The Don Billiards Club


Known to Stainforth’s 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. Green’s 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 1930’s to the early 1960’s, 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.
Some have told me that the hall made brisk trade in those earlier days. Dai, who lived in Doncaster, would stay open until the last customer went home, sometimes after his last bus home had long since departed, leaving him with no option but to sleep in the hall’s office.

At times, such as when Dai was ill, his sister would take over the running of the hall. This happened more frequently toward the end of the 1950’s, as Dai began to feel the effects of his age.

The hall was taken over by two gents, both of whom went by the name of Bob. Some say Bob Jones had been known on the professional wrestling circuit, but I have been unable to verify this. The other "Bob", Bob Nesbitt, lived in Stanley Gardens and became sole manager of the hall for many years, until he retired in the late 1970’s.

The Billiard Hall - February 2002

My own recollections of the hall, late 60's to early 70’s.
I first entered the billiard hall when I was about eleven years old, sometime around 1968. It had a kind of allure to a young boy. It was frequented by the kind of people your parents told you to stay away from, which, as for myself, only added to the appeal of the place.

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 it’s 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.

It took several seconds to accustom your eyes to the inner gloom. Daylight was admitted through large windows, but a barrier of grime on the glass prevented it from making too much of a nuisance. Even if the sun were to shine exceptionally hard in an attempt to penetrate the murky depths, there were long blackout curtains which could be pulled shut, often to the accompaniment of clouds of nostril stinging dust, sealing the obscurity within.

At first the floor appeared to be a long expanse of smooth and shining blackness.

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.
Between the two doors stood a large iron stove, which gave out a generous amount of heat when the weather was inclement and the hall’s interior became somewhat chilly. A large fireplace at the opposite end of the hall was sometimes called into service, should the temperature within the hall become too cold to bear.
The other door led to what can be loosely described as the toilets. Only the brave or very foolhardy went through that door. Believe me, this was nothing like the Fonz’s office. The not unpleasant odour of the main hall gave way to something far more displeasing to the senses on approaching this door.
The dark and gloom of the main building was extended into the confines of this hell hole. The floor was made of concrete and was sloped to a gutter at the far wall. The unwary who entered the toilets in some need of urgency, often found themselves flying down this slope, where they stopped only upon reaching the ghastly urine filled gutter. This would be met with cheers and applause from those in the hall who had heard the clatter of slipping footwear and flailing limbs, and who waited for just such an event with the greatest of glee. It was customary and fashionable in the 1970’s to hammer metal "segs" into the soles of Chelsea boots. This made a visit to the toilets a tricky proposition for anyone who wore such items of footwear.
If you managed to negotiate the concrete piste, you could try to work your way to the centre of the urinal, to where a small airbrick had been removed, thus allowing a rectangle of daylight and a tantalising breath of sweet fresh air to enter and give slight respite to the stench emanating from the gutter below your feet.
At the far end, away to the right of the entrance, and well within the sticky blackness, an opening gave way to a toilet cubicle. I never heard of anyone venturing that far into the "bogs", and I certainly never looked into that abyss of filth myself for more than the briefest of moments. I heard Bob would sometimes hide his stock there, safe in the knowledge that it would never be discovered.

Halfway along the far side of the main hall was where the proprietor had his small office. It was from within it’s 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 Bob’s 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 table’s 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.
A game of snooker would last around twenty minutes and would cost about nine old pence. With the advent of decimalisation that was changed to 4p, but Bob soon raised his prices, as did everyone else who wanted to make a few pennies from the change of currency.

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.

Bob sold the hall and it’s contents for £4000 to George Plant when he retired at the end of the 1970’s and, I have been told, moved to Scarbrough.
The hall changed hands several more time before being acquired by Wayne, who’s plans prompted me to write this record. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photographs of the building, other than those I have taken recently

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 it’s 2002 competition, screened live on TV.
Maybe TV will raise interest in the game as a participation sport again, and bring about a snooker revival. Maybe Stainforth will see another Billiard Hall sometime in the future, and maybe that one will stand for another 80 years. I’ll be snookered if I know.

That leaves me with just one more thing to say on the subject............





Stainforth 2001 Homepage