William Dufton



Past Masters number 14
William Dufton

William Dufton was without doubt one of the great players of the Victorian era and a contemporary of John Roberts Senior – who refers to Dufton in his book entitled “Roberts on Billiards” (published 1868) by saying . . . “The third class (of players) if headed by William Dufton” In considering this assessment however it must be remembered that when classifying the standing of the players, John Roberts placed himself as the only player in Class I! With Joseph Bennett, John Hirst, John Roberts Junior and William Cook in Class II.

Thus, in the days before the very first championship was played (1870) Roberts Senior evidently ranked Dufton as No. 6 followed by 9 other players in Class III to any of whom he was in the habit of allowing 350 points start in a game of 1,000 up.

Dufton played Roberts Senior at Saville House during March 1862 when Roberts made the best break then on record of 346 – this included 104 consecutive “Spots” and thinking he was going to make the 500 required for game Dufton put on his coat and proceeded to light his cigar ready to depart.

Dufton also promoted matches and handicaps, the first being at his Philharmonic Billiard Saloon, Islington, about 1861, and he was also responsible for and promoted the St James Hall Handicap. During the 1860s he played many matches against the professionals of his day, one being against Roberts Senior at St James Hall in May 1864 when it is recorded that a special table with new gas lighting was installed by Messrs Cox and Yeman – on this occasion Dufton, who received 350 start, only scored 359 making a total of 709 against Roberts 1,000.

Perhaps his most notable game, however, was against another well known player Edward Green at St James Hall on 30th January 1865 for a stake of £1,000, – a sum which after allowing for inflation is certainly equal to present day prize monies in Professional Snooker Championships. Great interest was created amongst the billiards public – Green was the favourite and large sums were placed at Tattersall’s and the Victoria Club at 6 to 4 on the result.

When Dufton took an early lead the betting odds changed in his favour but Green fought hard and the odds became even when he got within 2 points of Dufton, and so the game progressed with constantly changing odds until finally Dufton won by 107 points amid great cheering – Dufton’s backers winning so many thousands of pounds, that a month or so later they invited him to a banquet at The Victoria Club and presented him with a purse of 210 guineas (£220.50) and a highly decorated illuminated testimonial on vellum which recorded his achievement and the names of his backers.

There is an illustration of this testimonial on page 440 of the “Billiard Review” of May 1896 but, unfortunately, it cannot be satisfactorily reproduced for this article.

It is recorded in the book “Modern Billiards” by John Roberts Junior that this testimonial was later found and purchased in an Auction Room by William Mitchell “A few years ago” which allowing for the date of publication would be during the late 1890s, but its whereabouts are not now known.

During the Spring of 1867 Roberts and Dufton toured the North of England and Scotland together and a great match took place between them before a large audience of influential gentlemen at Grants Saloon in Newcastle-on-Tyne on 6th April, 1867. Dufton at this time received a reduced start of 300 points in 1000 up and when Dufton won by 213 points the Newcastle Journal reported “A display of science never equalled” – It would therefore seem that Dufton’s game was improving almost to the equal of Roberts. yet he never seems to have tried for the Professional Championship.

In 1867 Dufton completed the writing of a book which was originally commenced by a Mr. Frederick Hardy, entitled “Practical Billiards”. Unfortunately, Mr. Hardy had died before his work had finished and so Dufton completed the book with some amendments and additions and it was published in 1873.

Incidentally it is perhaps interesting to note that on page 39 of this book he illustrates how to play with the butt end of the cue which was permitted at that date. The original governing body was not established until 1885 and it was after this date that the rule was introduced stipulating that the ball must be struck with the tip of the cue.

Dufton was the player selected by Earl Spencer to give tuition in the art of playing billiards to the Prince of Wales who later became Edward VII. The Prince was quite an enthusiastic player being present at the first championship match between Roberts Senior and Cook in 1870, and on occasions he later visited Thurston’s Match Hall in Leicester Square.

Unfortunately, we have to conclude this biography of William Dufton by recording that he ended his life by committing suicide.

Norman Clare

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