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English Bagatelle Rules

English Bagatelle is game played on a board having holes at one end into which balls are to be struck with a cue. English Bagatelle may be said to stand in the same position to billiards as draughts do to chess; but as a board is found in most families, as also in a great many houses where there is not room enough for a billiard table, we annex the following directions and rules.

English Bagatelle Rules

The games played on the bagatelle board are as follows :- L Bagatelle (or English Bagatelle), Bagatelle a la Francais (or French Bagatelle), Sans Egal, Mississipi, Trou Madame, the Cannon Game, or Bagatelle versus Billiards. A knowledge of billiards may sometimes be used to advantage in bagatelle, as the most scientific strokes are made by holing a ball of the cushion, and the high, low and following stroke may now and then be found useful. In all games the cue or mace may be used.

Here are a few points about the rules of English Bagatelle Rules.

English Bagatelle Rules

  1. Any number of players may enter the game of English Bagatelle.
  2. The first player takes possession of the nine balls.
  3. The black ball (which always counts double) must be placed on the white spot, nearest the holes, at the commencement on every round, and must be struck by one of the other balls, before any points can be scored.
  4. Any number of rounds may be played for the game, as may be agreed upon at the commencement.
  5. The strikers ball must be placed on the white spot nearest the other end of the board, and is to be struck with the mace or the cue, at the black ball, endeavoring to strike it into one of the holes. The remaining balls are to be driven up in the same manner, either at the outstanding balls, or for the holes.
  6. The player who obtains the greatest number (counting the holes, as marked, in which the balls are driven) wins the game.
  7. Each person must strike a ball up the board, and he who gets the highest number takes the lead.

There appears to be both a variation of table size, and of rules, in different parts of the UK. On 30 Nov 2002, John (from Chester, England) noted the following to one of the popular English Bagatelle web sites...

I notice that your uncle's table measures 6 ft by 18 inches. It just shows that tables come in all sizes because in the Chester area most tables are 8 feet long and either 24, 27 or 30 inches wide (approx!), but we do have one table which is only 7 feet long (the best one in my opinion!). In the Coventry League I understand the tables are even bigger, possibly 10 feet long and 3 feet wide.

There's also lots of variety in the rules. In matches in the Chester area it's more of a team game. There are 8 players in each team, each player has two sticks and the highest team score wins. Scoring is 2 points for a home win and 3 points for an away win. It's more individual in Coventry. Five men in each team and they play to a 121 finish and it's on a player vs. player basis. 5 points are at stake in each match with each point decided by the 5 games.

English Bagatelle Rules

If you have any questions about English Bagatelle Rules, please post them in the pool rules forum.

...or view existing English Bagatelle Rules questions in the forum.

English Bagatelle Rules History

Bagatelle is a traditional game of skill which has been played in English homes, pubs and social clubs for nearly 200 years since the early part of the 19th century. It is one of the oldest pub games in the country. The principle of the game is very simple:- pot as many balls as you can! As the game is played from the front end of the table only, it is ideal for situations with limited space (landlords please note!). A bagatelle table is an elegant piece of furniture which gives many hours of happy entertainment in homes across the world. Bagatelle tables make excellent dining tables with a well made cover on top and are fast becoming collectors items.

The origins of bagatelle are entwined with the antiquity of many other games. Its roots are at a time when people tossed or rolled rocks and pebbles on the ground in the outdoors, eventually confining this aimless play to a defined targeted area marked out on the ground. It has been reported that the ancient Egyptians played a game on a grass course, with a targeted area laid out in the shape of a diamond. A "ball" was used to knock down "pins" in the targeted area.

By Greco-Roman times, rocks had given way to fabricated leather or wooden balls, and pebbles evolved into something akin to marbles. One ancient Roman version of this outdoor game became Boccie (an Italian form of what the British refer to as Lawn Bowls). Minor versions of outdoor bowling games (which used the evolved pebbles) became the many marble games which children continue to play to this day. Full-sized "bowl" games became a number of other games which people still play.

One variation introduced sticks and arches (or wickets) into the outdoor bowls game as early as the 14th century and this modification evolved into the modern outdoor games of Shuffleboard and the game of Croquet - and indoor games such as Billiards and Snooker. When people began to adapt the outdoor games to the indoors - initially they moved them to a very special indoor place - public taverns or pubs. At first, game play may have simply been on the floor of a pub, and these games evolved into the indoor game of Bowling and all it's derivatives such as Tenpin Bowling. Eventually people made use of fabricated defined targeted areas which could sit on a table or stand on the floor on four legs. In time, floor standing games became Skittles, and table-top games became Carom and Crokinole games.

In France, around the reign of Louis XIV (1636-1715), someone designed a narrow oblong table, half the width of a billiard table. It is believed that the Bagatelle table was designed to be a leveller of talents and to give equal opportunity to the casual player lacking the skill for pocket or carom billiards. This new table featured a target area at one end and enabled play only from the other end. From its beginnings sticks and balls were used as in standard billiards, but the targets were nine "pins" placed in a pattern at the far end of the table. Wooden arches or wickets were used to increase the challenge.

A player would have a turn, attempt to knock down the pins, and then the pins would be reset for the next player who would try to beat the score of the previous player. It is believed that resetting the pins, arches and wickets each time delayed the play and a solution was sought to speed up the game play.

Eventually, scooped out target areas (cups) replaced the pins, arches and wickets and this sped things up considerably, making the game much more popular. This more modern type of nine cup bagatelle table was brought to England around the late 18th/early 19th Century and has remained a fixture in some British pubs to the present day.

One popular theory is that the name 'Bagatelle' was introduced in the late 18th Century from France. Back in the 17th Century, Louis XIV gave one of his granddaughters a piece of land outside Paris on which a small house was built. Initially the house was called Mademoiselle Pavillon. Much later, in the 18th Century, the house became known as Castell Bagatelle and then the Château de Bagatelle.

Louis XVI gave the house and land to his younger brother, Duke Arthur (the comte d'Artois), a bit of a playboy by all accounts, who was an inveterate gambler who always found himself in financial difficulties. Winning big on a bet in early 1777, Arthur expanded the Castell Bagatelle, and included a salon du jeu (a games room) which featured a new half-width billiard table with cups instead of pins.

Later in 1777 a party was thrown in honour of Louis XVI and the Queen at the newly renovated and re-named Château de Bagatelle. The highlight of the party was the new table game featuring the slender table and cue sticks, which players used to shoot ivory balls up an inclined playfield. The new game was dubbed 'Bagatelle' by Duke Arthur and swept through France. It is said that the game became very well known in aristocratic French gambling circles in the latter part of the 18th century. It is likely that at this time bagatelle was equally as popular as billiards. This would date the game we now know as 'Bagatelle' to around 1777.

It is known that bagatelle was widely played in the Merseyside and North Wales area in the 19th Century including Liverpool, Birkenhead, Deeside and of course, Chester, and this may be because a table was brought over from France around the end of the 18th Century to the docks in Liverpool.

Another theory is that the game could have been of English origin and merely made popular by French aristocrats. The famous manufacturer John Thurston started business in 1799 and recorded that he manufactured significant numbers of Bagatelle tables between the years of 1818 to 1845. A sales brochure he produced for the French market actually describes the tables as “Billiards Anglaise” which adds further uncertainty about the games origins.

It is possible that the French angle is completely inaccurate and the game was developed here, but it could also mean that Thurston was merely describing the tables as of English manufacture. Could a table of English manufacture have been sent to France from Liverpool docks, been bought by Duke Arthur and installed into Château de Bagatelle? In the early 19th Century, gambling was seen as a serious problem, and bagatelle was deemed morally dangerous enough by the government for it to be included in its Gaming Act legislation of 1845. It was decreed that there should be no play on public Bagatelle tables from 1am to 8am and on Sundays , Christmas Day and Good Friday!

The legislation in 1845 also made reclaiming gambling debts legally unenforceable. In 1854 it was made illegal to run a casino or any “common gaming house”. The rich, as a result, took their holidays in Monte Carlo and other Continental gambling fleshpots. Working people had fewer options, and the police were kept busy by raiding pub backrooms in the hope of finding a game of bagatelle being played with a couple of bob on the table. The antigambling laws were not relaxed until 1960.

A recently discovered document written by William Cobbler put forward the notion that Bagatelle was in fact, a game of Italian origin. Bagatelle from Italian bagattella, signifies a trifle, a little decorative nothing. There was speculation that this had come from the legendary Captain Crawley, but there is no doubt in my mind that the idea is entirely Cobbler's... During the early 19th century, many different types of bagatelle table began to appear in France, England, throughout Europe, and in North America. The game that we know today, played on a baize covered table with holes (cups) at the target end quickly became the most popular pub game in Britain and remained so for the next century or so.

Charles Dickens, in the Pickwick Papers (1836-37), wrote that Samuel Pickwick and other members of the Pickwick Club often relaxed at the bagatelle table in the Peacock Tavern.

Can we assume then, that Charles Dickens was a follower of the game and a bagatelle player? The book also confirms the game was popular in England by the mid 1830's. In an 1863/64 political cartoon, Abraham Lincoln is portrayed playing bagatelle. The game must have been very popular indeed at this time to be so well known in the United States and there are still bagatelle tables in the USA and Canada to this day.

The latter part of the 19th Century and early part of the 20th was arguably when Bagatelle was at its most popular. Bagatelle halls such as the one pictured were known to exist all over Britain, and the game was popular with both men and women. Over the years, many different games have been played on Bagatelle tables, and the man in the picture is playing from the side of the table, something which does not happen in the Chester league where all shots are made from the baulk end of the table.

During this time, enhancements were made to the playing equipment. Old wooden maces, used to push the balls up the table, were replaced by cues similar to those used to play snooker and pool today. Rubber cushions and leather cue tips were introduced and ivory balls, which had been used for many years, were gradually replaced with Bonzoline and Crystalate.

By the 1930's Crystalate had become the most popular ball used, and it remained so until approximately 1973 when the Super Crystalate ball was introduced. This ball was lighter and faster than Crystalate and proved very popular with snooker players especially, who found that it provided greater screw control and power which allowed the average player to move the cue ball about in a way that had only been possible before by top players.

As far as I am aware, there were leagues in Coventry and Flint in North Wales up to a few years ago, but while the Coventry one remains, the Flint one has recently ceased to operate. Bagatelle Leagues were known to have existed in other parts of Britain including:- St. Helens, Walsall, Birmingham, Cardiff and Bristol. It is not known if any other Bagatelle League still operates, and I would be delighted to hear from anyone who can give any information. Sadly, with the steady decline in the number of public houses throughout the 20th Century, the game has declined also. Around 100 years ago there were 365 pubs in Chester, one for every day of the year! A high number of these were known to have bagatelle tables. In the 1950's there were four divisions in the Chester & District Bagatelle League, each one having 12 teams in it. Today there are only about 30 public houses within the city walls of Chester and only one of these (the United Services Club) has retained its bagatelle table. Outside the city walls the game has not fared much better, with only about 15 pubs still retaining tables, although the game is currently enjoying a mini-revival, as pubs are now actively looking for bagatelle tables once more. In the last couple of years the Stanley Arms and Cross Foxes pubs have both acquired bagatelle tables and the game is now enthusiastically played in both.

While this is undoubtedly good news for the game of bagatelle, the Chester & District Bagatelle League still faces a challenge just to stay alive. With Chester being an English Heritage city, the importance of bagatelle as an item of living history cannot be stressed too highly, and it is important that the game remains in Chester. It would be sad in future if the only place you could see a bagatelle table was in Chester's Grosvenor Museum. We are trying to ensure this does not happen.

The official English Bagatelle Rules are predominently observed in Britain.

How to Play English Bagatelle

  • Title: English Bagatelle Rules
  • Author: (Billiards Forum)
  • Published: 7/16/2008 9:52:00 PM
  • Last Updated: 10/20/2016 7:48:36 PM
  • Last Updated By: billiardsforum
  • Source: Internet

English Bagatelle Rules

The English Bagatelle Rules article belongs to the Obstacle Billiards Rules category. Obstacle billiards is a class of billiard games that are played with various obstacles on the table.

English Bagatelle Rules Comments

  1. Craig LitchfieldCraig Litchfield from Cardiff, Wales on 10/16/2009 12:38:27 PM

    I am the treasurer of the bagatelle league in Cardiff. We have been in operation since the early 1900's and still going strong. The numbers have dropped over the years but Canton Liberal Club have an in-house bagatelle league of 18 players. I am in the process of designing our website personally, and that is how I found your site.

  2. del00002020del00002020 from Santa Monica, CA on 5/20/2010 2:02:43 PM

    I have an antique coin op English Bar Billiard (bagatelle) table for sale cheap in Los Angeles, Ca. Anyone interested can contact me directly. It is 95% restored.

    UPDATE 2011 - 2011-02-16 - Item is no longer for sale.

  3. oldgeorgiansoldgeorgians from Bristol, England on 2/10/2012 5:40:55 AM

    The Old Georgians Social Club in Bristol still has a bagatelle table in use for English billiards. Unfortunately after the demise of the Bristol Bagatelle League, it is only used rarely by a few members. Such a shame to see an old traditional game like bagatelle dwindle.

  4. LuciLuci from London, England on 3/12/2012 10:34:58 AM

    I don't understand these bagatelle bar billiards rules!

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