Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Crows Nest, Leicester

The Crows Nest is a relatively modern Everards Brewery pub, a short walk from the city centre on the Hinckley side of town. It's a pub firmly pitched at the family market, liberally decked out in Halloween livery when I visited, and a great all-rounder with regular live music and plenty of pub game action.

Unusually, the Crows Nest offers the chance to compare a Northants Skittles Table with the rarer local Leicester variety, located as they are side by side in the games area. The Northants table is a vintage W T Blacks model, the Leicester one, in common with all these tables I've come across, looks slightly more home made. Needless to say the plastic pins and cheese shown here are not the correct ones for a Leicester Table. Darts and Pool are also played at the pub, and the licensee is happy to supply the hardware if you fancied throwing a few cheeses over a pint or two.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

A Compendium of Pub Games Images - Pt.11

Wellingborough in Northamptonshire has a number of very good pubs for the beer enthusiast (see below), in all honesty, the Volunteer is currently not one of them. No real ale is on offer at the Volunteer, and yet this is still one of my favourite pubs in the town, and well worth a visit if like me you have a love of unpretentious, well-run locals pubs. From the outside there's little to draw your attention to this Victorian (?) street corner pub, only the subdued light from within indicates that it is still trading as a pub. Inside is a different matter. Light, airy, and beautifully maintained by the current licensee. A clutch of locals propping up the bar beneath a photograph of the self same locals from an earlier time, all bike leathers and long hair. A sociable bunch, and seemingly proud of their long association with the pub.

The pub staples of Darts, Pool, and Cribbage are all played, but more unusually, an old Bar Billiards Table stands to the rear of the bar. In common with many of these older tables, the coin mechanism is unmodified and therefore still requires old 10 pence pieces for a game, which are available from the bar. The Volunteer hosts a team in the local Wellingborough Bar Billiards League.

The Burnaby Arms in Bedford is a classic back-street corner local, and has recently re-opened after a sensitive refurbishment with the aim of re-establishing itself as a proper community local. It's nice to see traditional pub games like these Dominoes still have a place at the pub.
The Cross Keys, Burbage, near Hinckley in Leicestershire, has an unspoilt interior of sufficient merit to be included on CAMRA's national inventory. The front bar is a lovely place to spend an afternoon with a pint or two, and what better way to spend it than shoving a few coins up the polished surface of this Shove Ha'penny Board. The board is kept in an alcove to the right of the fireplace, with coins available from behind the bar.

The Breweriana, and hundreds of pump clips which adorn the walls of the Coach & Horses in Wellingborough are testament to the role that beer plays in the pubs success. I'm pleased to see that there is still room for a Darts Board though.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Restoring A Tired Old Shove Ha'penny

Even though the game of Shove Ha'penny is not nearly as popular as it once was, boards can still be bought new from various sources. At best these will be made from solid hardwood, usually Oak or Mahogany, possibly even hand made and very attractive. The cheapest available are usually made from particle board, laminated with hardwood. Perfectly serviceable for play, but often uninspiring to look at and more prone to irreversible damage, particularly if accidentally exposed to moisture which will often raise the veneer.

Alternatively, there are numerous older boards to be found if you're prepared to hunt around antique and collectors shops, and so long as you're careful to avoid obvious damage and unacceptable warping, you'll end up with a much more attractive board, and often a far superior playing surface. Inevitably, an old neglected Shove Ha'penny Board may need some TLC before it's ready for play, so here are a few tips for restoring a solid wood board to playable condition.

The principal faults with this old Mahogany Board are one or two splits in the wood, tarnished Brass Lifters which are stiff to use, a surface which is dry and marked, and the Brass end rail is tarnished and loose. In it's favour, the splits are minor and not in the playing zone, the board is still totally flat and un-warped, and all lifters are in situ and not significantly bent or damaged.

The surface of a board of this age is always going to have a few dints and dents, and may also have some staining. In practise all but the deepest gouges are acceptable, but if you're unsure, it may be worth sliding a few coins up the bed to check that all is well before purchase. Staining can often go too deeply into the wood grain to be easily sanded out. The last thing you want is a sanded out trough in the playing surface, so do judge whether you can live with any staining which may have to stay. The stains on this board have been caused by leaving Ha'pennys on the surface (note the Queens Head), probably in a damp environment. I decided to leave them since as stains go, these are thoroughly 'in chararcter' with the game, and don't look too unattractive.

The first job was to strip all the metalwork off the board, including the tricky job of removing all the old rusty tacks from the curved end. Often these will break as you try to lever them out, leaving the only option to hammer them flush with the wood. The dowels on this board are used to lock-in the Brass Lifters. Polish all the Brass with an appropriate paste, but on an old board like this I don't like to go for a high sheen, just clean of staining, rust or corrosion. When replacing the end strip, be careful not to use tacks which are either too long or too thick, as the wood may be liable to split. There is likely to be quite an accumulation of old chalk in the grooves, removing this with a folded piece of sanding paper will help when relocating the Brass Lifters.

I've tried a few different polishes for the hardwood surface and have come down firmly on the side of Black Bison Fine Paste Wax Polish. This polishes up with a dry and exceptionally smooth surface, without any hint of the persistent 'tackiness' you'll get with some other products, Briwax for example. If your board appears to be unfinished wood with a very smooth surface, you may decide not to add anything, and I would always advise a 'less is more' approach to the actual playing surface. Any amount of stickiness or tack will seriously reduce the glide of coins on the surface, and may prove difficult to clean or polish off once applied. I've seen varnished boards, but this doesn't seem a very good surface to me. If you want a high sheen, I'd say you're going to have to learn the time consuming process of French Polishing.

Standard wood glue and clamping should fix any splitting of the wood, but a major split on the playing surface could be impossible to repair effectively and may prove to be a board which is more trouble than it's worth.

You don't need to blacken the scoring areas, chalk marks should show up well enough on bare wood, but it can make for a neater finish to the board. There are two ways of blackening the strips, one more attractive than the other in my opinion. Some use Blackboard Paint for the job, but this is perhaps only appropriate on a cheaper model as the paint can leave quite a thick finish. Much better is to Ebonise the wood in some way, and I've had good results with a bottle of Black Indian Ink, masking tape, and a small piece of cloth, as shown here.

The finished board could perhaps do with another wax polish, but has a beautifully smooth surface, and all the lifters work well now. Total cost including purchase from an antiques centre was less than £25.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Cherry Tree, Leicester

The Cherry Tree is a pub I hadn't been in for around 30 years! It was never on our circuit of drinking pubs, even though we used nearby boozers such as The Salmon, and the Highcross Street duo of the Hat & Beaver and Red Lion quite regularly in those days. I think the only reason I went there at all was that it hosted the Merry Cherry Folk Club in a poky room upstairs. It may have been the M&B Brewery logo which put us off at the time, though I'm pleased to say that these days I'm much less fussy about my beer choice where good pubs are concerned.

The position of the pub today is remarkable in that it stands in the shadow of the mighty Highcross Shopping Centre. The city council's pride and joy, and Leicesters very own contribution to the relentless homogenisation of our once distinctive towns and cities. For many people it seems, the Highcross Centre represents a kind of ideal in shopping, eating, and drinking. All the usual chain stores, cheek-by-jowl with the safest, most familiar food and drink brands, all together in one bland, temperature controlled 'space'.  There's absolutely nothing to distinguish it from any other shopping centre in the country, and certainly little there to indicate you're in Leicester!

Which makes the position of the Cherry Tree, and some of the other non-chain pubs in the area, so very important (as indeed is Leicesters excellent, and nearby, outdoor Market). The Cherry Tree is 'very' Leicester indeed. Friendly, traditional, full of character, and characters, and unlike the multitude of bland chain bars and pseudo-pubs clustered around this part of the city, there's a Pool Table where league matches are played, and a Darts Board which judging by the numerous league fixtures lists pinned up in the bar, gets quite a hammering throughout the week. Sadly, many of the proper 'locals' pubs in this part of town have gone for good now, most notably from the perspective of this blog the Hat & Beaver, which had Table Skittles as I recall. All the more reason to visit pubs like the Cherry Tree whilst they're still there to enjoy.

A Wooden Spoon for Dominoes dated 1975 hangs above the entrance to the bar.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Snowshill Arms, Snowshill, Gloucestershire

Here's another fine old Donnington Brewery pub. Attractive and very typical Cotswold stone on the outside, cosy, welcoming, and unpretentious within.

There's a Darts Board in the bar, and a light, airy Skittle Alley at the rear of the pub which is available for functions. No league appears to operate in this area of Gloucestershire, which is a shame as the alleys are very good and beautifully well maintained.

An opening six at the Snowshill Arms.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

White Hart, Newbold-on-Stour, Warwickshire

The licensee of the White Hart at Newbold-on-Stour has made every effort to incorporate a range of traditional games into the pubs offering. The Aunt Sally 'Throw' to the side of the pub was originally laid as a Pétanque piste, but the game didn't find favour with the locals. When the nearby Bird in Hand pub was put up for sale, its future uncertain, the bright yellow Hook Norton backcloth of the 'local' game was moved across the road, where it is now stands facing the main road through the village.

The padded metal 'Iron' shown here is topped with a freely rotating 'Swivel', on which is located the wooden 'Doll'. The black circle on the sheet helps to highlight the white Doll during play.

The various Aunt Sally leagues all have well presented websites where a better understanding of the game can be found than I can give here. The White Hart team play in Division 3 of the Chipping Norton Invitation Aunt Sally League, and the game can be seen played on alternate Thursday evenings throughout the Summer.

Winter gaming is catered for in the cosy bar area of the White Hart with one of the oldest pub games still in play. A really splendid carved wooden Ring The Bull is mounted on a beam above the open fire, and is unusual in that it would originally have had five scoring hooks rather than the usual single hook game. The brass number plates for hooks 1, 2, and 5 still exist, and would presumably have been used for a scoring game of some description, or perhaps to go 'round the board' in a similar way to the game of Rings. The existing single hook may well be a later addition for a simplified game. Ringing the bull is more difficult than it looks, so it's perhaps surprising to learn that the record for consecutive 'rings' at the pub stands at well over a hundred! A Shut The Box, this one numbering to12 and using three dice, is also available for play in the bar.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Locomotive, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire

The market town of Wellingborough is located at the very heart of the Northamptonshire Skittles area, giving its name to a local league as well as being the former base for G.J Pepper, fabricator of many of the skittles tables still to be found in the area (including the one shown here at The Locomotive).

In common with many similarly sized towns in Northamptonshire, the local game has now retreated to just a couple of pubs and perhaps just a single club. Most of the existing venues which play in the Wellingborough & District Skittles League can now be found in the surrounding small towns and villages, particularly those centred around nearby Rushden which itself hosts a Thursday Four-A-Side league.

Of the venues where skittles is still played in the town, The Locomotive is interesting in that it also fields a team in the Wellingborough & District Bar Billiards League, much shrunk in recent years but still with eight teams playing in the 2012/13 season.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The Black Horse, Aylestone, Leicester

The Black Horse was my own local for many years, back in the days of Formica table tops, harsh strip lighting, and outside toilets. It was also a time when it was still perfectly normal to visit your local most days of the week, Friday nights and Sunday lunchtimes being particularly busy.

The pub has changed quite a bit since then, though still has a very traditional feel and retains the separate Bar, Lounge, and Snug layout of old. Only the tiny Off-sales room at the front entrance has been lost, my first introduction to pub culture when sent on regular errands for 'Ten No.6 and a bar of Milk Tray' as a youngster.

The Black Horse has always been a locals pub, tucked away on what is now a no-through road in the old part of the village. The nearby Union Inn, also very much a local, had the distinction of housing a Leicestershire Skittles Table as I recall, but the Black Horse was home to Darts, a Pool Table upstairs, and a good Long Alley for Skittles out the back. The Darts board has moved from its original location adjacent to the bar, but the Skittle Alley is still where it's always been in a separate outbuilding at the rear of the pub. The alley is not currently in use for league games as far as I'm aware, though it certainly was back in the 80's. Nowadays it's a popular venue for functions, and has hosted the annual Everards Brewery/Leicester CAMRA Skittles Challenge on a few occasions.

*Update: I'm pleased to say that Thursday Winter League Skittles is still being played at the Black Horse.

I'm afraid I don't know much about this photograph, which is reproduced here c/o former Aylestone resident Lydia Moreton, other than it shows her family in front of the Black Horse Skittle 'Saloon', which I assume is on the same site as the current alley.