W J Peall



Past Masters number 11
W J Peall
W J Peall

W J Peall, who lived to become the “grand Old Man”, of the game was born in St Pancras, London, on 31st December 1854, and was 98 years of age when he died in June 1952. He was some six years older than the famous John Roberts Junior, but almost exactly the same age as his great friend and rival William Mitchell (See Past Masters No. 10), who was born just a few weeks earlier in October 1854, and like Mitchell he never held the Championship Title – but was recognised as one of the leading professionals of his day, and he was a member of the first Committee of the Billiards Association, when the official rules were first compiled in 1885.

Like nearly all the professionals, he started young – first playing the game, according to his own report extracted from the “Billiard Player” of September 1939, when only 14 years of age. His father was the owner of the Clarendon Hotel at Camberwell, where he had every opportunity to play on the billiard table, and could give the visitors long starts. He gave up the game for a number of years returning to it at the age of 23. He had benefited by having lessons from John Roberts Senior, and for over 50 years used a cue which he received from him.

In 1880 at the age of 26, he issued a challenge to any other amateur in the world to play a game of 1,000 up intending to play permanently as an amateur, but, as the result of playing in a Professional Tournament during 1880, although he had stipulated that if he won he would forfeit the prize money. In fact, although he received no money, he was adjudged a professional by the press on the grounds that he had taken part in a Tournament where gate money had been charged, and prize money awarded. This seems to have settled his status for him. He was not very pleased about it, saying that . . . “As an amateur he was a somebody, but as a professional he had a great chance of being a nobody amongst all the great professionals then playing” . . . However he accepted the situation with good grace, an attitude he always displayed throughout his long career.

He practised the “spot stroke”, until he became the greatest of all spot stroke players. Some thought he “invented” the stroke, but although he undoubtedly perfected it, the stroke was actually played by the very first professional Jonathan (Edwin) Kentfield, long before Peall was born.

Major Broadfoot, in the Badminton Library Series reports that Peall made his first appearance as a professional in 1880 at the Royal Aquarium, but that due to lack of confidence, he did not put up a very good performance. However in May 1884 at the Aquarium, he beat Mitchell easily, taking only 44 minutes and 4 breaks to score 1,000 points. Shortly afterwards at Cambridge, again playing against Mitchell, he made a break of 1,989 points (including 548 consecutive spot strokes). This break however was not recognised as he had already run out a 411, so most of the break was achieved after the game was over.

In an “all in” game (i.e. push and spot strokes permitted) against Roberts, at the Aquarium during May 1884 Peall, who received 2,000 points in 10,000 up, won by 589. Following this success Peall offered to play anyone except John Roberts and W Mitchell 5,000 up evens for £100 or £200 a side (remember in present day money value this would be equal to about the sum of £6,000/12,000!), but nobody accepted the challenge.

Interest in Billiards declined somewhat at this period of time and there were no matches for the Championship during the three years 1886/7/8, although there were a number of matches played for what Major Broadfoot describes as, “more or less fictitious purses”. However he records that in 1886, Peall challenged the Champion John Roberts Junior to play a match of 15,000 up “all in” on even terms, but Roberts declined the offer then and whenever it was repeated and so Major Broadfoot considered that Peall was then entitled to claim the Championship.

Peall’s achievements during his professional career included eight breaks over 2,000 and 49 breaks over 1,000. It is recorded by Charles Dawson in his book “Practical Billiards”, that during one week in March 1888, whilst playing against Mitchell for the “Spot Stroke” Championship, Peall won easily by 15,000 points to Mitchell’s 6,753 making breaks of over 1,000 on every day except Thursday during the week.

During the Spot Stroke Championship of the following year 1889, the Tournament again resolved itself into a fight between Mitchell and Peall, when shortly after the start, with the scores standing at Mitchell 13 and Peall 20, Mitchell secured position and ran out with a break of 987.

Peall and John Roberts both recognised that under these circumstances the “Spot Stroke” was doing great harm to the game, as spectators were not willing to pay in order to watch very long runs of exactly similar shots. Roberts changed the trend by introducing the “spot barred” condition. This however was to Robert’s own advantage, as Peall remarked in an interview reported in the “Billiard Player” of August 1939, that . . . “Roberts could then give any of us a third of the game start and win” . . .

The spot stroke however was not barred by the official rules until 1898, and so the “all in” game was played for another 9 years. As a result in March 1889, during a match at the Aquarium between Peall and White, three breaks of over 1,000 (two by White and one by Peall), were made during one day’s play, and two days later in the same match, three consecutive breaks of over 1,000 were made (two by Peall and one by White).

Peall was undoubtedly the master of the “spot stroke”, during this period. Playing against Dawson at the Aquarium in November 1890 and giving Dawson 3,000 points start in 10,000 up, he made a break of 3,304 points all within the game, and thus recognised as a record. This break included spot stroke runs of 93-3-150-123-172-120 and 400! Peall winning by 9,320 points, and poor Charles Dawson had found himself sitting out as a spectator for 1½ days without playing a stroke.

In the Association Tournament played in December 189 – the “spot and push” strokes were barred. The effect of this condition was a great handicap for Peall, who after a determined struggle was beaten by J Lloyd.

The spot stroke had become a practical proposition as the principal scoring stroke when the Billiards Association, which was established in 1885, abolished the 3″ pocket and substituted the present day standard pocket opening. This had given Peall his opportunity, and his overwhelming superiority at this stroke prevented others from accepting his challenges, but his supremacy disappeared completely when the stroke was abolished in October 1898. But he never complained, indeed he had previously recognised the damage caused to spectator interest.

During 1895/6, Peall became involved in running arguments with John Roberts over the fitting of pneumatic cushions to billiard tables. As will be seen from the short extract taken from the abbreviated list of Patents & Inventions registered in 1890 relating to games, the “Pneumatic Cushions” were in fact invented by a Mr A A Toomey – it would seem that a puncture outfit would need to be an essential part of the billiard room accessories.

Both Roberts and Peall had taken up an interest in the Billiards Trade, Roberts was interested in marketing pneumatic cushions, and a number of letters were published in the “Sportsman”, about the advantages and disadvantages claimed by Peall and Walder, in favour of their frost proof cushions, and replies by John Roberts defending his pneumatic cushions which culminated in a letter from John Roberts and Company, dated 10th January 1896, which concludes . . . “If Peall and Walder can satisfy Mr. Roberts that their cushion is superior, we shall be pleased to adopt it . . . We shall only use the pneumatic cushion for so long as we consider it to be the best cushion available”. The players even ended up challenging each other to play a match – one week on a table fitted with Peall and Walder frost proof cushions, and one week on a table with Robert’s pneumatic cushions. As readers will realise the pneumatic cushion was not successful and has long since disappeared.

During my researches into the career of Mr Peall, one or two interesting bits of information have come to light viz: –

It seems that Mr Peall was one of the first enthusiastic owners of a motor car, possessing several different models from time to time. So it was that on Saturday 14th September 1901 driving in open country near Redhill, he was stopped by police and subsequently charged and fined £2, for driving at a speed in excess of 12 mph, having been timed at approximately 15½ mph!

Finally, something during 1942/3, whilst the writer was C.S.M. (Company Sergeant Major) of No 3 Company of the Headquarters Training Establishment R.E.M.E. (Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers) at Arborfield, a certain Sgt Peall arrived with an intake of trainees at the Company Office. On giving his number, rank and name, C.S.M. Clare remarked . . . “Peall – that is an uncommon name – are you by chance related to the well known billiard player?” The answer was “yes I am his grandson”. Unfortunately the autographed photograph brought back from Sgt Peall’s weekend leave has been lost.

Norman Clare

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