Magnus Billiard Tables



Days of Old number 7
Magnus Billiard Tables

During the 19th Century the man responsible for introducing most of the successful improvements in billiard table construction all of which are unsurpassed at this present day some 150 years later was undoubtedly John Thurston who introduced slate beds in 1826 – followed by the original natural un-vulcanised rubber cushions in 1835, and the so called “Frost proof” vulcanised rubber cushions in 1845. Thus he can well be looked upon as the father of the British Billiards & Snooker Trade. It was his improvements that enabled the game to reach the professional levels experienced to day.

During this period however other entrepreneurs were hard at work introducing new ideas in the construction of billiard tables, unfortunately, most of their ideas were not successful and their names are almost forgotten.

One of these was a Mr George Eugene Magnus who was born in 1801, he spent some time in the Potteries area of Staffordshire and married Mary Boyle, the daughter of an earthenware manufacturer. So it was that he evidently learned something of the art of decorating, glazing and firing pottery. A skill he later used to decorate the underframes of billiard tables which he made entirely of slate. In 1838 he purchased and interest in a slate quarry in North Wales, and another on the Island of Valentia off the West Coast of Ireland. From these quarries he obtained slate of various colours including grey and ebony black from which he made his billiard tables.

In 1840 he patented his process of applying colour and glaze which was fired like enamel, a process he then used to decorate his billiard tables, and the extract from the letters patent reads . . . “The articles which I have manufactured from slate instead of other materials . . . and which I claim as new and never before made or known, and to the sole manufacture of which I consider myself entitled under the letter patent are billiard tables composed solely of slate that is the frame and legs as well as the bed or table, although I am aware the bed or table has been heretofore made of slate which I do not claim (clearly he must have known that John Thurston had already used slate for table beds) excepting when combined with the framing and legs . . . Secondly my improvements consist in polishing and finishing such manufactured articles as are required for ornamental purposes by the following process . . . (here follows a list of instructions for enamelling slate) . . .”

We know that Magnus leased a wharf with workshops on the Grosvenor Canal at Pimlico where in 1840 he established the “Pimlico Slate Company” with the address 30/40 Upper Belgrave Place (which was later renamed and remembered as 153/154 Buckingham Palace Road, although it remained in the same place). This address was about 2 miles from Thurston’s premises at Catherine Street and only one mile from Thurston’s factory at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, and evidence exists that Magnus and Thurston co-operated with each other. Thurston providing the technical advice and also making the cushion rails and marking boards, etc, of wood whilst Magnus made and decorated the slate under-frames and legs.

A very fine example of a 10ft size Magnus table made in black ebony slate and beautifully decorated can be seen at the Duke of Wellington’s residence at Stratfield Saye (not far from Reading). The house is open daily to the public, except Fridays, from Easter to the last Sunday of September.

The original invoice for this table still exists dated London, 12th January, 1842 from the Pimlico Slate Company charging his grace the Duke of Wellington for the patent enamelled slate billiard table with pool balls and pool marking board, revolving slate cue rack and all other appurtenances including packing, carriage and fixing at Stratfield Saye . . . 200 Guineas.

The name Magnus is clearly displayed on this table whilst a small engraved ivory plate set into one end of the table reads “Thurston & Company, Patent Vulcanised Caoutchouc Cushion Warranted to retain its elasticity in any climate”. Thus confirming that Magnus and Thurston worked together.

Another Magnus table can be seen by the public in Queen Victoria’s Summer Residence at Osborne House on the Isle-of-Wight. The Queen and Prince Albert visited the Iron Duke at Stratfield Saye whilst Osborne House was being built for them by Cubitt, and possibly the Duke recommended a Magnus billiard table. In one of the Thurston catalogues the table at Osbourne House is shown, again confirming that Magnus & Thurston worked together.

An article which was published in the “Art Union Monthly Journal” dated March 1847 reported the making of this table to Prince Albert’s own design at the Pimlico Slate works and describes the beautifully enamelled imitation marble Porphry and Scaglioli. The table which is a full sized 12ft, model is made entirely of grey slate which has been decorated, glazed and fired. Here again it would seem that Thurston advised on the dimensions and provided the cushions and the marking board. Osborne House is now a convalescent home for officers of H.M. Forces, but the Queen’s private suite including the billiard room is open to the public and the billiard table is an outstanding exhibit and example of Magnus’s work.

There is also another unusual example of a Magnus Full Size (12ft) billiard table made entirely of black ebony slate in the National Trust property – Penryhn Castle, Bangor, Gwynedd. This table even has the pockets made of slate in the form of slate basins which are suitably lined!! This property is open to the public daily throughout the Summer season.

For many years these were the only three Magnus tables known to exist but quite recently a fourth table has come to light in the home of Mr Graham Smith (who had been in the Billiard trade running B C Smith & Son of Rotherham). It is 10ft, size table of quite different construction from the others made entirely of slate except for the cushion rails which has been highly decorated in coloured enamels and the name Magnus clearly and permanently fixed to the end of the table.

The writer has in fact known of three other tables made entirely of slate and coloured to look like mahogany. They must almost certainly have been Magnus tables, but unfortunately they no longer exist. One was seen by the writer about the year 1962 lying in pieces as scrap in the grounds of Messrs. Stevens & Company, the billiard table makers whose premises used to be in Gunnersbury Avenue, London. The other two were last seen by the writer about 1948 lying in pieces in the parish rooms at Cerrig-y-Drudion, Clwyd, North Wales when they were offered for sale, but I declined to make an offer saying quite correctly that they were of no commercial value and should be scrapped!!

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