Past Masters No14 - July 1984
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 1860's 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
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.
An examination of the Illuminated Testimonial in the
"Billiard Review" shows that he was given a purse containing 210
sovereigns. It also mentions his selection by Earl Spencer ---"to
initiate His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales" A scan, of the
Testimonial, is now just possible and is shown below.
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
This seems to be the last
article that Norman wrote for the Past Master series, although he
did continue to research and answer questions he received on the
history and items associated with billiards & snooker.
© Norman Clare 1990. © E.A.
Clare & Son Ltd. 2018.
Reproduction of this article allowed only with the permission from
E.A. Clare & Son Ltd.
Any additional information added to
Norman Clare's original article is shown in italics.
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