Joseph Bennett



Past Masters number 5
Joseph Bennett

Joseph Bennett was born in Kent in 1841 and was playing in public before either W Cook Senior or John Roberts Junior.

He learnt the game at an early age. His father had left the Excise Department to take the Billiard Room at the Eagle Hotel in City Road, which gave him the opportunity to play and so he rapidly improved and decided to be a professional. It is said that in his early life Bennett’s health was indifferent and that he was of a nervous and highly strung temperament. When in training for important matches he would not play with anyone, but would shut himself away in a room on his own contending that he could thus preserve all his nervous energy for the forthcoming match.

According to Major Broadfoot writing in his Badminton Library Book “Billiards”, when Joseph Bennett was just 18 years of age he was engaged to play and teach the art of Billiards in Leeds, and whilst there played a match of 1000 up against W. Moss for £100 a side, Bennett winning by over 500 points.

It is thought that his success caused him to turn his thoughts again to London where he slowly established himself by playing against such well known players as Dufton, Herst, Roberts Junior and Cook Junior, etc. however he first came to special notice when in October 1866 at St James Hall he played in a four hander game partnered by Charles Hughes when they won very easily against John Roberts Senior and Dufton.

This must have brought him to the notice of John Roberts Senior because in his book “Roberts on Billiards” published in 1868 he says “Amongst the second rank are Joseph Bennett, John Herst, John Roberts Junior and W. Cook” (at this time he grouped himself, Alfred Bowles and Charles Hughes as being in the first rank), and he goes on to say that “Bennett plays a careful defensive game never misses an opportunity and seldom offers a chance”.

It was also at this period of time that Major Broadfoot in his book says “John Roberts Junior, William Cook, and Joseph Bennett began to draw away from the rack of players and it did not require much foresight to predict that old John (i.e. Roberts Senior) would shortly find a dangerous rival or two”.

Within a short time these assessments of playing ability were fully justified – although Bowles and Hughes never achieved the championship title, the other 3 players Cook, Roberts Junior and our subject Joseph Bennett each in turn held the championship title in quick succession during the year 1870.

It will be remembered from previous articles in the “Past Masters” series that Cook had defeated John Roberts Senior for the title of champion during February of 1870 and it is interesting to note that on this occasion Joseph Bennett was the referee.

Within 2 months during the following April Roberts Junior had avenged his father’s defeat by taking the title from Cook, then during June he was unsuccessfully challenged by Bowles, but Joseph Bennett then challenged Roberts Junior and on 28th November of the same year (1870) Bennett won the title by a margin of 95 points in a contest of 1000 up lasting 4 hours 45 mins.

Unfortunately for Joseph Bennett in just 2 months Roberts Junior challenged him again and on the 30th January, 1871 regained the title defeating Bennett by 363 points in 1000 up in a game lasting 3 hours 22 minutes.

Joseph Bennett now faded from the championship scene for a few years although he continued playing in the various tournaments and was evidently still considered to be a formidable player because in the Burroughes and Watts American Tournament of November 1879 he was handicapped as the scratch player whilst the other 7 players received between 60 points and up to 150 points start in games of 500 up. Surprisingly it was the veteran John Roberts Senior who at this date received the maximum start of 150!! W. Mitchell (received 120) won the tournament – John Roberts Senior was second whilst Bennett came third.

During the period May 1871 to February 1874 the championship title was held by Cook who defeated Roberts Junior on 3 occasions and Joseph Bennett once. Following which during the period May 1875 to May 1877 Roberts Junior regained and held the title by defeating Cook on 3 occasions then there is a quiet period during the year 1878/79 without any championship matches being played although Cook had claimed the title during 1878 when nobody accepted his challenge, but on departing on an overseas tour in 1879 he waived his claim.

Now Joseph Bennett comes to the top again – Cook had returned from his tour and during November 1880 Bennett defeated Cook by 51 points in 1000 up in a game lasting 4 hours 10 minutes, thus regaining the title of champion he had previously held for a brief 2 month period 10 years before.

Earlier in the year during May 1880, four interesting exhibition games were arranged between Joseph Bennett and the French Champion Maurice Vignaux at the Royal Aquarium, Westminster. Two of the games were played on a French table (i.e. a table without pockets) in each of these games Bennett received 500 points starting 1000 up losing the first game by 425 points! The second by 400 points! The other 2 games were played on an English “Championship” table Vignaux receiving 300 points in games of 600 up. Unfortunately, far from reversing the result Bennett lost the first game by 53 points and the second by 71 points.

The next challenge for the championship came from Tom Taylor and in the match played during January 1881 Bennett retained the title winning by 90 points in 1000 up and during this match Bennett made what was then a record break of 125 on the championship table.

Fred Shorter now challenged Bennett for the title and the match was arranged to be played on 13th April, 1881 at St James Hall. Shorter had made a deposit of £10 but he failed to make good his final deposit and so at the last minute he forfeited the match, although all the arrangements had been made. As the expenses had to be met Bennett then offered him a start of 100 points in 1000 up. This game was then played on the same night instead of the championship and Shorter actually won by 193 points (i.e. 93 more than he received)!!

Unfortunately, shortly afterwards, during the summer of 1881 Bennett met with a severe accident when he was thrown out of a horse drawn gig and suffered a broken arm. This caused him to resign the title of champion during September 1881 although it would seem that no contests for the championship took place during the rest of 1881 or during the period of 1882 / 84. When Bennett had recovered from the effects of this accident he played again in various tournaments and matches and in fact during June of 1885 he once again played Roberts Junior for the championship (J.R. Junior having won the title by defeating Cook during April 1885), but in a game now fixed at 3000 up he was beaten by over half the points. He continued playing in various matches for another, two or three years and then retired from playing in public and devoted his time to teaching billiards.

Joseph Bennett also had 3 Younger brothers Fred, Alfred and John who were all professional players, although John died in November 1886 was not a very good player. Fred and Alfred were both players of some skill and repute, but unfortunately Alfred died at the age of 49 years in January 1896. It was said that Fred could have been the best player for the family if he had devoted himself to the game.

Joseph Bennett died as the result of two strokes during January 1905 at 63 years of age and was buried in Brompton Cemetery.

Norman Clare

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