Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A Shove Ha'penny With Brass Lifters

The Brass Lifters on this old Shove Ha'penny Board are located snugly in the grooves which separate the nine beds of the playing surface. Hinged on the left-hand side, and protruding a little on the right so they can be easily lifted during play. Lifters like these are not actually necessary for the game, so what are they there for?

The rules of Shove Ha'penny are simplicity itself. The only possibility for uncertainty and disagreement is in the lay of the coins, which must lie squarely and clearly between the lines to score. The general rule during a game is that if there is any uncertainty about the coins position between the lines, then it isn't a scorer, but on some boards this can be easier to judge than on others, and therein lies the potential for disagreement.

The lifters are used to help determine whether a coin is a scorer or not. If when lifted a little way clear of the playing surface, the Brass strip can be seen to move a potentially scoring coin, it is clearly and irrefutably deemed to be a non-scorer.

Brass Lifters, of the type seen on this board are quite common on Shove Ha'penny Boards, even some modern examples come equipped with a set. It's perhaps safe to say that they are most usually found on more expensive models, and since the system is hard to replicate on a home-made board they are generally considered to be an optional extra.

This solid wood board appears to be quite an old one, with a beautifully smooth surface, a Copper surround to stop over hit coins, and a dark patina on the leading edge from many years of use by beer and tobacco stained hands. Unusually, two separate wooden rails have been firmly fixed to the edges of the board to chalk the scores during a game. The main picture above shows the board in use at The George, Ashley, in Northamptonshire, a fine way to spend a cold Winter afternoon with friends.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Smiths Arms, Kempston, Bedfordshire

This fine old Skittles Table resides in the dedicated games area of the Smiths Arms, one of several venues in Kempston which still field teams in one or other of the local skittles leagues. A Pool Table and a soon to return Darts Board are also available at this friendly and welcoming back-street corner local.

The licensee is new to the pub, and looking to spruce things up a little, but coming as he does from Wellingborough in Northamptonshire, he will be familiar with this version of Skittles, if possibly not the rules or terms used in the Bedfordshire game. A 'Leg' for example is known as a 'Horse' round here, something I've never come across in Northants or Leics.
This set of Cheeses bear the mark of the Smiths Arms, though the one on the right is an impostor which appears to be made from a different wood and is actually a slightly different shape to the others. I can't imagine this being acceptable in league play but these are not likely to be the match-day set.

The space on the wall to the right of the Skittles Table will soon have a Darts Board in place.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

New Inn, Willersey, Gloucestershire

The Cotswolds as an area encompasses several diverse counties, and an equally varied selection of traditional pub games. Aunt Sally is still thriving in Oxfordshire, Indoor Quoits may still be found in Worcestershire, and Skittles holds sway throughout the area, but particularly in Gloucestershire.

It's good to see that quite a few of the more traditional and relatively unspoilt pubs in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds still have fully functioning Skittle Alleys, often doubling as useful function rooms. Sadly even more have disappeared in recent years, victims of the relentless drive to turn traditional village locals into upmarket 'destination' pubs where the food offering takes precedence over drinking and gaming.

The picturesque Donnington Brewery of Stow on the Wolds has a small pub estate scattered throughout the Cotswolds, and has done far better than most when it comes to retaining their essential pub character. Good value beer, honest wholesome food, and a welcome to visitors and locals alike make Donnington pubs well worth seeking out when enjoying the many other pleasures to be found in this beautiful part of the country.

The New Inn at Willersey is a typical Donnington Brewery pub. Cotwold Stone on the outside, cosy, comfortable, and unpretentious within, and with room set aside for the proper pub activities of Darts, Pool, and of course local Gloucestershire Skittles.

Drakes Pride are principally a manufacture of Bowls, but also produce a range of Skittles for the South West game, as well as these durable composite balls which are available in a variety of sizes.


Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Queens, Beeston, Nottinghamshire

The Nottinghamshire town of Beeston is one of those destinations where it's all too easy to stick to the usual suspects when it comes to choosing a pub. By 'usual suspects' I mean one of several speciality beer pubs in the town, at least one of which is widely regarded as one of the very best in the country.

Sometimes though, it's good to ring the changes and go a little off the beaten track. Perhaps visit pubs which are attractive destinations in ways other than their range of ales. Pubs which are simply pleasant places to sit and drink, soak up the local atmosphere, and maybe enjoy a game with friends or locals.

The Queens is one such pub. Located a short distance from the rail station, a tidy, well run locals pub where games are very prominent throughout. Darts, Pool, and Dominoes are popular of course, but it's the Skittles which set this pub apart. A covered Long Alley can be found at the rear of the pub (one of many in the area, though sadly few are still in use), and a handsome old Devil Amongst The Tailors is kept safe behind the bar, and available for play on request.

The Devil Amongst The Tailors has the remnants of an old Jaques of London label, one of the principal makers of these 'League Brand' tables. The scoring board appears to be Bakelite and marked for 101-up, and is neatly sandwiched between two embossed metal plates, one stating 'Devil Amongst The Tailors, the other carrying the name of the pub. From the appearance of the hinges, and the way the board sits proud of the storage compartment, I guess this would have been a later addition by the licensee or locals at the pub, though it's also possible that Jaques offered this level of customisation as an option on purchase.


The Skittle Alley at the rear of the Queens is a covered one, a stipulation for play in the local Winter League. Originally the alley was played from the rear wall of the pub to where the pins are currently set, but was moved through 90 degrees when the local team constructed the shelter for the alley. The wooden Pins and Balls in this version of Long Alley Skittles are traditionally made from Sycamore. The top-heavy pins have a metal ferrule on the base as an aid to staying upright, particularly useful when the wood become heavily worn with age.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Compendium of Pub Games - Pt.10

This Northamptonshire Skittles Table takes pride of place in the bar of the Royal Oak in the village of Naseby, Northamptonshire. Cribbage and Darts are also played at the pub, which has a good reputation for its beer.

When you get bored with the fried food & ice cream of Matlock Bath, pop in for a pint at Ashover Brewery pub the Princess Victoria. Real ales are the speciality of this traditionally styled pub, but there's also a splendid hop garlanded Darts Board available for the sociable business of gaming.

The image above shows the pin setting and metal 'foul throw' sheet of an unused Skittle Alley at the Nags Head, Clay Cross in Derbyshire. From what I've been told, this is an all too common sight in the Derby/Notts area these days. The pub is perhaps the pick of the bunch in the village, a proper locals boozer, well run and welcoming. It's sad to see the alley covered in pot plants like this, but at least it still exists in good shape, perhaps ready to be rediscovered by younger skittlers in the future. The Clay Cross & District Skittles League is still quite active, with 28 teams playing in 4 leagues, though no pubs in the village which gives the league its name appear to be playing in the league at present.

A giant fund raising Shut The Box at Bedford CAMRA Beer & Cider Festival

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Some More Cribbage Boards

The Cribbage Board collection I'm definitely not collecting continues to grow! In my defence they do mostly all get used, and like the small collection of Shove Ha'penny Boards which I'm also not collecting, it' nice to have a choice to hand.

I found this old Bakelite and Brass Cribbage Board at a car boot sale recently. It cost little more than the price of a pint. Tarnished and stained from many years of neglect, I felt it was worth rescuing and giving a bit of a polish up. It's interesting that something as basic, functional, and downright common as a cribbage board would be this over-engineered. The precision drilled brass plate has been nicely chamfered to fit the Bakelite base before being firmly fixed with six matching brass screws. Deep machined holes at each end of the main body provide storage for the two sets of neat colour coded Brass Pegs, each hole neatly plugged by its own brass screw-in cap. This is a really posh cribbage board, perhaps made as a one-off project by a skilled craftsman, or maybe crib boards of this quality were once available to buy from upmarket stores, a scoring board for the gamer who had everything.

Cribbage Pegs. Ox Bone to the left, colour-coded plastic to the right. It's not absolutely essential to have proper pegs for a crib board, un-popped rivets and matchsticks do the job just as well, but if you're going to use an attractive old Mahogany board like this one it seems a shame not to embellish it with an equally elegant set of pegs. The board is clearly a homemade one, but has a nicely worked compartment underneath for storing the pegs. The holes on the base would have originally housed a set of brass bun feet.

Cribbage Boards, Dominoes, and Cards at the Green Dragon, Ryhall, Rutland

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Half Moon, Kempston, Bedfordshire

Table Skittles, of the type most commonly played in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, is a game which can also be found to a lesser extent in some of the surrounding counties. The northern half of Bedfordshire is one such area, though here as elsewhere the game has declined significantly in more recent years, such that it may well have disappeared entirely from the pubs of Bedford town itself. You'll need to venture out to the suburbs and surrounding villages of Bedford to find a pub or club with a table now, though I'm pleased to say that when a table can be found, leagues play is still very much in evidence.

Kempston, a village located on the south-western edge of Bedford, is still a bit of a skittles stronghold. Teams from a number of pubs and clubs in the village play in the North Beds and/or Bedford & District Skittles Leagues, the Half Moon being one of the best examples and well worth a visit. Recently refurbished, the interior is immaculately presented, with a comfortable lounge/dining area, and a separate thoroughly traditional bar. It's the bar which houses the beautifully maintained Skittles Table, upholstered in vibrant reddish leather work, a good contrast to the Boxwood pins and cheeses. Darts, Cribbage, and Dominoes are also played at the pub, and perhaps surprisingly there is also a twin Pétanque (or Boule) piste at the rear which is available for functions during the Summer months.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Blue Bell, Belmesthorpe, Rutland

It's been a long time since village pubs could rely for their success on beer sales and local drinkers alone. A quality dining experience is all but essential these days particularly if rural pubs want to attract visitors from outside the immediate area. But sadly for those of us who like a pub to be just that, drinkers can sometimes be effectively excluded from a pub in favour of the all pervasive dining experience.

It's often argued that when a struggling pub is reinvented as a successful dining venue, on balance it's a positive thing because at least the pub has been saved from closure. Certainly a closed pub is serving no-ones needs, but where I disagree with this thinking is when a pub has become so singularly focused on the dining experience that it is to all intents a restaurant with bar and not a pub at all. In these cases, a pub has not in fact been saved, but rather a restaurant has been created at the expense of the pub stock. Of course how common this situation has become is largely down to your interpretation of what a pub is. I know there are many people who believe that so long as the bar has a handpump or two on it, ideally dispensing something from a small or local brewery, it's still fulfilling its role as a pub. I believe there's much more to a pub than the beer. What sets a good pub apart from a restaurant is that it should include at least some space conducive to wider social interaction, perhaps even with people outside of your own social clique. Restaurants, and many of the more upmarket dining pubs simply don't encourage this kind of social mingling. They are not pubs in my view.

Which brings me to the Blue Bell pub in Belmesthorpe, a very good example of how to cater for the all important food trade, yet still maintain its essential 'pubiness'. Not only does landlord Aubrey Johnson win awards for the quality of the beer on offer, but he has also made every effort to maintain the pub as the hub of the community. The bar is still a place to drink and chat, and games are still an important part of the mix at this community local.

The league staples of Darts, Cribbage, and Dominoes are played, with other games in the pipeline including a recently acquired Bagatelle, and plans for a Devil Amongst The Tailors. It's not surprising that games play such an important role at the Blue Bell, the landlord previously played Pushpenny in the nearby Stamford league, and still keeps his own board polished and ready at the pub.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Railway, Kibworth, Leicestershire

The Leicestershire village of Kibworth gives its name to one of several Table Skittles Leagues which are still contested in the area, though sadly none of the pubs in Kibworth actually field a team in the league. The Kibworth & District Skittles League is made up of pubs and clubs stretching from it's current heartland of Market Harborough, through to Wigston on the outskirts of Leicester. Kibworth itself is still represented in the league by teams from the local Working Mens Club.

Some of the team now playing at the club originally made their home at The Railway, a welcoming and well run locals pub located in the heart of the village. The skittles table, which appears to be a Leicester model, is still in situ at the pub, though these days it's the Long Alley where it resides which sees more action, being popular for functions and casual games.

In common with most surviving Long Alleys in Leicestershire, the Skittle Alley at The Railway also doubles as a function room, hence the tables seen here in line of fire.
Where a pub plays its skittles in a league, the match-day Pins and Cheeses are not generally available for use in casual games. A second older set will often be available for this function, with the better quality set kept safe behind the bar, often in a box like the one shown here. No home team wants to entertain visitors with a set of excessively chipped and splintered skittles, indeed it's generally accepted that the woodwork must meet a certain standard for a league match to go ahead. Though still stored in their protective box, these pins have certainly seen better days, though still perfectly serviceable for a social match. The licensee is currently looking to acquire a newer set for the pub.
The typically worn barrel-shaped 'Cheeses' of Leicestershire Long Alley Skittles. The darker specimens are probably made from dense and weighty Lignum Vitae, one of only a few woods hard enough to withstand the kind of punishment meted out in this robust game, and survive for any length of time.

Though not all of these are now in regular use, it's rare to find the three types of 'Cheeses' used for Skittles in the Leicestershire area, together in the same pub. In addition to the barrel shaped Long Alley woods, there's also a full set of Boxwood Northamptonshire pins and cheeses, as well as three of the slim hardwood cheeses used in the much rarer Leicester game, though no sign of the matching 'skinny' pins.