Established in 1795, Jaques of London is the oldest sports and games manufacturer in the world. Throughout their long and distinguished history Jaques have not only pioneered the development of many of the most influential and popular sports and games of all time, they have also custom produced sporting equipment for several of history's most notable figures, directly influenced some of the world's most famous literature, and even played a part in the allied war effort.
Currently owned and managed by direct descendents of founder Thomas Jaques (b.1765), Jaques today remain true to their ancestors commitment to quality and traditional methods of craftsmanship which have ensured their success over the years, whilst continually striving to push the boundaries of excellence through technological innovation.
Jaques is a family-owned company devoted to increasing people's pleasure by introducing a wealth of games and sports, most of them still very much in play today. Why then begin with a recollection of war?
Ironically, John Jaques owes its survival to the company's inventive and little-known role in the deadliest game of all. The work was top secret, commissioned by the government during the Second World War through MI9, the clandestine Intelligence Department responsible for "Escape and Evasion". Its function was to help prisoners of war and downed aircrew escape from and evade the enemy.
Even a child knows that playing a game means abiding by certain rules. It seems a paradox that play, which has to do with enjoyment and free time, should be thus restricted, but of course without rules there can be no winner. To "throw away the rulebook" is to invite chaos. And yet war, which is nothing if not chaos and destruction, oddly resembles a game with its own strict set of regulations. According to the Geneva Convention, signed in 1929, prisoners were to be treated humanely; they had the right to correspond with their families, and, of primary significance to this story, the maximum disciplinary penalty any prisoner could receive, even for escaping, was thirty days’ solitary confinement. So it was well within the rules of war that John Jaques worked with a Major Clayton Hutton and assisted MI9 in helping prisoners escape. The strategy was literally a game-plan: Jaques games and equipment were specially crafted to conceal key elements of vital escape kits. Major Clayton Hutton's schemes were ingenious, and "Clutty" visited John Jaques IV on several occasions to discuss his "toys"... Neatly sandwiched between the cardboard of Jaques Ludo or Snakes and Ladders, invisible to the unsuspecting Germans, was a map. Tightly furled within the wooden handle of a cleverly split Jaques Lacing Awl, (awls were used to tighten laces on pre-war footballs), precious currency was secreted. Even the pegs of Jaques' game of Deck Quoits were hollowed out; into each one was inserted a tiny working compass.
Prior to the arrival of any of these innocent-looking gifts, the prisoner would have received a coded message in his correspondence alerting him to this hidden escape kit. If someone reading these words was helped by some item concealed in a Jaques "game" to make his escape from Nazi-occupied Europe, joint Managing Directors John V and Christopher Jaques, whose father John IV steered the company during these difficult years, would be most interested to hear their stories firsthand. Thanks to such ruses, some 35,000 members of the British Commonwealth and American armed forces who had been taken prisoner, shot down or otherwise cut off in enemy-held territory managed to regain the Allied lines before the end of the war.’
Had it not been for this essential war work, Jaques' whole business would have been considered non-essential, materials impossible to obtain. Games and sports were, after all, not a priority. But worse was to come. Christopher relates his father's shattering experience, shared by so many others: "It was an ordinary morning. My father had traveled to work by underground, in the usual way. He emerged from the tube, turned the customary corner into Kirby Street, and on looking up, saw nothing there, Jaques’ entire factory had been leveled by a series of bombs. This was the Blitz, 1941, and what had been our base for decades was totally demolished. Only the company safe survived — it had crashed through from the top to the bottom floor, and within this burning metal cell lay a charred barely preserved treasure: John Jaques’ original Pattern Book, the design source of everything we had created from 1795 to 1870."
John IV took the fragile pages to a restorer who, by a complicated wax process, saved all but three of its valuable, sixty-five pages of original drawings. The design for Jaques Original Staunton Chess Set, made in boxwood and ebony for the Bicentenary, is taken directly from this rescued Pattern Book. Meanwhile, the very next day, John IV assembled the staff who, with great enterprise, set about looking for new premises. Thanks to their energy and with the help of the government, whom Jaques in turn continued to help throughout the war, the company was able to relocate and resume operations a mere month later in what is their current headquarters in Thornton Heath, Surrey. To avert suspicion, Jaques was encouraged to continue making its regular lines of games and sports equipment. Oddly enough, the Germans never queried why a company manufacturing non-essential products was still operating. Perhaps they chalked it up to the renowned eccentricity of the British to whom games and sports have always meant serious business! One such "war game" remains in the family's possession — it was, as Lewis Carroll's Alice might say, a "curious" cribbage board indeed, opening to reveal a long slim panel, carved out, awaiting a vital piece of the MI9 escape kit: the potentially lifesaving hacksaw blade. Christopher describes his awe and surprise as a young boy when shown the secret of this cribbage board, one which his father must have brought home sometime after the war's end. The Jaques family has kept it as a souvenir of those difficult days when so many lives were forfeited, so many old established businesses destroyed.
Passing down the family business from father to son has become increasingly rare. Passing it down in happy circumstances for six generations may be something of a record. Thus it seems only fitting that John Jaques is the company that invented Happy Families. Today, John V and Christopher run what is the oldest games and sports manufacturer in the world. Christopher's sons, Benjamin and Emmett, are following in their father's footsteps. Both work for John Jaques and are being groomed to become the seventh generation in an unbroken line which began with a country boy named Thomas.
Thomas Jaques was a farmer's son of French Huguenot descent. His recent forebears must have found refuge in England sometime after 1685 when the Edict of Nantes forbade Protestantism in France. Thomas was born in 1765 by which time George III had been on the throne for five years and was already fighting a losing battle to retain the American colonies. At home, the Georgian Period was in full flower. Following a country childhood in the Wiltshire village of Grittleton near Chippenham, Thomas, having finished his schooling, left in a wagon for London to seek his fortune. He was, by then, an ambitious young lad of fifteen. Thomas arrived at a turbulent time. The Gordon Riots of 1780 were causing immense upheaval — the last fierce religious battle fought in the capital, or indeed the country. Thomas stayed his ground and became apprenticed to a bone and ivory turner, Mr Ivy, at 65 Leather Lane in Holborn. His natural ability showed itself early on, and as he developed his skills Thomas exhibited what was, in fact, the traditional Huguenot talent for craftsmanship. Thomas's instinct and good sense obviously extended into his private life: at twenty-one, Thomas married Mr Ivy's niece! Thomas continued to work for Mr Ivy. Nine years later, his employer, mentor (and uncle by marriage), died. Thomas, now thirty, was so well-versed in his craft that he could take on the business and establish himself as "Thomas Jaques, (Manufacturer of Ivory, Hardwoods, Bone, and Tunbridge Ware)". Thus, it is from this date, 1795, that John Jaques marks its official beginning.
His decorative card illustrates his bold, ambitious nature as well as his meticulous attention to detail: a one-man business, he nonetheless offered his wares "for Wholesale and for Exportation", the latter indicated by sailing ships. The elephants tell us of the then not-endangered materials in which he principally worked. The commanding figure of a Greek goddess, quill pen in hand, seems on the verge of signing a contract. Beehives, of course, symbolise industry. And indeed, what industry. Thomas worked in wood and bone as well as ivory, handcrafting carved snuff-boxes, coat, hat and hair brushes, paper knives, work boxes, glove stretchers, and the inlaid woodwork known as Tunbridge Ware.
Coincidentally, in 1795, a son John was born. He was the third of seven children, neither the oldest nor the youngest, yet he was the offspring who would carry on and expand the family business. At fifteen, John was apprenticed to his father and five years later partnered him in the firm, which became "T. and J. Jaques, Wholesale Ivory Turners" It was, by this time, too narrow a description, as their materials now included hardwoods. Lienum vitae was the unique wood which was to become Jaques croquet mallets. Turkey boxwood was destined for mallets and balls. In fact, before long Jaques would become timber-based, as they are now, 200 years on.
Their business card of 1816 shows an enterprising, expanding range of products and materials. Consider the item, "Dentists supplied with Sea Horse Teeth" — false teeth made from hippopotamus ivory! As the father and son partnership prospered, so the family grew. John married, and in time fathered a son: John Jaques II. He, too, was apprenticed as a young man to the family firm, which by now had expanded into additional premises in Hatton Garden (Leather Lane was retained). Tallis's London Street Views, a series of steel engravings issued in 1838, shows their new headquarters at Number 102 Hatton Garden. It was here that the Jaques began in earnest to teach the world to play!
The phrase "Parlour Games" conjures up cosy Victorian scenes of extended families amusing themselves with musical interludes and the playing of card games, board games and chess. Classic games such as Happy Families, Tiddley -Winks, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders - games still so familiar today that few people can recall their origin, or indeed believe that any one person invented them! One person did: John Jaques II. John Jaques’ son was the ingenious mind behind most of these indoor pursuits, inventing Happy Families, Tiddley -Winks, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders - and developing a very large demand for dominoes, draughts and backgammon, all of which the company produced. While JJ One (as the family refer to him) will always be recognised for his major contribution to chess, the subject of a subsequent chapter, the son was undoubtedly his father's equal in imagination, craftsmanship and enterprise. Tenniel's memorable drawings of Mr Bun the Baker, Mr Grits the Grocer and so on, are at the heart of children's enjoyment of Happy Families. It was John II's foresight to commission him at an early stage in his career. Tenniel would later become Sir John Tenniel as a result of a truly illustrious career as chief cartoonist of Punch. Tenniel, of course, also brought Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland so vividly to life. In fact, Lewis Carroll's grandniece, Irene Dodgson, married the widowed John Jaques III, not only consolidating this literary connection, but furthering it with her own artistic contribution. Irene created four new characters for Jaques Happy Families. John II's originality and business acumen were rewarded with the Freedom of the City of London in 1869. This was richly deserved, for this same man who lightened long evenings with new and clever indoor pursuits also taught the world to play croquet.
John Jaques II won a place in sporting history — and a Gold Medal — for introducing croquet into England at the Great Exhibition in 1851. His display there attracted such wide attention that the game speedily became the vogue, not only here but in Europe and throughout the British Empire. It was especially popular in India, reportedly played by The Viceroy himself with a solid ivory mallet, probably made by Jaques as part of their finest set. The attractions of croquet were obvious (in hindsight). It allowed the fashionable set to step outside the claustrophobic Victorian parlour; to "take exercise" and enjoy the fresh air without (heaven forbid) breaking into a sweat; to show off their finery — hence the term, "crinoline croquet". Moreover, it gave young men and women a legitimate opportunity to mingle and wander off into the proverbial rhododendron bushes, momentarily out of sight of their ever-present chaperones!
"Nothing but tobacco smoke has ever spread as rapidly" commented Dr Prior, an early enthusiast of the game. Certainly Jaques and Son (as it was then called) had no trouble selling its equipment. JJ II was regarded as the greatest authority on the game and in 1864 wrote and published Croquet; the Laws and Regulations of the Game, by which (with some revisions) croquet is still played today.
The origin of croquet is somewhat obscure — John II first glimpsed a version of it in Ireland. And the etymology of the word "croquet" remains "tantalisingly unresolved". But JJ II's compilation of rules no doubt saved the sport from flying off in all directions as It seemed in danger of doing during those early years. Lewis Carroll (an avid player at Oxford in the 1860s) reflected the potentially unruly nature of croquet in his memorable passage of Alice's Adventures Under Ground in which the croquet balls were hedgehogs, the mallets live ostriches, (flamingoes appear in later versions), "and the soldiers had to double themselves up and stand on their hands and feet, to make the arches". Above ground in the real world, several firms began making croquet equipment, but or John Jaques has survived from that period and continues to lead the market, offering superior equipment for all levels of play. Few people today have a championship-size croquet lawn (35 x 28 yards). Keeping to the 5:4 proportions is desirable but not critical, as croquet can be played practically anywhere. There are croquet clubs all over the world, with tens of thousands of club members, and literally millions of back garden enthusiasts. JJ II's great-grandsons John V and Christopher are as keen to encourage back-garden croquet as they are to maintain and update their ancestors’ rigorous standards of craftsmanship. Materials and equipment have changed, but not as drastically as in tennis. Hoops used to be large enough for Arthur Law's (an early player) pet spaniel to run through! Equally, Jaques croquet balls as advertised in the Croquet Association Gazette (1904) were made from "the finest Turkish Boxwood". Neither is now the case. Hoops have narrowed, and paradoxically, only sets of inferior quality include wooden balls. John Jaques Eclipse balls are requested by the top players for championship play because of their dependable "bounce factor". Selected for every World Championship including the 1994 World Croquet Championships in which Robert Fulford retained his title.
Today's hoops are a mere 1/8" wider than the balls and 12" high, demanding far greater skill and making it difficult even for a dachshund to slip through! As for mallets, wood remains a constant, as have Jaques' universally recognised qualities of expertise and patience. Consider the mallets featured in their John Jaques Hatton Garden Bicentenary Limited Edition Set, (1/100). The heads are made from Lignum vitae, one of the hardest of woods, which has been carefully seasoned for at least three years. Each mallet blank is then hand-crafted and hand-fitted with brass rings, Tuftex faces, and is inlaid with a boxwood sightline. Each meticulous step continues, following an unbroken tradition of craftsmanship which began over 200 years ago with the gifted Thomas Jaques, whose apprenticeship to Mr Ivy proved so fruitful. Should any aspect of a mallet need replacing, repairing, or repolishing, or should you require one custom-made, compiled to a specific weight, Jaques can comply to within an ounce. Croquet players of all levels still beat a path to the experts tucked away in Thornton Heath, painstakingly making croquet equipment that is not only treasured, but in flay all over the world.
Chess, the quintessential game of strategy and tactics, has been a favorite since ancient times with kings, emperors and statesmen. Napoleon played. Benjamin Franklin played. Today, most newspapers and scores of magazines carry a regular chess column and the world championships are front page news. John Jaques made this popularisation possible by creating a set of chessmen which could be reproduced easily and at a reasonable cost. Let us backtrack to 1839, the year following/o/w Jaques' expansion into their new Hatton Garden premises. There, Thomas's son John, (JJ One) schooled by his father in ivory and wood turning, recognised the need for what no other turner had achieved — a classic, simple design in chessmen. Until that time, there were two extremes: On the one hand, the excessively elaborate and therefore costly hand-carved reproductions of kings and queens enthroned in state, with every realistic detail which the mind of craftsmen unacquainted with court life could envisage; on the other, rudely turned and daubed pieces in which rank was indicated by height alone. It was Nathaniel Cooke, proprietor of the Illustrated London News whose daughter later married John Jaques II, who originated these designs. He brought them to John Jaques, and together they chose a middle way in which the identity of each piece was made plain and could be reproduced with ease. The king was symbolised by a crown, the queen by a coronet, the bishop by a mitre, and so forth.
"But the greatest and most significant improvement is observable in the knight", commented the Morning Herald on 6th November, 1849. The article continued: "The crude, ugly and ill-cut caricature now in use is supplanted by an exquisite draft of the head of the Greek horse executed after the Elgin marbles...They may be viewed and judged as works of art, and as such challenge scrutiny; while the beauty of the manufacture is indicative of the high perfection to which ivory carving and the niceties of ivory turning have been brought in this country." The Times was no less effusive: "A set of Chessmen, of a pattern combining elegance and solidity to a degree hitherto unknown.." In fact, Mr Howard Staunton, one of the famous exponents of the English school of chess, was so struck by the clarification achieved by these designs that he allowed his name and signature to authenticate every box of pieces.
It soon became the standard design not just for this country, but also in Europe. Apart from minor modifications to prevent breakage, reproduction on a quantity basis showed the need for few changes — another tribute to John Jaques" thought and talent. The frills and beads were slightly strengthened, the knights’ ears set further back, and the collar of the pawn at a rather less acute angle. There are always people who see a degradation in the quantity production of any article previously made by hand, or the commercial success of a cheapened line. But as JRJ Murray — the notable authority on chess history — remarked, "There are few chess players to-day who would care to use anything but the Staunton chessmen". The universal adoption of a standard design has done more for the game than simply to provide its devotees with an agreeable instrument of play. The rapid popularisation of the game from the late 19th century onward must have been due in part to the simplification of play following a more easily identifiable set of pieces. The many books of chess problems published since that period also owe much to the use of the symbols first selected by John Jaques. One has only to compare the symbols used to illustrate any modern chess problem with those of the pre-Staunton chessmen days to see the advantages of clarity which have been gained. When, in 1864, Jaques and Son published Croquet; the Laws and Regulations of the Game, father and son took the opportunity to inform the public of their growing range of games which had already won them two medals. JJ One's triumph was included in detail, with illustrations of various Staunton chess sets — from Boxwood to "Finest African Ivory in a Spanish Mahogany Case". Today, a version of the John Jaques Staunton chess set is supplied to nearly all the world's National Chess Associations, and used in virtual exclusivity for all international tournaments. It's what the legendary Bobby Fischer checkmates with, as well as all the current world champion contenders, from Adams to Anand, Gelfand to Guiko, Ivanchuk to Lautier, Karpov to Kasparov, Kramnik to Kamsky, Spassky to Short. A Jaques set was used by Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in the 1972 World Chess Championship .
John Jaques III entered the family firm in 1884. He was a very keen athlete and his interests and abilities seemed to mesh perfectly with the changes that were happening in the world of games and sports. He understood how to propel John Jaques into the 20th century. At Wimbledon, lawn tennis was edging out croquet. By 1882, the All England Croquet Club had become the All England Lawn Tennis Club. And although croquet would regain its popularity, even have its name restored (in 1899) to the current All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, active sports were relentlessly replacing more gentle ones. Parlour games, too, were declining in favour of outdoor pursuits. JJ III grasped the new mood enthusiastically and began to shift the emphasis of John Jaques into entirely new arenas, initiating and extending the production of sports equipment for cricket, tennis, football, hockey, badminton and archery. Top-notch equipment for each of these sports continues to be offered by John Jaques today, though because of the complex and demanding specifications each sport requires, not every item is produced in-house as it was in JJ Ill's time. For example, John Jaques recently incorporated Webber, a company whose pedigree, in many ways, matches their own — a 100 year-old company founded around the time of JJ III. Webber invented the eighteen panel football, as well as the laceless football. Their innovation and expertise allows Jaques to offer a comprehensive choice of sports balls, for rugby, cricket, basketball, volleyball, netball, baseball, handball, and of course, soccer. By the mid-fifties, over 90% of the football League clubs were using Webber footballs. Their popularity now extends to Europe and North America.
Stimulated by JJ Ill's forward-looking thrust, the company thrived. And in order to accommodate the necessary new machinery and overall expansion, he had moved Jaques into larger premises, from Hatton Garden to Kirby Street. JJ III was not only innovative; he never lost sight of the importance of craftsmanship. What had made Jaques famous was still very much in evidence, now harnessed to modern methods. Nowhere was this truer than in the production of Jaques Bowls. JJ III installed modern machinery for this rapidly developing sport which resulted in a happy fulfilment of his great-grandfather's claim: Bowling Green Bowles Tum’d Correctly. So young Thomas Jaques had written in 1795 on that first, ambitious, and still-accurate, business card.
It comes as no surprise to learn that the one indoor game which the athletic JJ III spearheaded was an active one: ping-pong, or as it is now called, table tennis. John Jaques had originally marketed this game as Gossima, presumably because of the featherlight ball. It had attracted little attention, but JJ III saw its vast and delightful possibilities. He rechristened it Ping-Pong. JJ Ill's instinct was correct: its success was spectacular and Ping-Pong became another of his brilliant, innovative offerings. In 1902-3 the ping-pong boom swept the country, and when its more passionate players developed it into a championship game, they apparently chafed against its somewhat frivolous trademark. "Ping-Pong" is still used colloquially here and throughout the world, including China where it is their national sport. But JJ III's catchy onomatopoeic name eventually gave way to Jaques Table Tennis in the UK. Of course, this more serious name linked it to lawn tennis which continued to gain players and spectators in leaps and bounds. Whether the name change was instrumental in upgrading the game and widening its appeal can never be known. No doubt it helped legitimise Its status in the participants' minds as something worthy of competition-play rather than merely a pastime akin to the more passive parlour games.
Jaques continues to lead the market, providing excellent equipment for what has become a standard activity in schools throughout the country, as well as an internationally competitive and televised sport. Their tables have been used at more National, European and World Championships than any other. Jaques is the only manufacturer in Britain to offer quality tables in quantity; not as kits but complete, well-crafted, sturdy tables, ready for years of play at any level.
Methods are always regarded as "modern" in one's own time. Only by later generations are they seen as traditional. Combining the most up to date method of the time while maintaining the legacy of handcrafted products was a conscious business attitude of every member of the Jaques family from Thomas onward. Naturally, as mass production came on stream, it became more of a challenge to maintain the integrity of the more traditional aspects in terms of materials and methods. It is a credit to JJ III, to his son JJ IV, and to his sons John V and Christopher, that the increasing pressure of competition in the marketplace has not altered their view of what John Jaques has to offer to the world of sports and games. Innovation and craftsmanship remain at the heart of the company. When JJ IV took over from his father, he further expanded the various ranges and introduced significant advances in each sporting arena. Just after the war, JJ IV invented the phenolic resin lawn bowl, superior to anything at the time. In 1950, he introduced a laminated glass fibre archery bow, laminated tennis racket frames, and transformed the traditional wooden badminton racket into a lightweight, steel-shafted 4 oz version. Everything he designed was In accordance with the latest scientific research.
At the same time, JJ IV was a master turner. His talent was exceptional, best exemplified by his personal creation of a miniature Howard Staunton chess set, hand-carved out of ivory (the scarlet pieces tinted in the traditional way with cochineal) and set on a tiny walnut pedestal table, made for Queen Mary's Dolls' House at the Queen's request. Scaled precisely to Viici the original (as is everything in the Lutyens’ designed Doll's House) JJ IV's masterpiece can be viewed at Windsor Castle. Christopher relates that Queen Mary, as a gesture of her gratitude for his father's fine work, made a gift of the original 18th c. walnut pedestal table. This remains a treasured family possession. JJ IV's energy was prodigious. The selection Jaques offered was phenomenal and continued throughout the war years which, as the opening chapter relates, presented quite unexpected challenges, not least of all the devastating bombing of Jaques' premises in Kirby Street. Jaques expanded the world of play for people of all ages, in all walks of life, and in practically every corner of the world. By the 1950s, Jaques had agents worldwide selling their unsurpassed range of games and sporting equipment.
They had also become one of the leading sources of entertainment in the convivial world of the corner pub. Jaques provided everything from darts to skittles to shove halfpenny boards — all still available — the latter made in quarter sawn solid mahogany and offered with genuine old English halfpennies! Meanwhile, life on the bracing high seas was enhanced by the myriad of deck games which Jaques created (and still offers) to keep people amused aboard the grand ocean liners. In 1965 John Jaques passed safely and successfully into the hands of his sons John V and Christopher. Together with Christopher's sons Benjamin and Emmett, they have kept John Jaques competitive, continually forging new relationships with companies whose products are equal in quality to their own. Jaques is proud to offer MCC products, who, for example, hand-make their Sovereign cricket bat from English willow and their Cobra bat from selected clefts fitted with treble sprung Sarawak cane handles. Each of their Laser bats is tillered by hand to produce perfect balance and driving power. Jaques has also remained strong on the hockey field through MCC, offering professional fibreglass indoor and outdoor hockey sticks with the finest grade mulberry heads. The top models are selected by English, Dutch, German and Pakistan internationals. Jaques continues to introduce new equipment for favourite old games, such as bottles, the very latest craze from across the Channel. Truly democratic, it can be enjoyed by people of all ages, and played on any surface. In this Bicentenary year, the sixth and seventh generations of John Jaques consider their 200 year-old heritage with pride and would like to take this opportunity to ask you, the all-important players, for any illuminating anecdotes to do With Jaques’ history which the Blitz — and the passage of time — might have obscured. If a treasured childhood family game made by Jaques comes to light, one which has been forgotten in an old trunk or attic, or any item oiJaques9 sporting equipment which you might want dated, identified or, indeed, preserved in the archival collection which the Jaques family has informally put together as a museum of memorabilia, please do not hesitate to contact one of the family and they will do their best to help. Two hundred years on, John V and Christopher, together with Ben, Emmett, Joe and Clare, look with confidence to the future, knowing that as the oldest sports and games manufacturer in the world, they continue to be in a unique position to teach the world to play.