these conditions.

This resulted in the Secretary of the Billiards Association, remarking that it seems . . . “The majority directly they attain the top of the tree in any sport or game become ridiculously inflated with and idea of their own importance and imagine themselves to be superior to all rules and regulations and to be a law unto themselves” . . .

The dispute continued throughout October, with the players and the Secretary of the Billiards Association all writing long letters to the Sports Press, and finally at a meeting of the Association, held on 4th November, it was decided that Stevenson would be declared “Champion” on 11th November, and so regained the title by default.

Not surprisingly the dispute continued with Dawson offering to play Stevenson for the Championship in a game of 18,000 up when he (Dawson) was free from other engagements.

On December 3rd, Dawson called at the offices of the “Sporting Life” and deposited £50 to bind a match with Stevenson for the Championship, (not the Billiards Association Championship), the match to be 18,000 up, on a neutral standard table in a neutral hall, using a set of ivory balls with 2 plain white balls. The referee to mark the spot ball each day before play commenced. This stipulation was evidently due to the fact that experts always considered the ivory spot ball to be of inferior quality – originally having an open nerve at the centre of the grain, which was then plugged with a small piece of ebony to make the spot, with some knowledge of the nature of ivory, the writer feels that this was almost certainly true!

The players were to toss a coin for the choice of table – Dawson denying that he was “tied” to any particular Firm of Table Manufacturers, but he wanted to know if Stevenson was “tied” to the Billiard Association Championship!

In view of these disputes it is not surprising that there was no match for the Championship during 1902, however Stevenson and Dawson evidently became sufficiently reconciled to agree to play a series of 3 matches, each of 18,000 up, on level terms during March and April 1902, the first 2 games to be in London and Manchester and the third in London or Glasgow. The games to be on a neutral standard table, using 3 plain ivory balls (presumably 1 was red). 1 to be marked with a spot by the referee (who was to be mutually agreed upon), and with a choice of 3 sets of balls available at each game.

Although these games were not to be recognised as for the Championship the “Daily Express” published the opinion that the winner would be justified in styling himself “Champion of English Billiards”.

Despite an attack of influenza, Stevenson easily won the first match at the Argyll Hall, London, by 2,806 points. The second of the 3 matches at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, was won by Dawson, with a small margin of 18,000 points to 17,090, which caused opinions to be expressed that the result had been engineered in order to produce a 1 game situation, and so secure public interest and a larger attendance and gate for the third game which had now been fixed for the Argyll Hall, London.

The third and final game was also won by Dawson with a margin of 1,169 points. However, although Dawson had won 2 games to 1, the aggregate scores favoured Stevenson, with a total of 51,921 points, to Dawsons total of 50,194, so over a total period of 6 weeks play, there was very little to choose between the skill of these 2 players. Throughout the rest of 1902, Stevenson and Dawson continued their “disagreement”, an article in the “Sunday Chronicle” in December 1902 stated . . . “The probability of Dawson and Stevenson settling their lengthy warfare of words on the billiard table seems to grow more remote” . . .

During January 1903 Stevenson visited Merseyside playing in Liverpool and Eastham, and my fellow Merseysiders will be interested to learn that in order to travel to see the match against E Diggle at the Eastham Ferry Hotel, a special boat was put on to convey the spectators from Liverpool, became so speedily packed that many who intended to witness the contest were left behind!

During early January 1903, Dawson finally issued a challenge, and arrangements were put in hand for the match to take place during March. After considerable dispute concerning the venue, it was arranged to take place at the National Sporting Club in Covent Garden, although Dawson objected to the Club Members being admitted to the gallery free of charge, thus reducing the gate receipts which were usually divided between the players in addition to the “stake” monies.

The match was later described in a 4 page report as “A phenomenal struggle”, resulted in Stevenson losing by 300 points, (Dawson 9,000 to Stevenson 8,700), and so Dawson once again became Champion in March 1903.

Before the end of March Stevenson, still only 29 years of age, set sail for Australia, accompanied by his wife and elder son, visiting and playing in Columbo en Route.

Stevenson’s visit to Australia was managed by Alcock & Co, (the Firm Alcock, Thompson Taylor is still very active in the Australian Billiards Trade). At the conclusion of his tour he visited New Zealand and Canada, before returning to England having completed a highly successful and profitable tour. He immediately issued a challenge for the Championship title and suggested Monday, 14th March 1904, for the suitable date on which to commence.

The players however seemed to have agreed not to play for the Championship, arranging instead another series of 3 matches, each of 18,000 up, which they evidently considered would be more profitable. To the surprise of all concerned, Dawson resigned his title during early February 1904 and this was immediately followed by Stevenson withdrawing his challenge, saying he refused another “walk-over”, and that he agreed with Dawson that “the players should be permitted to select the table, thereby gaining any financial benefit”. Thus, the title became vacant and remained so until 1908 when Inman was declared Champion.

Now we are short of accurate information about Stevensons’s career, as the last issue of the “World of Billiards” seems to be the one dated 19th April 1905, although the Billiards and Snooker Control Council handbook records show that despite his earlier refusal of a “walkover” Stevenson was once declared Champion in 1909. He did subsequently win the Championship by defeating Inman, in the year 1910/11/12, and later was the runner up in 1919.

More information on Stevenson’s career in the early years of the 20th century, would have been recorded by Riso Levi, in his book “Billiards in the 20th Century”, published about 1931, in the Chapter under the title “Great Players I Have Seen”, but Riso Levi states that whilst he has been able to publish biographies on most of the well known professionals who had responded to his request for information – only Stevenson had refused his request saying . . . “I regret I cannot give you the information you require, as you have offered me no remuneration” . . .

However, Riso Levi does say that Stevenson was the first player to make a 1000 break, as far back as 12th Octboer 1912, this being a break of 1016, and is evidently the break referred to by S. H. Fry in his book “Billiards for Amateurs”.

Thus I am afraid this article on the career of H W Stevenson does not reach a very satisfactory conclusion. Should any readers be in possession of accurate information concerning him the writer would be pleased top receive it.

Norman Clare

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