The Don Billiards Club
Known to Stainforths older residents as "The Billiard Hall", this large building has occupied the land behind Station Road for 80 years. Behind the hall were a couple of smaller structures, used as storage for items belonging to the hall. They were constructed from timber and steel sheets, but over the years they had been repaired using a variety of materials, including slate beds that were once parts of billiard tables. For a brief while a betting shop occupied one corner of the plot.
The earliest mention of the Hall I have come across, is an item that appeared in the Doncaster Gazette, p4 dated 20th January 1922. (Thanks Peter). It gave details of "The Billiard Hall Project" and said, "A notice posted up in Mr W. Greens field, adjoining the east side of East Lane, states that a license for premises to be used as a public billiard hall is to be applied for at the next Licensing Sessions. The hall is to be built by a Burnley firm and the arrangements are in the hands of Mr Amos Taylor, their manager."
Originally named "Don Billiards", the billiard hall was once a very reputable club, requiring paid membership.
It has been suggested to me that the first manager of the hall was a Mr William (Bill) Langford, and that for some time, from the 1930s to the early 1960s, the hall was managed by Dai Powell, but these are facts that I shall have to verify, though the latter appears to be accurate.
People who remember Dai Powell recall the hall in much the same state
of disrepair as described in my own recollection, further down this
page. They tell of a man who was of a quiet and friendly disposition,
and who could play the game to a professional standard. This he did
on occasions when business was slack and he came out of his office to
join his customers at the tables.
My own recollections of the hall, late 60's to early 70s.
Entry was gained to the hall through a small porch like building. There were no lights in this entrance, and the daylight which fell through the open door was quickly lost to the gloom and shadows within. The walls of this porch were covered in dark stained wood paneling, which was scarred with all manners of graffiti. A second heavier door on the far wall, and several steps to the right, gave access to the main hall.
The Billiard Hall had its very own atmosphere. When you first pushed open that large heavy door, your nostrils were assailed with a variety of odours. The first were a mixture of cigarette smoke and pipe tobacco, which were rather pungent, but belying these were the scents of wood polish, wax, damp wood, linseed oil and disinfectant.
The interior was always dimly illuminated, the tables being lit from within pyramidal hoods, hanging by wires above the green baize.
The hall contained eight tables, two abreast for the length of the building. Usually only the middle tables and sometimes those at the far end were in use, evident by the clicking of the balls which could be heard from within the entry porch before the second door was even pushed open. The tables nearest the entrance were always covered with large dust sheets, only seeing use very occasionally. For this reason they were in impeccable condition, the green of the baize fresh and thick, and the dark barrel shaped legs polished and gleaming.
However, as your eyes became used to the lack of daylight you could see that the floor was in fact covered by lengths of rubberised conveyor belt, a testament to which could be seen in several places where the metal "zips" used to secure lengths of belting were still in place. This actually provided a tough and hard wearing floor which lasted for many years.
The sides of the hall, hidden in places by the long drapes, were also covered in dark wooden panels. All the way around the building, and positioned so as to give a view of the proceedings at each table, were large raised benches of the same dark wood.
At the far end were two doors. One led to a store room,
which was always locked. This however did not prevent it being emptied
by uninvited night time visitors on many occasions.
Halfway along the far side of the main hall was where the proprietor had his small office. It was from within its small confines that Bob dispensed pop, crisps, matches and cigarettes. It was also where the cues and chalk were returned to at the end of each game.
On commencing a game, the participants would each select a cue from Bobs office and Bob would take note of the time. Every game would conclude to the cry of, "Time Bob!", at which point Bob would switch off the tables overhead lights and leave his office to collect payment for that particular session. The catch phrase of "time Bob" became common usage among the youth of Stainforth of that time, and was used to refer to anything that was over or finished.
Although the building was referred to as The "Billiard"
Hall, snooker was by far the most popular game played there. Other games,
often played by several players in the same game, and sometimes for serious
money, were Life Pool, Golf and Cricket.
Bob must have had a heart like a lion to operate the hall
for as long as he did. A gaunt figure, almost bald and very often wearing
a green cardigan and brown corduroy trousers, Bob opened his emporium
of balls and tables every day, no matter what the weather, how thick the
fog, how strong the storm, or how deep the snow.
The billiard hall may have had the dubious reputation of being a den of inequity, but for sixty years it provided a service to the youth of Stainforth. Nothing like it exists today. Other snooker establishments have existed briefly, the building which once was Stainforth Picture House was used for such a venture more recently, but none have lasted as long as the Don Billiards Club. In these modern times entertainment is more often a solitary pastime, to be found at the wide end of a cathode ray tube.
However, as I write this, the Embassy World Professional
Snooker Championship, held at Sheffield, is just entering the semi-final
stage of its 2002 competition, screened live on TV.
That leaves me with just one more thing to say on the subject............
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