Tuesday, 28 August 2012

A Compendium of Pub Games Images - Pt.8

The Priory in Grantham is a substantial estate pub, set amongst a large expanse of mostly post-war and more modern housing, for which this pub was presumably built to serve.

It's a tidy, well maintained and friendly pub, and features Pool and Darts in the bar to the left-hand side. Until very recently the pub also had a Bar Billiards table and Shove Ha'penny, both of which were unfortunately sold when the previous licensee left. Perhaps these games will return to the pub one day.

The nostalgic old image of Darts play shown above is a close fit for the setup at the Priory, and hangs adjacent to the pubs own board.

No league play here, but the Skittle Alley can be hired for functions at the Rose & Crown, Houghton on the Hill. Unusually, the game is closer in style to the West Country version rather than the traditional Leicestershire Long Alley game normally seen hereabouts.

The Pétanque Court at the Olde Black Horse, Houghton on the Hill, features five Pistes for play, and possibly the most attractive signage in the Rutland & District League. The five pistes are required since the pub hosts 'home' teams from several other pubs, including at least one which is now closed.
A nice Billiards/Snooker scoreboard hangs redundant in the bar of the Masons Arms in Bourne, Lincolnshire.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Pub Games at CAMRA Beer Festivals

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) have many strings to their campaigning bow, but perhaps the most visible sign of the work the many volunteers turn their hands to are the numerous beer festivals which take place throughout the year. Virtually every major town or city hosts a CAMRA festival, and whilst the principal aim of these popular events is to introduce people to the wide range of real ales, ciders and perries which are produced in this country, they can also act as a shop window for all that's great about the British pub.

A small but important example of this is the collection of traditional pub games held by the campaign, and which are available to festivals for the important business of fund raising. The images shown here were taken at the recent Peterborough CAMRA Beer Festival, which is an important event in the local social calendar particularly for younger drinkers, many of which may never have come across pub games like these. The attendance at the Peterborough festival numbers tens of thousands over the course of the week, and if only a few of those who enjoy the games on offer then go on to play them either casually or competitively in pubs, then another important goal will have been achieved by Europe's most successful  campaigning organisation.

Two rare, and very regional games. On the left a Dobbers (or Evesham Quoits) Board, traditional to the West Midlands and Welsh Borders area. The other game is a fairly modern interpretation of a 'Toad in the Hole', a form of Pitch Penny local to the county of Sussex, and Lewes in particular.

Sjoelbak is a game of the Low Countries which can occasionally by found in British pubs, and involves sliding wooden discs into numbered holes to build a score.

Ringing the Handpull has the air of a recently invented game, but is thoroughly in keeping with the nature of the more eccentric pub games.

Roll out the Barrel uses the small barrel-shaped balls usually associated with Leicestershire Long Alley Skittles. This helps to add a slightly random element to every roll, unlike the Long Alley shown here which uses resin balls.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The George, Desborough, Northamptonshire

Another attractive and well maintained ironstone pub in the Northamptonshire village of Desborough, and another venue for the classic Northants pub game of Table Skittles (also known as Hood Skittles, or occasionally Cheese Skittles outside of the area).

The skittles table at the George is located in its own separate alcove within the bar area (see below). This serves two important functions. Reducing the impact of rattle and clunk on the ears of other customers during a noisy game, and stopping the odd wayward Cheese from flying into the bar area.

The noise generated by a Skittles Table in play can sometimes make it an unsuitable game for a single room pub, particularly when shared by diners. All the more reason for keeping the traditional multi-room pub layout which has served pubs and their customers so well for generations. The relentless wholesale removal of interior walls from many pubs during the 80's and 90's has meant that all too often the attractive and historic exterior of a pub merely serves to hide a bland, single roomed, identikit interior. It's hard to see how the knocking through of characterful multi-roomed historic buildings makes for a more interesting and attractive pub, but sadly this trend continues even now.

Strictly speaking, the George is not a multi-roomed pub, and has probably been much altered over the years, but it does still retain several distinct areas including one for dining, which leaves the bar area free for the important business of drinking, socializing, and of course gaming, which can only make it a more interesting and successful pub to visit.

Wear and tear on the Darts Board surround.


A colourful off-cut of carpet, and a scattering of Boxwood splinters. The classic Northamptonshire Table Skittles look.

Friday, 17 August 2012

A Compendium of Pub Games Images - Cribbage Board Special

I think it's safe to say that Cribbage Boards are entirely functional items, having little or no value outside of their basic use, which is the scoring of games, and pub games in particular. However, looking at the small selection of Cribbage Boards shown below, and others I've featured on this blog, it's perhaps easy to see why they might stimulate the latent instinct for 'collecting' which lies in the heart of all men (and a good few women too I guess).

The variety available is literally endless, and therein lies the appeal to the collector. A huge number of simple manufactured boards exist, including those provided by tobacco and drinks companies to advertise their products (and which provide useful sub-categories for the keen collector). But this is just the tip of the iceberg when you consider the enormous number of home made and locally crafted boards which still exist in profusion. It's worth remembering that it wasn't so long ago that practically every pub and club would have had a few Cribbage Boards available for Cards, Dominoes, and other games. With many pub games now in serious decline, it's no surprise that so many of these old boards are now available to buy from wherever old and unwanted things are sold, and usually at very little cost.

So Cribbage Boards are both common and (mostly) cheap, and exhibit the kind of limitless variety which makes them ideal for collecting. They can also be quite attractive, tactile, and perhaps best of all, still very useful for their original purpose of scoring games, for which you'll need a set of four Cribbage Pegs. Original Cribbage Pegs are somewhat rarer than the boards, but being (mostly) inexpensive, and exhibiting a wide variety, are also ideally suited to collecting...

I'd like to make it quite clear at this point, that whilst I'm certainly a sucker for any bit of old polished Mahogany or Brass, I don't actually collect Cribbage Boards (or pegs) myself...

These boards are just three of the several available for use at the Prince of Wales Feathers at Castor near Peterborough. The Mahogany board in the middle was presumably for the slightly unusual occasion of a three player game, the one on the left designed to hold a deck of cards.

Triangular Cribbage Boards for a three player game are not uncommon, and are still made today, but I believe this unusual Crib Board may have started life as a Snooker Triangle. The basic construction is of quite a high quality and finish, and yet the scoring holes have been added in a very rough and ready fashion suggestive of local adaptation rather than manufacture or crafting. It's a nice bit of wood nevertheless.

Cribbage and Dominoes are popular at the Devonshire Arms, a pleasant back-street local in Bedford. There seems to be as many branded Crib Boards as there were brands of cigarette, tobacco, and drinks producers. The licensee of the Devonshire Arms is keen to get other pub games, and has reserved a corner of the bar for a slate Shove Ha'penny when he can acquire nice one.
A lunchtime game of Cribbage on the bar-top of the Masons Arms, Bourne in Lincolnshire. The pub has an abundance of games available, including Domino Sets, Darts, Pool, and a Shut The Box; with a similar glut of trophies displayed around the bar from league play.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Village Inn, Twyning, Gloucestershire

Western Skittles is a slightly misleading catch-all term encompassing all manner of subtly different games. Geographically, this category of skittles is played in a very wide area, including the West Country and across to the Cotswolds, South Wales and its English border counties, and even as far as Coventry. The common denominator is the use of nine skittles and three balls, bowled at speed down a (usually) wooden floored indoor alley. Needless to say, in these 'Western' areas, the game is known simply as Skittles (as indeed it is in every other area where skittles is played). Skittles is a big deal in the 'West', and there are numerous leagues, and almost as many different rules of play, which I have no intention of attempting to summarise here.

This good alley at the Village Inn, Twyning is typical of those in Gloucestershire. The pub team play in the local Tewkesbury & District League, which has a very useful map locator for the various venues in the league should you wish to visit and throw a few balls down yourself: http://www.tmsl.me.uk/

This timber construction provides protection from flying skittles for the 'Sticker-upper', as well as a convenient resting place for a pint. It's the Sticker-uppers job to stick the pins back up and return the balls along the wooden chute ready for the next player.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Coach & Horses, Lubenham, Leicestershire

I've passed the Coach & Horses dozens of times over the past few years, yet never felt it was a pub I needed to stop and visit. Perhaps the unique attraction of real ales and Thai food further along the road in Walcote had a role to play in this longstanding neglect, or maybe a mistaken belief that the Coach & Horses was predominantly a food driven pub, with little else to interest me.

The pub itself is an attractive iron stone building, of a type common to the Welland Valley area, decked out in the familiar and reassuring green Everards Brewery livery. Food is clearly an important part of any pubs offering when located on a busy main road like the Coach & Horses is, but it's pleasing to see that the separate bar room has been maintained as a place for local life, which includes the playing of numerous traditional pub games.

Skittles is played in the Fleckeney & District Table Skittles League, Darts in the Market Harborough League.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Butcher's Arms, Eldersfield, Gloucestershire

Variously known as Step Quoits, Table Quoits, Dobbers, and Evesham Quoits (in the Evesham area not surprisingly); this traditional pub game can be found in a broad swathe from Evesham to the Welsh Borders. A handful of leagues still exist, but even where the game is not played so competitively, Quoits Boards still appear to be quite common in the areas pubs. I recall playing on an old quoits table at the Maesllwch Arms Hotel at Galsbury near Hay-on-Wye in the early 80's, I wonder if it's still there.

The basic premise of the game is fairly obvious and easily learnt, though the rules vary widely across the various regions where the game is traditionally played. Four black and white rubber Quoits are tossed at the board from a set distance,  those falling squarely in the outer ring scoring 1 point, 2 for the inner circle, and 5 for the peg (or Hob) in the centre. Additionally, the quoits must land white side up to score. Simple and mildly addictive, like all good pub games.

This fine old board was in situ at the Butcher's Arms when the present owners took over, and is still played regularly, particularly on Friday evenings when the locals get competitive. How seriously is the game taken here? Well let's just say that the licensees have acquired a spare table with original leather quoits, which they use for practise sessions! Most boards, including modern versions, are painted in the traditional red and green livery, and this one shows vestiges of the old colour scheme, worn down to the wood through generations of play.

The score board is an interesting object in itself, the idea being that each player (or team) attempts to score each number on the board, and by so doing that number is then closed to their opponents. Similar old scoring boards exist throughout the indoor quoiting area, though with a wide variation in the numbers available to score, up to 13 in the Kington area of Herefordshire for example.

The Butcher's Arms is noted for it's Michelin starred food, though I'm pleased to say that it is still very much a pub, with good beer and a pleasant garden for a Summer drink.


Sunday, 5 August 2012

A Compendium of Pub Game Images - Pt.6

This Ring The Bull is at the Salisbury Arms in Cambridge. The nearby Blue Ball Inn at Grantchester also has a Ring The Bull, making this a (very) minor hot-spot for the game. Indeed a World Championships has been held at the latter pub!

The bar area of the White Lion in Oakham, with Darts Board tilted against the wall so that players don't have to throw over the piano.

This league standard Devil Amongst The Tailors table was on display in the Rutland County Museum during the recent CAMRA Beer Festival. It was labelled as a historical curiosity which used to be played in the county, and yet tables can still be found in a few Rutland pubs, and the game is still played competitively in parts of the country particularly Nottinghamshire and Bedfordshire.

The Northamptonshire Skittles Table and Darts are given plenty of room at the Royalist pub in Market Harborough. There is another W.T Black & Sons table in the lounge, and the pubs teams are active (and successful) in Market Harborough and Kibworth leagues.

The Boat Inn is well worth a visit when in Melton, being thoroughly traditional and very welcoming. Darts is played in the Melton Mowbray league.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Prince of Wales Feathers, Castor, Peterborough

The Prince of Wales Feathers is a pub much altered over the years. The current layout incorporates what was once a small shop and an adjacent cottage, presumably the expansion was to take advantage of the huge increase in traffic on the original Leicester - Peterborough road in the years before the village was eventually bypassed in the early 90's. The village may well be much quieter now, but the pub is still a thriving local where all of the more recent changes have been positive.

The licensees are clearly pub and beer enthusiasts, offering a wide range of ales, including those from the village Castor Ales brewery. This is a firmly traditional community local, where traditional and not so traditional games play an important role.

League Pool and Darts are played, and a wide selection of Crib Boards suggest Dominoes and Cards are also popular at the pub. More unusual games which can be played are a fearsome looking Ring The Bull, and a handsome old Shove Ha'penny Board.


The Shove Ha'penny is an old, high quality board, made from a solid chunk of polished Mahogany with what looks like Boxwood and Ebony inlay. The scoring is quite hi-tech (for a Shove Ha'penny!), featuring rows of brass rotary knobs and inset wooden drums marked 1-3 rather than the usual chalked system. This would have been a relatively expensive board when new.