I was always a snooker and billiards fan and throughout my youth I would seek out places to play, as a lad it was usually youth clubs or church halls and as I got older I found the social clubs that had tables. The one thing all these places had in common was the make of the table. Almost all had the small ceramic plate affixed to the table bearing the name E.A Clare.
Norman Clare, who died in 1990, was Chairman of E.A. Clare and Son Ltd having followed his father (Edward Arthur) into the business as a young school leaver in 1930. The company, whose interest in the billiards and snooker industry encompasses the historic Thurston name as well as those of Thos. Padmore and Sons, Ashcrofts, Peradon, Weilding, and many others. The company was the home of Norman's collection. His interest in setting up this collection stemmed from when E.A.Clare and Son bought Thurston and Co. and he found many interesting items at their old factory site at Waterloo Works, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. For example, he recognised an original and rare wooden billiard table bed which was being used to board up a broken window at these premises and so he rescued it!
|15 Fraser Street, the building to the left |
with the diamond shapes in the brick works
was the remains of the drill halls of the
Liverpool Scottish Regiment HQ.
Later to become Mr Pickwicks club.
As the oldest snooker / pool / billiard business on Merseyside approached its,100th anniversary in 2012, the grandson of the founder compiled some of it history. The Company was founded in Fraser Street not half a mile from the current premises in St. Anne Street and so has been part of the local Everton district community for all its history.
|E. A. Clare circa 1912|
Edward Arthur Clare, usually known as Arthur, was born in 1882 in Hornby Road, his father David Thomas Clare being a prison officer at Walton Jail at the time, having retired from the sea due to ill health. Arthur's father died when Arthur was still quite young so at the age of 14 he left school in 1896 went looking for a job. He saw a sign saying boy wanted in the well known Liverpool business of J. Ashcroft and Co. at their Billiard Company's Victoria Street building. He was hired and thus started his apprenticeship in the Billiard (Snooker) trade. At that time Arthur joined the firm the Liverpool fruit and vegetable market was in the same area as Ashcroft's and one of his 'stories' was that it was his job to empty the rat traps. He drowned the rats in a water butt on the roof and then, so he said, flung them onto the roof across the road - in those days it was the GPO now the back of the Met Quarter!. At some point Arthur had an argument with Mr. Ashcroft and was sacked! He then tried his hand as a joiner, working for a Southport business and it seems from a reference provided by Kiddie and Co. Ltd he might have also worked for Lancs. and Yorks. Railway.
|EA Clare 27 St Anne St|
Arthur Clare went to work in Ireland and in 1912 he returned to Liverpool he had sufficient funds to start his own Billiard business with small premises at 15 Fraser Street, just off London Road. His mother looked after the shop in Fraser Street whilst he did the fitting and servicing work. In 1913 he married his long time Liverpool girlfriend Bessie Woolfenden.
He must have been reasonably successful and after about eight years he required larger premises and so moved to St. Anne Street in about 1920. In about 1925 He was able to purchase a building at 27 St. Anne Street and set up his shop and workshop in that building. One strange fact was that the small street that ran at the back of his business was 'Back Clare Street'. During this period he opened eight Billiard Halls in Liverpool and in and around Birkenhead which were very successful and so he further expanded his premises to include 25 St. Anne Street. Also in the late 1920's early 1930's he introduced a maintenance contract to help clubs with the payments spread over the year.
|Back Clare Street 1967|
Arthur's son Norman joined the business in 1930 learning all aspect of the trade and so in 1935, when Norman reach the age of 21 the business name was changed to E.A. Clare and Son. At that time the business's trade mark showed that Billiards was still the predominate game with little evidence of snooker. The war years were also quite difficult for the small firm with Norman being away in the Army and Arthur was ill for long periods. The business was held together by Miss Ethel Paterson, who must have been quite a formidable lady who efficiently kept the books, coped with air raids and the staff as well as the material shortages. She basically ran the firm until Arthur was fit and Norman returned after the war in 1946.
Norman took over the day to day running of the business on his return but with the continued expansion further staff were required. As was very much a family run business, Arthur's daughter Kathleen joining as the cashier and one of his son-in-laws Kenneth McCormick also joining the business after the War. Ken, as he was known, was in charge of the buying and cost control. The business continued to grow and in the late 1950's this further expansion by the purchased 23 St. Anne Street. This enabled them to set up their first bowls test table and become recognised as the leading crown green bowls business in the North of England. The firm celebrated its Golden Anniversary in 1962 with a celebration dinner for the staff and some members of the trade. The founder E.A. Clare was a very proud man on that night, sadly in April 1963, after a short illness, he died.
Later in the early 1960's they were approached by the still very famous and long established London Billiard and Snooker business of Thurston (late of Leicester Square) to see if they would be interested in acquiring the business. In 1963 they bought out the business, which continued to be run as a distinct entity under the then Managing Director Bob Mitchell with Mr. Frank McDermott moving from Liverpool to help run the operation. Although E. A. Clare and Son and Thurston were run as separate businesses they used common catalogues all be it with front covers with their separate names on them.
|The shop 23 -27 St. Anne Street 1967|
|This illustration of the Ashcroft building |
was printed in 'The Builder' April 1883
In the mid 1960's another approach this time from the best known Midlands Billiard and Snooker company of Thos. Padmore and Sons Ltd. So in 1966 the partners in E. A. Clare and Son took a controlling interest in Padmore's. In the mid 1970's the group of Companies dropped the separate front/back covers for the catalogues and traded as Clare-Padmore- Thurston . The catalogues of that time use that title but they were still run as separate businesses but there was a 'group' sales and buying. In the 1960's Norman's son-in-law, Peter Eggington, joined the firm and later his son Peter Clare (Arthur's grandson) also joined. It was certainly a family business at that time, as Norman's sister Kathleen was the Chief cashier with Norman's brother-in-law Ken being Works Manager! In 1987, Norman Clare was delighted to be approached by Peter Ashcroft, who was wishing to retire and so dispose of his family business. Given the fact that his father had learnt the trade at J. Ashcroft and Co. Norman jumped at the chance and so the Snooker and Billiard part of the Ashcroft business was absorbed into E.A. Clare and Son. Ltd. The Ashcroft building still stands in Victoria Street.
In the late 1980's, towards the end of 1988/beginning of 1989 the three companies E. A. Clare and Son Ltd., Thos. Padmore and Sons Ltd and Thurston and Co. Ltd. formalised their trading interest by E.A. Clare and Son Ltd. taking them over as the one trading Company of E.A. Clare and Son Ltd. Norman, by then Chairman and steeped in the history of the trade decided that the combined Company should trade as THURSTON.
In 1990 after a short illness Norman Clare died, the trade lost a great enthusiast for the industry who also had a vast knowledge of the history of the sport. The collection of Billiard and Snooker books and memorabilia has been maintained in the Liverpool building and the rooms dedicated to it have been named the Norman Clare Billiard and Snooker Heritage Collection.
Edward Arthur Clare founded the business in 1912 and a celebration of 100 years took place during 2012. Here's to another 100 years trading for a great Liverpool company.
E A Clare
Liverpool Central Library
Liverpool Records Office
By Robert F Edwards