It is not clear as to when the
habit of ironing the cloth first started, but the use of the iron is documented
in many books of the latter part of the eighteen hundreds. I think it is safe
to assume that once cloth was introduced to the bed of the table it would need
to be ironed to keep it as flat and smooth as possible.
The use of the iron has been
with us for more than one hundred years, and probably a lot longer. Most of the
irons I have come across date from the late nineteenth century and into the
early twentieth century.
The early table iron either had
a solid cast iron base to it, which was heated up on a fire, stove top or gas
burner, or it had a loose "slug" of iron. The slug was basically an oblong
length of metal that was heated outside of the iron, then placed into a cavity
of the same shape to heat up the iron.
Almost every major manufacturer
had irons cast for them with their names embossed on the top part of the iron.
Many irons can be found with exactly the same shape base and handles so it can
be safely presumed that a foundry would have used the same mould to produce
irons for several different table manufactures, just changing the company name
on the top.
The solid iron can sometimes be
found with its original tin sleeve that was used to protect the irons
surface while not being used, although the majority of irons tend to turn up
with out this nice addition.
I have seen a Special gas burner
with a slotted space made on the top to fit two irons, warming them both at the
same time. This presumably was for a club with several tables so that they
would have a continuous stream of hot irons, rather than having to wait for one
iron to be heated before another could take its place.
The standard solid table iron
can be found fairly easily even if more often than not it does turn up heavily
pitted, but once it is cleaned and polished it can make a nice addition to a
period Billiard room, if rather heavy for shelving!
The most common use for an old
iron amongst ordinary folk not yet initiated into our world of Billiard
memorabilia collecting is for them to be used as doorstops. Many of the ones I
own have been sold to me by eager antique dealers desperate to rid themselves
of the burden of having to carry this heavy weight from fair to fair, declaring
that "They make the perfect doorstop mate!"
Electrical irons would not have
been in common use until after the Second World War when the distribution of
electricity had become widespread enough throughout the country.
The manufacture of the electric
iron must have been far more expensive than the basic cast metal iron, the cost
to the customer would have reflected that. So many clubs would probably have
remained with the old faithful irons well into the nineteen fifties rather than
splash out on new electric versions.
The electric irons in my eyes
are not as attractive as the old style irons, but the earlier electric versions
in my experience do not turn up in such numbers as their non-electric
The accompanying photos show a
selection of irons. Click on the link or the thumbnail image at the top of the
page to see an enlarged picture.
1 is quite a rare iron, it has embossed on to it the famous name of John
Roberts with the Indian cities of Madras, Lahore and Karachi.
2 shows a selection of my irons with two of them wearing their protective
3 shows a gas burner on which the irons were placed.
4 shows two Burroughes & Watts irons the smaller one was for use on a
small size table.
5 shows a huge early electric iron easily weighing twice that of one of the
My thanks to Mr Peter Clare of
Thurston for access to some of his collection.
David Thomas Lyttleton