For readers unfamiliar with English billiards, the game is played on a regulation, 12′ by 6′ billiards or snooker table, with a set of just three balls. Traditionally, a set of balls consists of a red, a spot white, which has two or more black spots for identification, and a plain white, although the spot white may be replaced with a solid yellow ball. In any event, the spot white and white, or white and yellow, balls are cue balls, one for each player.
A player scores a ‘cannon’, worth two points, when the cue-ball makes contact with the two other balls, in either order, during a stroke. In modern billiards, a player may make a maximum of 75 consecutive cannons, but that was not always the case.
Although the possibilities of the stroke that became known as the ‘cannon’ or ‘anchor’ cannon had been demonstrated previously, it was unveiled by former English amateur billiards champion Walter Lovejoy in January, 1907. The idea behind the stroke is to gather the balls together near a corner pocket, such that repeated cannons can be played, over and over again, without changing the position of the object balls. Lovejoy made a run of 283 consecutive cannons, for a relatively modest break of 603, but nonetheless set the tone for the farcical events to follow.
The professional billiard players of the day embarked upon a competition to establish a record for the highest break in the history of English billiards, which culminated in a ‘match’ between Tom Reece and Joe Chapman at Burroughes & Watts, Soho Square, which commenced on June 3, 1907. Over the next five weeks, Reece made a break of 499,135, including 249,552 cradle cannons, but the Billiard Association subsequently refused to officially recognise his achievement, on the grounds that a portion of the break had been made behind closed doors and witnessed only by Reece and referee William Jordan. The crade cannon was banned at a special meeting of Billiard Association on September 2, 1907.