Monday, 25 June 2012

Vat & Fiddle, Nottingham

Nottinghams other venue for Bar Billiards (the Newshouse is the other). The Vat & Fiddle is also the Castle Rock brewery tap, with a great reputation as a beer drinkers pub. The pub is conveniently located opposite the main rail station, and a short stroll from the Newshouse making an inter-pub Bar Billiards competition a distinct possibility.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Syston & District Social Club, Leicestershire

Members clubs of all persuasions are frequently the last bastions of the pub game tradition, particularly the more genteel pastimes of Dominoes, Cards and that most genteel of all games, Bowls. For the older generation in particular, clubs are often the best, and in some cases the only venue for an affordable drink with friends, perhaps over an afternoon game of Cribbage.

But many clubs are struggling to attract the new membership required to thrive and guarantee their existence into the future. It seems that the clubs which are succeeding in difficult times are those which have opened themselves up to the wider community. At their best, clubs can be a truly great local resource, and the very best are exploiting this by aiming to be as inclusive as possible.

Syston is a village blessed with a good range of pubs, and one of the best clubs you're likely to find. The committee and membership support numerous charities, host several local associations, put on live music, and even entertain Salsa dance lessons. They also organise an annual Beer Festival, and have achieved entry in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide for the quality of the real ales available at the bar. A very 'social' club then, and one where the very sociable activity of games play is well catered for, including Cribbage, Darts, and Skittles, both Table and Long Alley.

A Mixed Bag of skittles. Both the skinny hardwood Leicester variety, and the more dumpy plastic Northamptonshire skittles are available for play. The Leicester version is shown below, but the club team currently play the Northants game.

The Long Alley is in the same room as the Table Skittles, which in common with virtually all such alleys doubles as a function/meeting room when not in use. This is the only way many pubs and clubs can justify the continued existence of the game. The Leicestershire Long Alley game uses hardwood barrel-shaped 'balls', which make for an unpredictable bounce in an inexperienced hand. Many of the old pins have been wrapped with gaffer tape to help extend their life since a full set of long alley pins are not cheap to buy.

The sloping shute for returning the Long Alley balls, with the Skittles Table in the background.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Old White Hart, Lyddington, Rutland

The Old White Hart in Lyddington is a true village inn offering accommodation, fine dining, and a genuine welcome even if you're just stopping by for a drink. Being quite an upmarket Rutland hostelry, Pétanque is the game of choice, with a team currently playing in 'South B' of the Rutland & District Pétanque League. There are several well maintained pistes available at the rear of the pub, and a game can be arranged by appointment with the licensees. Home league games are played on alternate Tuesdays, and a full fixtures list can be found on the League website:

The Games Corner in the bar features a very good selection of traditional pub games, probably supplied for the amusement of guests as much as anything, but don't let that put you off. The lid of the Dominoes box even has a Crib Board for scoring.

The Shove Ha'penny is by K&C Ltd of London, which along with Jacques of London is one of the most common vintage Mahogany boards you're likely to come across in pubs. The coins are available on request from the bar.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

A Compendium of Pub Game Images - Pt.3

This Northamptonshire Skittles Table resides in the bar of the Cross Keys Inn, Kingscliffe in Northamptonshire. Unusually, the pins and cheeses are the yellow plastic variety more commonly seen in Leicestershire. I'm not entirely sure whether the table is used for league play, but visitors to the Cross Keys are welcome to throw a few cheeses for pleasure.

These lovely cribbage board pegs were given to me recently as a gift. They appear to be made from bone and are quite crudely carved, and yet in a modern context are almost too good for day-to-day use.

The unique and famous Trip To Jerusalem in Nottingham lays claim (along with several others) to being the oldest pub in Britain. It certainly has one of the oldest traditional pub games in an original Ring The Bull. The game is located in the Ward Room, to the right as you enter the pub, though you'll have to get there pretty early for a game as the pub is often full to bursting with diners and tourists. The pub was also home to another game of some pedigree, with a (thankfully) defunct Cock Fighting pit located in the cellars.

League Darts, and regular Dominoes games are played at the George in Ashley, Northants. There is also a small barrel trophy for the annual pre-Bottle Kicking Tug of War between Ashley and Medbourne.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Newshouse, Nottingham

I mentioned in my previous post that the centre of Nottingham, in common with many large towns and cities, may not be a happy hunting ground for traditional pub games. But there are exceptions, and the Newshouse on Canal Street is a good example.

I suppose if I was looking for a pub in Nottingham with a decent pint and the possibility of a few pub games, the ever expanding estate of the Castle Rock Brewery would be a good place to start. If ever there were an advert for the fact that old fashioned pub values, done very well and with an eye to the future, really are the secret to longevity in the pub trade, Castle Rock pubs are it. Thoroughly forward looking, but not forgetting what pubs are supposed to be about, which is the thoroughly traditional business of social intercourse.

The Newshouse is a handy pub for the rail station and the Broadmarsh bus terminus. Frequented by a good mix of locals and local office workers, it's the latter who are perhaps the most enthusiastic users of the many pub games on offer. The Bar Billiards Table is believed to be one of only two in the city, the other located at another Castle Rock pub just up the road.

The Devil Amongst The Tailors is currently missing its ball! Behind the bar, the various paraphernalia of games play are kept safe, including the set of Mushrooms for the Bar Billiards Table.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Plough Inn, Old Radford, Nottingham

In common with many large towns and cities, you'll be hard pressed to find much in the way of interesting pub games in the centre of Nottingham. The closer to the busy shopping areas of a town you get, the higher the rents, and inevitably space in pubs tends to be devoted to the revenue generating pastimes of vertical drinking and dining. With one or two notable exceptions (which I'll be featuring here at a later date), you have to take a stroll to the fringes of town to find anything like a traditional game, even Darts can be hard to find in the centre.

The Plough at Old Radford is well worth the stroll out of town, not only for the comprehensive selection of pub games, but also the wide range of excellent real ales from the adjacent Nottingham Brewery. Firmly traditional in character, featuring two separate bars served from a central servery, cosy real fires in the Winter (or indeed the wet and windy Summer when I visited), a pub just as it should be.

Perhaps the most interesting game featured at the pub is the long alley skittles in the small garden at the rear. Quite a rarity for Nottingham now, most of these being located further afield in the Notts and Derby area.

For a throw to count in this version of Long Alley Skittles, one foot must remain in this hole when throwing the wooden balls (Woods), which must bounce once before hitting the front King Pin. In this image you can just make out the loose sheet of metal in front of the pins. A throw must also clear this to count, and the loud rattle of the metal is a clear indication of a foul throw. Opinions vary on the positioning of the King Pin, some stating it must be at the front of the diamond pattern, other in the middle. The licensee of the Plough helpfully suggested that 'it all depends...' which I'm taking as the definitive answer. On the right of this image, and below right, can be seen the yellow piping used to return the Woods to the throwing end

The alcove for the Darts Board is also home to the Dictionary & Games Corner, home to a Bagatelle, as well as the Dominoes, Cards and Cribbage Boards for scoring.

A nice modern Shove Ha'penny Board is available on request at the bar, in common with many such boards, now rarely used. A Devil Amongst The Taylors table is also available, though currently awaiting the replacement of a missing pin.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Red Lion, Rothwell, Northants

There are two hotbeds of the Northamptonshire Table Skittles game in Rothwell. The all conquering Conservative Club, where you throw under the steely gaze of the Iron Lady herself, and the sturdy stone edifice of the Red Lion Hotel, both of which are located in the heart of this attractive Northamptonshire village.

Year in, year out, it's the 'A' team at the Connie Club who are the ones to beat, regularly winning both the League, Beer Leg, and a good few of the Knockout cups. The Red Lion 'A' team are pretty handy with a set of cheeses too, but as can be seen below, the 'B' team, who are relatively new to the league, are currently entrusted with the venerable Phipps-NBC Summer Skittles League Wooden Spoon. It's a fact of league play that someone has to have this piece of wood each year, indeed my local the Red Lion in Middleton (currently closed), had a wooden spoon over the bar for a short time, as well as a small selection of more honourable trophies.

Some of the trophies from the Friday Winter League can be seen in an image from the Market Harborough Mail which I've linked to here. I'm pleased to say that the Mail still regularly features the league tables and end of season presentations for Skittles, as well as for several other pub games including Cribbage and Darts:

Teams bag the Benels booty at league prizegiving - Sport - Harborough Mail

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Lord Harrowby, Grantham, Lincs

The Lord Harrowby in Grantham is a really fine example of a well run back-street local. It's unpretentious urban boozers like this that represent the very best of the British pub tradition in my mind, yet sadly it's this category of pub which has suffered the most from closures in recent years.

A pub which is located a little off the beaten track is often the least well equipped to deal with falling local trade.

Without the reliable footfall which many high street pubs enjoy, the possibility of reinvention as a smart food driven venue or circuit drinking establishment, may not be an option. The Lord Harrowby has managed to maintain a good local following by not only specialising in a range of fine local ales, but by supporting a number of popular pub games. As can be seen from the pictures below, Darts, Pool, Cribbage, and Dominoes are played at the pub, with plenty of trophies to indicate success in the local leagues.

This handsome vintage Billiards/Snooker scoreboard was rescued from a nearby RAF base on its recent closure. It would probably have graced the games room attached to the officers mess. Of course a scoreboard is not strictly needed for Pool, but it's a fine addition to the games room nevertheless.

These colour coded sliding panels would have been used for recording the progress of a game similar to Killer, which would have been played for small stakes, and was very popular at one time. Up to eight players would have been allocated a coloured ball each, and would have lost one of three lives whenever a player pocketed that ball during the game. It would of course still be possible to play this game on a Pool table, though only if an older set of striped/spotted multi-coloured balls could be found, as opposed to the Yellow and Red balls which are the standard now.

This handsome shield for Darts was presented to the pub over 40 years ago, and is kept well polished in the games room.

The lifeblood of many a locals pub, the Cards, Dominoes, and Cribbage Boards are well used in the Lord Harrowby. The tin contains a selection of pegs for the Crib Boards.