Friday, 28 December 2012

Saffron Lane Working Mens Club, Leicester

This short film has been produced by Dean Wright as a lasting record of the soon to be demolished Saffron Lane Working Mens Club in Leicester. Note the Leicester Skittles Table at 52 seconds, and the four Billiards Tables. It's doubtful whether there will be room for all of these should plans for a smaller rebuilt club come to fruition in 2013.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Embankment, Nottingham - Pt.2

My previous post featured the excellent Skittle Alley in the basement of The Embankment, a real rarity now in Nottingham, and almost certainly the closest available for play to the city centre. However, the main focus of games play at this venue can be found in the spacious 'Billiards Room' on the ground floor, equipped with four full-size tables for Snooker, and comfortable raised banquette seating for viewing play.

The game of Billiards is not one you'll find played much these days, and yet Billiards tables like the ones shown here at The Embankment are still common enough. The three ball game of Billiards has been almost entirely superseded by it's more sophisticated sibling Snooker, but since the two games share a common playing surface the old Billiards tables remain and continue to give good service.

The four very fine old tables at The Embankment include this model from a local Nottingham manufacturer. Elston & Hopkin still operate in the cue sports field, albeit under different ownership and from a base in Lincolnshire. The firm don't appear to manufacture tables or equipment anymore, rather they are dealers in a range of new and pre-owned tables, and provide a repair and fitting service. Some of the current score boards at the club were also manufactured by Elston & Hopkin, including the one shown here.

According to Arthur Taylor in his excellent book 'Played At The Pub', there may now only one remaining pub in the UK with a fully functioning Billiards room, the grade II listed Lamb Hotel in Eccles, snooker now being almost exclusively a club game with the cheaper and more compact games of Pool and Bar Billiards preferred in pubs nowadays.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Embankment, Nottingham - Pt.1

Of all the sizeable towns and cities in the Midlands region, it's perhaps Nottingham which is regarded as the one with the most vibrant and diverse nightlife. The pubs and bars which support this thriving social scene are an excellent mix of old and new, where cool modern bars rub shoulders with the genuine heritage of old favourites such as the Bell Inn, Trip To Jerusalem, and the cosy Peacock on Mansfield Road.

Despite this undoubtedly healthy mix, and with a few notable exceptions, traditional pub games and the community locals where they are still played have largely been pushed out to the fringes of Nottingham in recent years. A handful of Castle Rock Brewery pubs are a notable exception, the Newshouse and Vat & Fiddle having already featured on this blog, but any kind of league play has all but disappeared in the centre of town.

If there's one game I thought I'd find more evidence of in Nottingham, it's the local Notts/Derby version of Long Alley Skittles, yet the only alley I'd managed to track down was the one in the garden of the excellent Plough Inn, a little way out of town at Old Radford. Thanks to an article in the December/January edition of Nottingham CAMRA's newsletter Nottingham Drinker, I've now had the opportunity to visit another surviving Long Alley at a former club on the edge of the town centre, perhaps a sign that there may be other surviving alleys waiting to be discovered in the town.

The Embankment was originally a shop and club premises for Boots The Chemist, but is now run by a charitable trust for the benefit of the local community. Describing itself as '...a unique venue for all occasions', with functions including weddings particularly well catered for, the bar and extensive facilities are open to all. The main gaming interest at the Embankment will feature in part two of this post, but here are a few images from the basement, including the excellent Long Alley.

In the basement of the Embankment can be found amongst other things, the smart purpose built Skittle Alley. I was told by the manager that it was still in need of a little TLC, but to be honest it's one of the better alleys I've seen and perfectly serviceable for play. The alley is a typical Notts/Derby area Long Alley, with cast iron plate for setting the pins, loose metal sheet to help indicate when a throw doesn't complete the minimum distance, and a very sturdy wooden shute for returning the balls. Also available for play in the basement is an old Jaques Devil Amongst The Tailors, Table Football, and Darts Board. The rubber mat for the Darts throw features the Home Ales bowman, which is interesting only in that the alley is very similar to the 'basement' alley at The Beacon pub in Loughborough. The Beacon was originally built by Home Brewery in the 60's, who apparently had a policy of including a skittle alley in all of their new builds. Though the building and club activities date from much earlier, the bar was only installed at the Embankment in the late 60's, perhaps as a Home Brewery account.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A Compendium of Pub Games Images - Pt.12

Is this the cosiest Skittles Table in Northamptonshire

This table is located in the refurbished bar of the Hare & Hounds, Great Addington in Northamptonshire. The pub fields both 'A' and 'B' teams in the local Wellingborough & District League.

Shuv Billiards anyone? This unusual variation on the traditional pub game of Shove Ha'penny is apparently based on a Billiards table. It's a very weighty piece of slate, and scoring presumably entails 'pocketing' the coins in one of the four depressions on the edges of the board. Exactly how the game progresses once your coin has been shoved into play is unclear. I've certainly never seen one of these before, and have little doubt that I'll probably never see one again! Scores are pegged on the wooden 'cushions' which are numbered in a similar fashion to a traditional Billiards score board. This board was seen in a Norfolk antiques shop, but is unfortunately not for sale. However, the owner has plans to pass it on to his son who is in the licensed trade, so all being well it could end up being played in the pub again sometime soon.

Not many people would put a long wait at a rail station high on their list of good days out, but thanks to old-fashioned buffets like this one at Downham Market in Norfolk, the wait could well end up being better than the journeys end!

The Railway Arms is as cosy a place to wait for a train as you're likely to find, with real ales and traditional ciders to sample, and a small selection of games to while away the time between trains. The games corner includes the traditional pub staples of Cards and Dominoes, plus a Shut The Box, a handy game for the solo traveller.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Palmerston Arms, Peterborough

The Palmerston Arms has long been a favourite with beer enthusiasts. Ostensibly a Batemans Brewery pub, the 'Palmy' also offers a wide range of guest beers from other small brewers, usually over a dozen to choose from, all drawn straight from the cask.

But this is no one-dimensional 'real ale' pub, it's a true community local with a licensee who works hard to attract customers from near and far. In addition to the impressive beer range are regular live music sessions, a quiz night, and naturally a good selection of traditional pub games.

League Cribbage is still played at the Palmerston Arms, and there's also a good Darts Board. In addition a quality solid wood Shove Ha'penny Board has been introduced to the bar, and a pub Championships is planned for January during the pubs inaugural Winter Beer Festival. A few locals will be bringing their own boards for the event, which is as good an excuse for a day out with a camera as I can think of. I may even throw my own hat in the ring on the day!

The games corner has plenty of Cards, Dominoes, and Cribbage Boards available for use. The felt covered table-topper gets enough use at the Palmerston Arms to warrant its own Crib Board, and these trophies from the Peterborough Independent Cribbage League are an indication of a measure of success in the Winter and Summer leagues for the pub team.

Practically a beer festival every day, a cheery wood burning stove, and a good solid Shove Ha'penny Board make the Palmerston Arms the ideal refuge on a cold Winters day.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

A Compendium of Shove Ha'penny Images

Now here's a thing you don't see very often these days. I wonder at which 'Star' this Shove Ha'penny Shield was played for. Perhaps the Star Inn, Bath which is well known for having an old wall mounted slate in the bar. Perhaps not though, as this was found in a junk shop near the Lincolnshire coastline.

Before the advent of widespread commercial production, most if not all Shove Ha'penny Boards would have been home made, or at the very least locally fabricated by a craftsman. It seems to have been around the war years that the game first began to be exploited by games manufacturers such as Jaques, K&C, Wisdens etc. The standardisation of boards which resulted was also accompanied by a range of specially manufactured Shove Ha'penny Tokens. For the most part these were simply Brass washers, stamped or otherwise branded with the manufacturer's logo, perhaps silvered on one side to make them more attractive. The tokens shown here are fairly modern ones, effectively reproductions of the original half pennies already used for the game. This design of token came with the cheaper laminated boards marketed by House of Marbles, Past Times etc. They work very well due to having raised edges on the underside which present the minimum resistance to sliding up the board.

Laminate boards like the one shown here have good and bad points. The laminate surface is certainly nice and smooth, and when in good condition a tad more even than many solid wood boards and not prone to warping. The lighter inlaid bed lines can make determining whether a coin is a scorer or not a little easier than the deep grooves of the more traditional design. Of course a major plus point is that if bought new, these boards are inexpensive and relatively easy to source.

Perhaps the major drawback of cheaper veneered boards is the greater susceptibility to damage. Any kind of dent to the edges is likely to also damage the particle board on which the thin laminate is glued, and this can prove difficult to repair. Worst of all is the potential for water (or beer) damage, which will almost certainly expand the particle board causing splits to the edge like that shown below. Water damage on a traditional board will usually only result in staining to the wood, whereas a laminate board may develop an uneven 'bubbled' surface when the particle board expands. This is almost impossible to repair, and if particularly bad could result in the board being suitable only as firewood!

One final thing which goes against laminate boards. In my opinion, they don't look nearly as nice as solid wood and brass!

The board shown here is another inexpensive plywood model, only of note because unusually the grain of the playing surface runs crosswise rather than the usual length ways. As a consequence, this board was quite a slow one when I bought it, and has subsequently needed a good deal of work with fine sandpaper and wax polish to achieve a good playable surface. Nevertheless, it's an attractive piece of stained plywood, flat and in good condition with a nice Brass end stop.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Rushden Transport Museum, Northamptonshire

Is this the most unusually sited Skittles Table in Northamptonshire?

The tell-tale curve of the ceiling tells us that this fine old table resides in an old railway carriage, located on a short section of line at the award-winning Rushden Transport Museum. The table is used by teams based across the station platform at the Historical Transport Society Social Club, itself a multiple award-winner culminating in CAMRA's National Club of the Year in 2010. The club fields two teams in the Three Shires Thursday League, and one in the Wellingborough & District Monday League, which makes this a very well used table indeed.

The Ladies Room and Buffet on the left houses the cosy club bar, whilst across the platform, bathed in sunlight, is the former mail coach which houses the Northants Skitttles Table. Sunday afternoon is practice time, and good opportunity to have a throw for yourself, accompanied by a pint of something good and local from the bar. My thanks to the members of the Rushden Station team on this Sunday afternoon for allowing me to interrupt their practice.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Scoring Pub Games

Buying old pub games and the associated paraphanalia of play can sometimes throw up a few oddities. I've been after a decent branded chalk score board for some time now, and though this one doesn't exactly match my needs it was too nice a thing to pass by. But what was it originally designed to score?

Let's start with the Lion Ale branding which possibly originated from the Matthew Brown brewery. Matthew Brown brewed at the Lion Brewery in Blackburn until it was closed by Scottish & Newcastle in the early 90's. Having said that, Lion Ale is the sort of brand that could have been brewed in many parts of the world, indeed there was one such Pale Ale from New Zealand Breweries so it's hard to pin this down definitively to the north of England.

The scoring seems to relate to a deck of cards, yet most pub games would have used a Crib Board or other diminutive scoring method rather than a large board like this. It's possible that this would have scored another game such as Darts, of which there are many variations, at least one of which may be based on a card game.

This is a fairly typical Billiards Scoreboard, quite a simple model which may have been modified at a later date. Most of these smaller boards are fitted with brass markers, but what I like about this one is the attractive Boxwood and Ebony (or Ebonised?) markers, all four of which are still present and in good condition. The two sets of five drilled holes shown here may have been for pegs of some kind, giving the facility to score to 500 or more. To my eyes they look to be a later addition, and are certainly not the most elegant method of extending the scoring range of this board.

I've come across this particular Cribbage Board before. The central panel would originally have had a glass or perspex cover framing an advertising graphic for Englands Glory matches.

As you can see, it was in pretty poor condition when I bought it, held together with rusty nails and with two pieces of rough timber acting as feet. I managed to remove all the nails without further damage, and glued the various Boxwood pieces back together before adding a piece of black felt to the central area, a nice match to the remnants of Ebony inlay, and ideal for rolling a set of Poker Dice in.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Crows Nest, Leicester

The Crows Nest is a relatively modern Everards Brewery pub, a short walk from the city centre on the Hinckley side of town. It's a pub firmly pitched at the family market, liberally decked out in Halloween livery when I visited, and a great all-rounder with regular live music and plenty of pub game action.

Unusually, the Crows Nest offers the chance to compare a Northants Skittles Table with the rarer local Leicester variety, located as they are side by side in the games area. The Northants table is a vintage W T Blacks model, the Leicester one, in common with all these tables I've come across, looks slightly more home made. Needless to say the plastic pins and cheese shown here are not the correct ones for a Leicester Table. Darts and Pool are also played at the pub, and the licensee is happy to supply the hardware if you fancied throwing a few cheeses over a pint or two.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

A Compendium of Pub Games Images - Pt.11

Wellingborough in Northamptonshire has a number of very good pubs for the beer enthusiast (see below), in all honesty, the Volunteer is currently not one of them. No real ale is on offer at the Volunteer, and yet this is still one of my favourite pubs in the town, and well worth a visit if like me you have a love of unpretentious, well-run locals pubs. From the outside there's little to draw your attention to this Victorian (?) street corner pub, only the subdued light from within indicates that it is still trading as a pub. Inside is a different matter. Light, airy, and beautifully maintained by the current licensee. A clutch of locals propping up the bar beneath a photograph of the self same locals from an earlier time, all bike leathers and long hair. A sociable bunch, and seemingly proud of their long association with the pub.

The pub staples of Darts, Pool, and Cribbage are all played, but more unusually, an old Bar Billiards Table stands to the rear of the bar. In common with many of these older tables, the coin mechanism is unmodified and therefore still requires old 10 pence pieces for a game, which are available from the bar. The Volunteer hosts a team in the local Wellingborough Bar Billiards League.

The Burnaby Arms in Bedford is a classic back-street corner local, and has recently re-opened after a sensitive refurbishment with the aim of re-establishing itself as a proper community local. It's nice to see traditional pub games like these Dominoes still have a place at the pub.
The Cross Keys, Burbage, near Hinckley in Leicestershire, has an unspoilt interior of sufficient merit to be included on CAMRA's national inventory. The front bar is a lovely place to spend an afternoon with a pint or two, and what better way to spend it than shoving a few coins up the polished surface of this Shove Ha'penny Board. The board is kept in an alcove to the right of the fireplace, with coins available from behind the bar.

The Breweriana, and hundreds of pump clips which adorn the walls of the Coach & Horses in Wellingborough are testament to the role that beer plays in the pubs success. I'm pleased to see that there is still room for a Darts Board though.