CHARLES SIMPSON (1895 - 1975)

 "faster than Walter Lindrum or Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins"

 

Charles was born in 1895 in Hillsborough Sheffield, the youngest son of James and Amelia Simpson. His elder brothers were Fred and Henry (Harry) who were eight and five years older than Charles. He also had an older sister Alice who was born two years prior to Charles. James Simpson owned a small billiard saloon on Walkley Lane Sheffield called the La Plata and it was here that Charles began his lifelong interest in billiards and snooker. In 1906 at the age of eleven he made his first fifty break as well as becoming the Sheffield Boys Champion. Three years later he was scoring breaks of one hundred.

In 1921 he was a member of the Committee that founded the Sheffield Billiards Association and in the following year became the Sheffield Amateur Billiards Champion. He retained the title in 1923. However due a dispute with regard to his amateur status he was refused entry to the English Amateur Billiards Championship. The dispute dragged on for a couple of years before he was finally admitted as an amateur. He again won the Sheffield Amateur Billiards Championships in 1926 and 1927 but shortly after the latter victory he decided to turn professional. As far as I can ascertain the reason for the change was that billiards and snooker were becoming a full time occupation. the change must have agreed with him for in 1928 he made his record billiard break of 616 at the family's billiard saloon La Plata.

Over the next twenty years or so Charles became heavily involved in the game as a club owner, snooker and billiards promoter and player. As an owner he built an empire from relatively modest beginnings. At one time he ran a dozen clubs in Sheffield, some of which were quite sizeable concerns. At the same time he began organizing snooker and billiard exhibitions in the city and over the next twenty years all the world's top players visited Sheffield. Jeremy Watson and Geoff Kemp in their excellent book "Snookers Crucible - How Sheffield Became the Snooker Capital of the World" list the names of Joe and Fred Davis, Walter and Horace Lindrum, Willie and Sydney Smith, Walter Donaldson and Melbourne Inman. The book also gives details of the matches and exhibitions that Charles either played in, or promoted. For example in 1937 he organized a snooker match between Horace Lindrum and Joe Davis which "drew packed crowds" to the Hartshead Schoolrooms in Sheffield. The same promotion was repeated ten years later in 1947 at the Wolstenholm Hall in Sheffield.

But certainly the most dramatic promotion occurred on the night of December 12th 1940. As on many occasions during the war Charles had set up an exhibition match with Joe Davis in Sheffield. Joe incidentally was the World Snooker Champion from 1927 - 1946. Joe in his autobiography "The Breaks Came My Way" recalls

"My exhibition opponent that night, as on many other nights during the war, was Charlie Simpson, a left-handed Sheffield pro who never branched out into the big time because of his other business interests, but who was certainly the fastest player I ever saw - faster than Walter Lindrum or Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, the 1972 snooker champion. On one occasion during the war Charlie and I had a lucky escape. On the night that we were due to play at the Marples Hotel in Sheffield I had to telephone him from Hull to say that I simply could not make it as the rail link was totally disrupted. He would have to apologize to the manager and rearrange our exhibition for the following week. That same night the hotel got a direct hit and some fifty people died."  

The bombing of the Marples public houses was the worst single loss of life in Sheffield during the war. Joe was mistaken with the number of people who were killed. When the bomb exploded 77 people were sheltering in the cellar and only 7 of those were successfully rescued.  

The exhibitions during the war were fund-raising ones as the above poster demonstrates. Watson and Kemp reckon that by the end of the war Charles had been involved in raising over 95,000 for charities such as the Red Cross.

Charles was a very popular exhibitions player due in part to the amazing speed at which he played both snooker and billiards. Joe Davis shortly before his death remarked that Charles made "Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins look like a snail" whilst his brother Fred rated Charles as the fastest player ever! On one occasion he was  timed and scored a break of over 100 in four minutes and ten seconds. In addition Charles had a full range of trick shots which he used to entertain the crowds after the main matches   There was criticism of this style of play in that some commentators felt that Charles never achieved what he could have done in the game but Charles just could not play any other way. I think the more likely explanation for the lack of major honours in the game is that Charles time was taken up with his various business interests in the game and it was that that took precedence.

After the war Charles kept the businesses going but still found the time to play exhibition matches

The Biggleswade Chronicle and Bedfordshire Gazzette dated 14th November 1952 carried this report

But by the mid to late fifties the game was no longer popular as it once was. Many of the halls were shut down and by 1965 Charles made the decision to retire and leave his native Sheffield for the first time. He retired to Blackpool where he lived for another ten years before he died in a Fleetwood hospital aged 80.

The final word must go to Watson and Kemp who state

"in his day he (Charles) was one of the most entertaining professionals around - and one whose reputation as the fastest player ever remains, for many, intact to this day"  

Sources

Jeremy Watson and Geoff Kemp Snookers Crucible - How Sheffield Became the Snooker Capital of the World

Paul Licence - The Sheffield Blitz

Joe Davis - The Breaks Came My Way 

Biggleswade Chronicle and Bedfordshire Gazzette dated 14th November 1952

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This page was last updated on 11/03/15 17:45