Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Unicorn Inn, Lutterworth, Leicestershire

The Unicorn Inn is an old favourite of mine from when I lived in South Leicestershire in the late 80's. Pubs like this are often described as being 'Basic', or 'No-Frills'. I think this does pubs like the Unicorn a great disservice.

I was in what I would describe as a basic pub today. A recent bland identikit refurbishment of a historic village local. Pointless vintage items dotted around the pub, none of which have any connection with the village or its community. 90% of the space given over to dining. The main attraction in the token bar area was the plasma screen showing sport. Lighting too low, noise levels too high, beer range very average. There was little sign of anyone being there to mix socially or step out of the cosy comfort zone of their own social clique. Basic, boring, and sadly all too common. I couldn't wait to get out of there.

The Unicorn is a genuine town centre locals pub which has changed little over the years. It doesn't need to because what it does, it does so well. The owners, staff, and locals are a friendly bunch, happy to chat, and welcoming to visitors like ourselves. The bar is a regular meeting place for people who still appreciate the true value of pubs as neutral venues to mix socially, drink good beer, and play the kind of games which have been enjoyed in the area for generations. There really is nothing basic about this pub at all. It's a fine, unpretentious pub, and I love it!

Table Skittles and Darts are the principal games played at the Unicorn. The pub field several teams in the various local skittles leagues, including Mens, Womens, and Mixed teams. The skittles fixture list can get so crowded at times in the Unicorn, that a second table has been set up in the lounge for additional games.

The trophy cabinet in the bar of the Unicorn is quite large by necessity, and crammed with silverware from many years of success in the various games played at the pub.

This photo in the bar shows the team of the long closed Engine Inn, Ullesthorpe near Lutterworth, winners of the Ullesthorpe & District Darts League (1951-52)

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Crown Inn, Melton Mowbray

The cosy bar of the Crown Inn. Darts is played in the local Melton Mowbray League.
The unique Leicestershire version of Long Alley Skittles, in common with many traditional pub games, has experienced something of a slow decline in recent years. A dedicated skittle alley is for many pubs an unnecessary luxury, taking up valuable dining, drinking, or even car parking space. Having said that, there are still a surprising number of alleys still in regular use, and even a handful of leagues operating throughout the county. Where alleys do still exist, the game can be very popular. In fact Long Alley Skittles has for many years been a favourite choice for business social evenings and team building events, and even in the current climate of zero-tolerance to alcohol in the work place, it's pleasing to see that this is still the case today.

One of the easiest ways to find an alley for a casual game, is to use the pub search facility on the Everards Brewery website (, since a good few of the surviving alleys are located at Everards pubs. The Syston & District Skittles League website is also worth a look (

The Crown in the busy market town of Melton Mowbray, is an Everards pub with a well used skittle alley. It's slightly unusual in that the alley is a relatively new addition to the facilities at the pub, making good use of an unused store room at the rear of the building. The use of Straw and sacking at the business end of the alley is a reminder of the humble origins of the game, where rough and ready alleys would have been set up in outhouses and barns as an inexpensive game for the locals. The enterprising licensee at the Crown seems to be making a great success of the new alley, with a team playing in the Melton & District Ladies Skittles League (who arrive with their own match day pins and balls for the serious business of league play), as well as being popular with social groups and local businesses.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Emperor, Cambridge

Billiards, Pool, and Darts are promised at the Emperor, a popular music venue on the edge of the city centre. There may well have been a Billiards Table at some point, but there was no sign of it on my visit. In common with many Cambridge pubs, the Emperor offers a wide selection of board games for customers to play.

The Pool Table is certainly an unusual one in that it is circular, or more properly hexagonal, but perhaps even more unusual in being free to play! It's a fine looking table, but I would imagine that judging the angles could become more of a guessing game than one of pure skill, and the novel shape would certainly rule out any chance of League play.

A fine pair of Darts Boards appear to be well used. League Darts is still played in the Cambridge area, though whether the Emperor field a team is not clear.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Three Derby Pubs

The Exeter Arms in Derby is a beautifully restored traditional ale house on the very edge of the town centre. Great beer from the local Dancing Duck Brewery (and others), an interesting food offering, and regular live music are some of the things the pub does well. The pub has a timeless and thoroughly traditional feel, and is as fine a place to spend an afternoon with friends as you're likely to find.

Other than these two handsome display cases, pub games are not as evident as the traditional nature of the pub might imply. Having said that, I've reason to believe the pub hosts a Winter Dominoes team, a league game which is struggling more than most these days. I'm also pleased to say that our own Shove Ha'penny Board was very kindly accommodated for an afternoon session. Perhaps the licensees will be inspired to get their own board in the future, it would certainly fit in nicely with the decor of this fine traditional pub.

The Furnace Inn, is a relatively recent addition to Derbys excellent Ale Trail, and the planned site of a future micro brewery. The licensee has made a great job with the Darts area, the floor being covered with Astro Turf! There are also plans to introduce Long Alley Skittles to the pub, which would be a rare and genuine attraction in the centre of Derby.

The Shove Ha'penny session continued at the Furnace.

The Darts Board at another Derby beer and brewing institution, the Brunswick Inn.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Alexandra Arms, Kettering, Northamptonshire

Famed for its ever changing range of real ales, and home to the highly regarded Julian Church microbrewery, the Alexandra is also one of only two pub venues in Kettering for the local game of Table Skittles (there are also tables in play at several clubs in the town). I find this quite surprising given that Kettering lies at the very heart of the Northamptonshire Skittling tradition, indeed teams at the Alex and Shire Horse play in the Kettering & District League. Perhaps there are other tables gathering dust in the towns pubs, waiting for a resurgence of interest from younger drinkers.

It's a good old table, made by A R Pinckard of Kislingbury, of which sadly I know absolutely nothing.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A Shove Ha'penny Board Conundrum

This handsome solid Mahogany Shove Ha'penny Board poses a question. I believe it's handmade rather than manufactured, although I've seen very similar examples elsewhere, and the basic design follows the standard layout of nine scoring beds with associated scoring areas. Where it differs from the usual layout is the addition of a double semi-circle zone at the top of the board. Notice also that there are eleven scoring areas in total, presumably for the purpose of scoring these additional zones.

Frustratingly, I can recall seeing this exact layout before, and also a simpler semi-circle layout on some slate boards. I'm also quite sure that I've read a brief description of the rules for this style of board somewhere online, but can't remember the details now. It's a nice board to play on, the surface is highly polished, and the relatively modest thickness of the wood makes it nicely portable. If anyone has any ideas as to the rules of play for the additional scoring zones, I'd be keen to know.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

A Compendium of Pub Game Images - Pt.5

The Flying Pig in Cambridge was until recently home to a Bar Billiards Table, a game once common in the city. The table has now been replaced with a more prosaic Pool Table, and Bar Billiards may well now be extinct in Cambridge's pubs (though probably not in its college bars). This excellent, down-to-earth boozer is currently under threat of closure and possible demolition by developers, so visit while you can. A small Shut The Box game is available from behind the bar.

It seems that the Darts Board, and what was possibly the trophy shelf above, have been out of action for some time at the Flying Pig.

The recently opened Olde England pub in Northampton makes a feature of it's large communal table seating, with a pack of Cards or Dominoes, and a Cribbage Board for scoring on every one. There is also a selection of board games, including this Shut The Box, with more games being added as they are acquired.

Domino sets at the Horse & Panniers in North Luffenham, Rutland

The recently refurbished Devil Amongst The Tailors table gets a Saturday afternoon workout at the George in Ashley, Northamptonshire. Note the barrel trophy on the windowsill behind, currently in the possession of the George's winning Tug-of-War team.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

A Devil Amongst The Tailors Table

This old Devil Amongst The Tailors table was a bit tatty when I bought it recently, though still perfectly playable (there's very little to go wrong). It would have been either home made, or constructed by a local joiner for a pub or club, and there are many features which are non-standard for a table of this size, including the positioning of the plinth and pole which are normally more central. Whether this design was specified to suit the tables local situation, or just a mistake on the part of the joiner, we'll never know, but it does mean that the pins can have a tendency to fly off the table when hit with any force. I've stained and waxed the woodwork, polished or replaced any rusty metalwork, and replaced the vinyl tray lining with green felt. Genuine baize would have been a better, more durable option, but I've found that this is now quite hard to find.

The pins are slightly larger than those found with manufactured tables, and quite crudely turned from what appears to be Teak wood.

The score board, which acts as a cover for the storage tray, is a common feature of these tables. This one is made from a hardwood and is not the standard Cribbage Board layout. This board has multiples of 35 as opposed to the usual 30 + 1 of a cribbage board. I may modify this at some point to give the more traditional option of scoring to 61 or 121, by drilling an extra 'finish' hole at one end of the board.

The ball, which would need to have a reasonable bit of weight to be effective, is made from a nice bit of turned hardwood, possibly Mahogany. It has lost a chip of wood at some point.

A nice feature of the table is the banding of different woods on the raised plinth. Entirely unnecessary, and suggestive of a certain pride in the work. This part of the table, along with the base, has been made from plywood, which stains up to give an attractive striped look.

Everything bar the main length of Mahogany pole fits into this compartment when not in play.

The all important swivel mechanism at the top of the pole has been made from half of an old bicycle hub (the marks where the original spokes would have been can still be seen on the underside), a feature I've seen before on an old table. I've polished, cleaned up, and re-greased the bearings, and it now runs very smoothly. The limited 'mileage' this is likely to see in play means it should easily outlast the rest of the table.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Shire Horse, Kettering, Northamptonshire

Northamptonshire Table Skittles, Darts, and Pool are played at the Shire Horse in the centre of Kettering town. The skittles table was custom made for the pub by a regular customer a good few years ago, and is used by the pub team in the Kettering & District League.

The handsome 'E League' Wooden Spoon currently resides at the pub.

A Tyrolean Table Skittles board is also available for play in the pub. The game is similar in concept to the French/European game of Toptafel, where a spinning top is sent down the board to knock over as many skittles as possible. More luck than skill, but good fun nevertheless.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

A Compendium of Pub Game Images - Pt.4

An afternoon card game at the Exeter Arms, Barrowden in Rutland.

This vintage Devil Amongst The Tailors was probably made to order by a local joiner, and presumably saw service in a pub or club for many years. This is a full size 'League' table, around 3 feet long, and made from a variety of woods including Teak for the pole, pins, and scoring board. A Cribbage Board is usually used for scoring Devil Amongst The Tailors, often built into the table as seen here. The usual finishing score would therefore be 61 or 121, though 101 is also quoted. The scoring board on this table is entirely non-standard at multiples of 35, a clear indication of the 'local' nature of the game where the rules would have varied slightly from area to area, or even pub to pub. This table is currently being refurbished and will feature in more detail in a future post.

The bar back at the Golden Lion in Bourne, Lincolnshire is decorated with some of the many trophies for Darts play which the pub team and individuals have won. The pub team play in the Bourne & District League.

This table top is used for Cribbage at the Golden Lion, but would
be equally suitable for Dominoes.Note the cribbage board
 permanently fixed to the surface.