Saturday, 29 September 2012

Medbourne & Hallaton, Leicestershire

The villages of Hallaton and Medbourne in Leicestershire are perhaps best known for the annual Bottle Kicking tradition. The game has strong links with the three remaining village pubs, acting as unofficial headquarters to participants, and as the focus of fundraising activities for the event including the many charities it supports. The pubs are also good places to find images and artifacts from previous years of this important local custom. There are other games associated with these village pubs, including one perhaps not usually associated with the pleasures of drinking and pub-going

Flat Green and Crown Green Bowls have a long association with pubs. In addition to the many municipal and private members bowling greens, there would have been quite a few pubs with their own greens at one time. Indeed the number of pubs still bearing the Bowling Green moniker is a good indication of how many of these greens there would have been, though sadly few have survived the demands of more recent development. Some have survived as unusually flat beer gardens (a good example of this can be seen at the Station Hotel in Loughborough, Leicestershire), whilst others would have been sold off for development or tarmacked over to meet for increasing need for car parking space. So pubs which still have associated bowling greens in regular use are now rare indeed. The only one I've visited personally is the Newhampton Inn, a splendid Victorian boozer in suburban Wolverhampton.

The beautifully maintained Bowling Green shown here is located at the front of the former grade II listed Horse & Trumpet pub in the village of Medbourne. When trading as a pub, the Horse & Trumpet was regarded as an unspoilt gem, and listed on CAMRA's Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors. Sadly, since the death of the last licensee several years ago, the pub is now trading as an upmarket restaurant, though a 'vintage' Watneys Red Barrel sign hanging at the corner of the building gives a clue to its former existence. More happily, the bowling green's future has been secured for the future, and is now in the hands of the Parish Council for use by the Medbourne Bowls Club. The markers along the edge indicate the separate 'lanes' used in the 'flat' game.

The Bewicke Arms is an attractive and historic pub, located in an equally attractive village. In common with many village pubs, the Bewicke is largely given over to dining these days, but it's still very much a pub, and one where locals and visitors alike are welcome to simply drink and socialise.

The Bewicke is also a great place to examine images and relics of the local Bottle Kicking tradition, with numerous clippings and photographs decorating the walls from past events. Day-to-day gaming at the pub revolves around the Darts Board located in the smaller of the two bars. The pub team play in the local Welland Valley Darts League, which is a Winter league made up almost exclusively of rural village pubs. The nearby Harborough & District League accommodates the larger villages and town of the Market Harborough area.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Two Skittle Alleys in Loughborough

A surprising taste of West Country Skittles can be found in the Leicestershire town of Loughborough. The Swan in the Rushes was one of the first pubs taken over and thoroughly revitalised by the Tynemill Pub Company (now Castle Rock Brewery of Nottingham), and has maintained a reputation in the town as an excellent traditional ale house ever since.

If there's perhaps one thing lacking from the otherwise excellent traditional interior of the Swan, it's a range of traditional pub games. The current licensee is keen to change this situation, and is on the look out for a decent Shove Ha'penny Board for the pub. Nevertheless, upstairs there is a well appointed function room featuring a short West Country style Skittle Alley. The alley is set with what appear to be nine pins of a style used in the Bristol area. It's a popular game for functions, though unlikely to be the venue for league play given the Swan's distance from the game's West Country home.

Other than the excellent purpose built alley at The Beacon already featured on this blog, I know of only one other traditional Long Alley for Skittles remaining in the centre of Loughborough. There would certainly have been more at one time, and I would be delighted to learn of other surviving examples in the town.

The Peacock Inn is one of the more 'locals' oriented pubs in the town. Located slightly off the beaten track in a residential area, but still close enough to the centre to include in a crawl of the town, and certainly worth the effort. It's a good alley which doesn't appear to be currently in league use. It's perhaps the pubs location slightly out of town which has helped this alley survive where others have fallen victim to fashionable development. Darts is popular at the Peacock, with several boards dotted around the bar.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

A Wisden's Shove Ha'penny

John Wisden & Co are perhaps best known as the publisher of the world famous Cricketing Almanack. However, the company originated as a supplier of sporting equipment, specifically that used for cricket which was the sport played by its eponymous founder. Other games including this high quality Mahogany Shove Ha'penny Board were added to the range sometime in the mid 20th Century, presumably to take advantage of the popularity of the game in post-war pubs and clubs at this time. Wisden no longer supply sporting equipment of any kind.

I would imagine that these boards were manufactured for Wisden to their own specification, possibly by the same manufacturer as those from K&C, Jaques, etc. The design had become so standardised by this time that there would have been little point in adding unnecessary design quirks to the basic formula, and as a result these commercial boards all look very similar. The board shown here was in well-used condition when I bought it (see below), but has polished up nicely with an exceptionally smooth surface, ideal for use with smoothed half pennies.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Duke William, Matlock, Derbyshire

The Duke William is a true all rounder of a village pub. A campsite at the rear, and a large dining area fully exploit the picturesque location of the pub at Matlock Green, and yet this is no tourist season one-trick pony.

Of course a pub in the Matlock area which doesn't actively seek to accommodate the tourist trade is really missing a trick, but the secret to lasting success in a tourist hot-spot is to also find space for a loyal local trade. These are the drinkers and diners who'll still be there when the tourist season ends. Sadly, many businesses fail to understand this, leading to an ever more specialised trade whereby all their business eggs are in the one tourist trade basket. One poor season (such as the one we've just had), and a pub which has thrown away its business diversity can easily fail. This is certainly not the case with the Duke William, a pub where the owners have made every effort to accommodate a good local trade, and with a wide range of games teams resident at the pub..

The cosy front bar plays host to the pub game staples of Darts, Dominoes, and Cards, as well as a kings ransom of well polished trophies. The all-rounder nature of the pub extends to the range of games played outdoors, with teams in the local Long Alley Skittles league, and the thriving Derbyshire Dales Boules League, the Piste for which is located at the front of the pub.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

A Compendium of Pub Games Images - Pt.9

The Hand & Heart in Peterborough (above) is one of a select number of pubs which appear on the CAMRA Heritage Group's inventory of unspoilt interiors, possibly one of the most important pieces of campaigning that CAMRA have undertaken. The Hand & Heart is a classic inter-war years terraced boozer, largely unaltered inside, and now lovingly run by local CAMRA activists Paul & Susan Brammer. Of interest to this blog are the traditional Cards/Dominoes tables in the bar, once a very common sight in all public bars and tap rooms, but now really quite rare items. What sets them apart from more run of the mill tables is the alcoves on all sides below the table surface, designed to hold pints, cigarettes etc. during a game, and therefore negate the risk of spillage during a lively domino shuffle or card game. There are many other unspoilt and traditional aspects of the Hand & Heart which deserve mention, but for me the most pleasing thing to see is the notice board, and the numerous fixture lists for pub games pinned thereon.

Quite a 'foody' pub the Queens Head in Billesdon (above and below), but still with a good local following it would seem (the other pub in the village appears to be an Indian Restaurant now). Whilst the Darts Board may not get as much use as it would have done, the Pétanque piste at the rear of the pub sees regular action, currently in Division 2 of the popular Rutland & District Pétanque League. Pétanque is the real success story of pub gaming in the area, and not at all the 'posh' game some might think.

Rothwell Arts & Heritage Centre have recently installed this old Northamptonshire Skittles Table (circa early 1900's). The table was donated by one of the last craftsmen still producing the Boxwood Pins and Cheeses used in the game, John Pepper of Hardwick in Northamptonshire. The Pepper family have been associated with the game for generations, such that if you come across an old skittles table in Northamptonshire, it's likely to be either a Pepper's, or W T Black & Sons table (Pinckard of Kislingbury seems to be the other, less common maker in the area, though there are also many locally made tables).

The tables themselves are pretty durable, a relatively easy job to maintain and repair by any competent joiner (although leather working skills would be a bonus). It's the Boxwood Pins and Cheeses which cannot easily be fabricate. Sourcing the timber alone requires a degree in local knowledge (I understand that much of the Boxwood comes from ancient hedge lines on country estates), and the robust nature of the game means that each pin and cheese has to be made from wood which has been seasoned for several years. The smallest crack could result in the untimely splitting of a pin which would otherwise be expected to give several years good service. The robust nature of the game also led to the Pepper's developing their own special varnish mix, an additional protection against splintering and splitting during play. When Mr Pepper finally calls it a day, I wonder who will have the skills and knowledge to continue making the all important hardware of this traditional Northamptonshire game, or will the plastic pins and cheeses favoured in the Leicestershire game win the day.

The leather padding on the table shown above has been replaced on the left-hand side, but everything else appears to be original, only missing the distinctive netting at the rear (it's this metal frame and netting which has led to the game being known as Hood Skittles in some areas). The table is accompanied by photographs and trophies from many years of play in the village of Rothwell. The ladies at the Heritage Centre all seemed to have played the game at some point in the past, and it's wonderful to see this local game being given such prominence amongst the many items and displays in the centre, a clear indication of how important the game was (and still is) to Northamptonshire people.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

New Plough Inn, Hinckley, Leicestershire

'Real Ales, Skittles, Darts, Dominoes'. All the right attractions for a thriving town centre locals pub, though not necessarily in that order! Under the stewardship of the current licensee Louise Newton, the New Plough Inn has developed into a serial winner with the local CAMRA branch, noted for an excellent range of real ales served in thoroughly traditional surroundings. I've only visited the pub a couple of times in recent years, but have always found the staff and locals to be very welcoming, and it's pleasing to see that traditional pub games are still at the heart of the social scene at the New Plough.

The pub field both Ladies and Mens teams in both the Dunton Bassett Skittles and local Darts Leagues. Remnants of the original labels identify the sturdy Skittles Table as a W T Black & Sons model from over the border in Northamptonshire, but the game is played to the Leicestershire rules. Wooden pins and cheeses were originally used at the New Plough, but the Dunton Bassett League specify that all pubs and clubs must use the standard yellow pins and cheeses shown below for competition.

Remnant of the tell-tale plastic label which marks this out as a 'Blacks' skittles table.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Beacon, Loughborough, Leicestershire

Perhaps the tidiest purpose built skittle alley I've so far seen is the one located below the Beacon public house in Loughborough. The Beacon is quite a large, and relatively modern pub, originally built by Nottinghams Home Brewery in perhaps the 60's or 70's. The pub is now owned by Everards Brewery of Leicester, and still serves the social needs of an ever expanding area of housing on the edge of the town centre.

The Beacon is a real 'hub of the community' kind of pub. Family friendly, and supporting many social activities including music, sports, and teams playing in various pub games leagues. In common with most pubs these days, Darts and Pool appear to be the main games played at the Beacon, but there is also a well used Pétanque piste, and perhaps best of all, a very well maintained Leicestershire Skittle Alley.

The alley is clearly contemporary with the original construction of the pub, and gives a good indication of just how important and popular the game would have been in the area at the time. Although this alley is well used for both league games and social functions, the Beacon has one of only two traditional Leicestershire Skittle Alleys that I'm aware of in the town of Loughborough. There would surely have been dozens of similar alleys at one time, and I would be delighted to learn of any more which may have survived in the area.

The fixed metal plate shown here marks the line over which the 'Cheese' must first bounce before hitting the pins. Unlike the Derby/Notts version of Long Alley, where a (often loose) metal sheet is used as both a visual and audible guide to a foul throw, this line is usually marked with a simple line on the floor in Leicestershire alleys. Of course it's entirely possible that since the pub was originally built by the Home Brewery of Nottingham, we are in fact looking at an alley designed in the more northerly fashion. It's also notable that whilst the pins and cheeses are certainly local, the metal grid used to provide a solid base for the pins is more usually seen in the Derby/Notts area where alleys are often located outdoors. There also exists a solitary Beech round ball in amongst the Leicestershire 'Cheeses', a clear indicator that the Derby /Notts version of Long Alley would have once been played at the Beacon.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Evesham Quoits

This is my own Evesham Quoits, or Dobbers Board. I'm using the Evesham tag because I know that this board originated from a long-closed pub in that area. It perhaps a shame that it was never painted in the traditional red and green livery, but I'm pleased that numbers indicating the scoring have not been added, frequently seen on more modern commercial boards. If you really need reminding of the 5-2-1 scoring areas, you probably shouldn't be playing the game in a pub anyway!

The only problem I have with this game is the two sets of quoits which came with the board. These are the cheaper, less flexible rubber version. They perform well enough, but the softer double-sided black and white quoits used in competition 'flop' down on the board better with less likelihood of bouncing off when thrown well. I'm also looking for a rubbery, non-crack paint to apply to one side of these quoits, and a proper frame with netting to catch wayward throws would be a nice addition.

It's a great game for the garden, especially for children, but I'll be trying it in the more adult environment of my local pub during the Winter months.

Seven scored, which is a reasonable score for this game.

A closer look at the Quoits Board displayed at the recent Peterborough CAMRA Beer Festival. Decked out in the traditional red and green colour scheme, and with a good set of floppy black and white quoits.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Bulls Head, Arthingworth, Northamptonshire

The Skittles Table at the Bulls Head is one I've played on a few times in the past, though not with any great success it must be said. Midweek games at Arthingworth were always frustratingly close affairs, sometimes we won, sometimes we lost, but there was rarely anything in it. Another slightly frustrating aspect of league play at the Bulls Head is the location of the table in a small ante-room to the main bar. During a match it's always nice to show support for, and be supported by your team, but the diminutive size of the games room at the Bulls Head means only the chosen few can squeeze in and spectate at any given time.

To achieve the required minimum throwing distance, the table has had to be installed at a diagonal, and even then the throw is a little shorter than most venues. Of course local topography acts as an advantage to the home team, which is entirely as it should be.

The table is another fine A R Pinckard model, one of only three Northamptonshire makers known to me, though there are many locally made examples such as the one at the Shire Horse in nearby Kettering.