From Woolwich to Ooty via Jabalpur, the intriguing origin of the game of Snooker.

This journey starts at Woolwich, a district in the borough of Greenwich in London, which has a curious place in sports history. Once home to Royal Military Academy (RMA) and Royal Arsenal, it is now a bustling centre with pubs and eateries.

Its cricket ground, Barrack Field is one of the oldest in London and has hosted over 800 matches during its heyday according to official records. The famous Premier League team Arsenal also derives its name and its iconic Cannon crest from the same place. But there is more.

Newly inducted cadets at the RMA were once called ‘Les Nuex’, which was nothing more than a slang literally translating to ‘the nose’. Over the years Les Nuex got corrupted into ‘Snook’ which later on transformed into Snooker.

During the 19th century when empire building was in full swing British army personnel were posted all throughout the colonies, none more so than in the Indian subcontinent.

This brings us to Jubbulpore (Jabalpur) in the Central Provinces where on a soggy evening in 1875 a lieutenant Neville Francis Fitzgerald Chamberlain from the Devonshire Regiment was getting bored playing Black Pool in the officers’ mess.

Attempting to break the monotony, the young man suggested putting down a different colored ball on the table to provide some variation to the game. Gradually balls of different values were added.

Days later while entertaining a few young cadets from the RMA, Chamberlain suggested playing his new version of the Black Pool. When one of the cadets failed to pot a coloured ball that was close to a corner pocket. Chamberlain called out to him: ‘Why, you’re a regular snooker!’

To pacify the cadet Chamberlain added that they were all, so to speak, snookers at the game, and the name got stuck with the game.

Some years later after fighting in the Afghan war and almost getting killed Chamberlain would find himself serving under General Sir Frederick Roberts Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army.

To escape the incessant heat of Madras Sir Roberts and many among his officers would move to the hill station of Ootacamund (Ooty) in the summers.

At the Ooty club in 1882, all the officers got completely hooked to Chamberlain’s version of the Black Pool or Snooker, it was here where rules of the game were codified, and the club forevermore became synonymous with the game earning the nickname ‘snooty ooty’.

Though it was Chamberlain’s improvisation that created the new game, it was not until a letter by Compton McKenzie which appeared in the Billiard Player publication of April 1939 that solidified Neville Chamberlain as the inventor of the game of snooker.

Sources :, Wikimedia Commons