Sunday, 29 April 2012

A Brace of Cribbage Boards

That a thing of such simple beauty as this folding wooden Crib Box can be bought for around the price of a couple of pints of beer (and somewhat less than a packet of cigarettes), is something I find a little hard to understand. Given its humble purpose and simple glued construction, I doubt whether this box would have been an expensive thing when new, but it's a lovely piece of work nevertheless. Made from a mixed-bag of different woods, and designed to hold a pack of cards and the pegs for scoring a game. It certainly needs a little bit of attention, including a small slice of wood to close the peg compartment, but its real charm is in the shabby, well used patina of age.

This monster Crib Board resides at Ye Olde Reindeer in Banbury, a Hook Norton pub with a truly wonderful historic interior. The beer is very good here too.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Elephant & Castle, Bloxham, Banbury

As if being a thoroughly traditional and welcoming village boozer which features regularly in the Good Beer Guide, and the 2011 North Oxford CAMRA Cider Pub of the Year were not enough, the Elephant & Castle at Bloxham also features an excellent range of traditional pub games. This part of the country is an Aunt Sally stronghold, a game I first encountered in the 80's on a cycling holiday around the Banbury area. Put very simply, it's a little like Long Alley Skittles, except that the pins are thrown at the ball! In common with many pub games, it's an easy game to learn, but very difficult to master.

The Elephant & Castle field 'A' and 'B' teams in Division 4 of the Banbury & District Aunt Sally League, which means there will always be a home game to see on a Thursday night during the Summer should you be in the area.

The interior of the pub is quite roomy, meaning there is plenty of room for a number of games, including this Bar Billiards table.

The Aunt Sally Pitch is looking a little overgrown after the Winter break, but the fixture list shows that Elephant & Castle 'A' should already have played a home game. Perhaps it was rained off!

The Shove Ha'penny Board is tucked neatly away beneath a table in the bar, which is home also to a Darts Board. This is a beautifully smooth piece of wood, quite large by the standards of commercial boards.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The George, Oundle

More often than not, finding a pub with an interesting selection of games can involve a trip to fringes of a town. Town centre pubs and bars are generally those where traditional games have been ousted first. Where space is at a premium, tables for dining are often considered the main priority, but even in the larger drinking establishments it's rare to see anything other than Pool or televised sports, particularly in the 'Vertical Drinking Establishments' which litter our high streets, where nothing as time consuming as participating in a game is allowed to interupt the flow of drink!

A good example of this kind of pub is The George in Oundle, set a good 10 minute hike out from the centre of this small market town, set in a strictly residential area and very much a community local. The usual league Pool and Darts are played, but this is also an outpost of the Northamptonshire Skittles tradition, with a fine old table and a team in the Islip & District Skittles League.

Detail on the side of the skittles table. The right-hand front leg has a small square patch where a plate with the manufacturers details would have been, probably the Peppers brothers from the appearance and quality of the table.

A poor video of a decent enough '9' on The George skittles table.


Sunday, 22 April 2012

Crown & Trumpet, Broadway - Pt.2

The Shut The Box is quite a large one by modern standards. It's an old thing too, with plenty of wear and tear through use. A better set of dice would have looked better in this image.

A better image of the Ring The Bull, and a Devil Amongst The Tailors missing a pin. The Shove Ha'penny and Evesham Quoits (Dobbers) are currently with the owner for repair/safekeeping.

The Crown & Trumpet had a Bar Billiards table until quite recently, presumably removed through lack of space. The pub is cosy, and can get very busy with diners during the tourist season. Interestingly, this shield for a Singles Knockout competition features an image of a Northants/Leics Table Skittles rather than a Billiards Table!
A modern hardwood set of Dominoes, and a few pints of Gloucestershire ale provided afternoon entertainment during the April showers.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Horse & Hounds, Broadway, Worcestershire

The Horse & Hounds is a pub I know quite well. Located at the top end of the High Street in the tourist haven of Broadway, it's a pub I've visited regularly over the last few years, and yet I've found little to love here if I'm truly honest. Things seem to be looking up though. A recent visit on a bright and sunny April weekend revealed not only a quality Devon cider from award-winning Sandford Orchards, but the mild amusement of a Shut The Box game available for play. Not the most exciting pub game I'll admit, but a nice touch in a pub I've previously found a little bland. As a traditional English pub (which is surely what the tourists are looking for), the Horse & Hounds seems to be coming back into form. It's certainly a bit more 'pubby' than it's been for a while, and I look forward to visiting again in the busy Summer months. It's also pleasing to see that the Darts Board has been given more prominence in the bar area.  

Friday, 20 April 2012

Tollemache Arms, Harrington

Attractive thatched village pubs like the Tollemache Arms can so easily be ruined as pubs by an insensitive hand. Often, all it takes is a change of ownership, and out go the accumulated artifacts and images of genuine local interest, to be replaced with a mish-mash of bland bric-a-brac, a marketing man's idea of what makes a 'local'. The recent gastro fad may be a London restaurant critics dream, but clearly it has also ruined many a good pub in the process.

This continued gentrification of our rural pubs is something I view with great concern, not least because the true locals are becoming marginalised, and needless to say there is little room allowed for the social pastimes which the very best of our pubs have been built on, and which are still an essential part of community life.

The Tollemache Arms is a true local in every sense of the word, and it is to the credit of the current owners that they work hard to be at the centre of their community with events, functions, and of course by fielding teams in several Northamptonshire Table Skittles leagues throughout the year.

The skittles table is located in an extension to the original pub, which is also the main entrance from the car park. You can't miss it. The mat in front of the table helps to dampen the clatter of a poorly thrown cheese on the tiled floor. 

Winter league matches are cosy affairs thanks to the adjacent wood-burning stove. The throw at the Tollemache Arms is notoriously long in comparison to other venues, all part of home advantage.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Hurdler, Stamford

The Hurdler is set a little way out from the town centre of Stamford. A classic community pub, open plan with a central bar, but probably multi-roomed when originally built. It would have been built to serve the needs of the post war housing which surrounds it, and like most pubs which are firmly embedded in their communities, The Hurdler is a games pub through and through. Darts, Crib, and Pool are the principal league games played here, but the pub also has a team in Stamfords unique Pushpenny League.

The league is currently running with just six pubs/clubs, which is a parlous state for any pub game to be in. Let's hope the pubs of Stamford can keep this game going where others have sadly fallen by the wayside.

Two Pushpenny Boards. The nearest is in regular use, made from a single piece of Mahogany, and with a beautifully polished surface. The other board is a little more workmanlike, and is in fact the reverse surface of a Shove Ha'penny Board (see below).

The sloping run-off at the rear of this Pushpenny board can be seen here, and is a feature which is typical of these boards, and yet rarely if ever seen on the more common Shove Ha'penny board.

As far as I can tell, this Shove Ha'penny is a commercial board, of a type which would have been quite common in its time. As shown above, the reverse side has been adapted for Pushpenny, the curved stop bar acting as the brace when used on a table top. How much use the Shove Ha'penny gets at The Hurdler is not clear.

Trophies and the all important fixtures board. This is one of several in the pub, and features the fixture lists for the Crib, and Stamford Pushpenny Leagues.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Swan & Rushes, Leicester

Perhaps best known as a speciality beer pub, the Swan & Rushes also features a very special pub game in this Bar Billiards Table. I can't recall the last time I saw another table in a pub, it may well be the only one in Leicester. The pub has recently instigated its own competition for locals, with a smart trophy for the winner. Perhaps this could be the start of a local league...

The table is a lovely bit of furniture, and the game is entirely suited to an afternoon drinking good beer with friends. Play is all from the front of the table,  making this game ideal for the smaller room where space is limited for a Pool Table.

I was kindly given a short tour of the innards, clearly showing how the balls are returned to the pockets during play. The game operates to a timer mechanism which can be seen at the front. When the time is up, a wooden board clunks down to stop any more balls returning.

Underneath the bed of the table, a full service history can be seen going back to the early 70's. There also appears to be 'University Oxford' written on the timber, perhaps the original location of this table.
The Score Board is located adjacent to the table, and a nice bit of wood and brass in itself.

Darts has also been recently introduced at the Swan.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

King Richard III, Leicester

If the King Richard III was in Madrid, it would be in all the guide books as an unspoilt classic. Look for the Wetherspoon on the High Street, then keep walking for the last proper pub on Highcross Street.

This is one of two dedicated games areas at the pub, this one for Darts, the upstairs room has another two Darts Boards, and also a Table Skittles with both Leicestershire and Northamptonshire pins available.  The pub has a number of Darts teams, but currently the Table Skittles is not in use for league play. There are also teams for Cribbage and Pool.

You can read more about the pub and the current licensees here.

The Ship Inn, Leicester

The main bar of the Ship Inn, a back street local in a very run down part of Leicester. The Pool table takes centre stage these days, but three Darts boards including one in the lounge, is a clear indication of how important the game would have been. Note the board to the left in the alcove, quite how this one would have been played is a mystery to me.

'The Bates Brothers, The Ship Inn, 1950...'

One of several trophy displays in the pub, all for Darts.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Foresters Arms, Leicester

Table Skittles, Leicester style. The table itself seems slightly larger than the Northamptonshire game, though this may be an optical illusion down to the much skinnier pins used in the Leicestershire game (see below). This table is well used in various local leagues.

Skinny pins, a King Pin, and smaller 'Cheeses' mark the Leicestershire game out from its Northamptonshire cousin. The rules of play are quite different too, but to be honest, it's not a game I'm as familiar with as I thought I was before my visit to the Foresters.

League Darts is also very important at the Foresters, with a fine array of trophies on display.

It wasn't so long ago that most pubs were host to a wide range of pub games.