Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Four Pub Game Books

This small two shilling booklet on Inn Games is regarded by Arthur Taylor, author of 'Played in the Pub' (see below), as probably the first to treat pub games as a separate subject in its own right. These 'Know The Game' books first appeared in the 50's, and covered every sport, game, hobby and pastime imaginable, giving the most up to date rules as supplied by the relevant governing body.

The choice of games in such a slim volume is necessarily selective, but even so, the inclusion of Draughts seems slightly odd to me. Was it really considered a pub game in 1955 when this edition was published?

Of greatest interest to me is the chapter on Shove Ha'penny, which gives the most comprehensive explanation of the basic rules I've yet seen, including one or two subtleties I hadn't come across previously. These were written in collaboration with the News of the World, who at that time were involved in organising national competitions in both Shove Ha'penny and Darts.

The Watney Book of Pub Games was written by the then Northamptonshire resident Timothy Finn, and expands greatly on the selection given in the Know The Game booklet (and with no room for Draughts!). It's a good book which suffers somewhat from comparison with the authors later, much revised and expanded work, Pub Games of England. The latter work is also much better presented, with photographs replacing the simple diagrams of this modest paperback. Most of the pub games known to us now are included and explained, including a chapter on the banned, but still believed to be in existence at the time 'sport' of Cock Fighting.

Timothy Finn was a great fan of Northamptonshire Table Skittles (or Hood Skittles as it's known here), and played at his local pub. The photo on the back cover shows the author standing outside a pub with a half drained pint glass in hand. Whilst it's hard to be sure from such a small monochrome image, the pub has more than a passing resemblance to the Royal Oak at Naseby, a pub which may well have been the authors local, and which still has a fine Northants skittles table today.

Perhaps the most interesting inclusion in Pub Games is the short listing of pubs 'Where They Play' each game, an idea which was expanded on in the follow up book, Pub Games of England. Needless to say, many of the suggestions included in this 1966 publication are either no longer with us, or have been refurbished with little or no room for traditional games amongst the dining tables. For example the Fox at Catworth is noted as a venue for Northants Skittles, but this pub closed for good in 2012, and I don't believe any of the pubs noted in the Evesham area still have a 'Dobbers' board, Evesham Quoits having declined so completely in recent years.

Timothy Finn's follow up book, Pub Games of England, is a much more readable version of the Watney brewery sponsored book above, though even here the pictures are fairly low quality monochrome. A minor but notable change in the editorial is the sense of decline in many of the games featured, even a suggestion that some may be on the verge of extinction. This is perhaps surprising given the publication date of 1975, a time when most pubs would still have been thriving.

On a more positive note, Cock Fighting has gone, to be replaced by a chapter on the slightly bogus pub game of Dwyle Flonking. Chapters are arranged on a regional basis, and include a more comprehensive listing of 'Reported Sightings' to aid games enthusiasts like myself track down many of these increasingly rare games. Given that this book is now over 35 years old, the listings are mostly of academic interest only, although some, such as the Talbot Inn, Gretton, Northants, are still accurate.

Played at the Pub by Arthur Taylor is the current, and definitive guide to the subject of pub games. It really is a wonderful study of the subject. The more you read of it, the more you want to discover and experience the many fascinating games which are featured.

The book is packed with a fine selection of vintage and contemporary photographs, but this is no coffee table book. The text is authoritative, well researched, and written with warmth, and a genuine enthusiasm for the subject. Of course the decline of both pubs and the games played in them is never far away, and it would be all too easy to look at this book as nostalgia pure and simple. But the fact is, many of these games are still played regularly and enthusiastically by thousands of ordinary people throughout the country. This is not nostalgia, this is both social history, and everyday life and play for many folk.

My only criticism of this book, if I really had one, is that there isn't nearly enough of it. The subject of Skittles for example, in all its myriad forms and local rules, could easily fill a book of this size on its own. Perhaps one day someone will give skittles the kind of literary attention that Cricket and Snooker have been afforded, Arthur Taylor would certainly be my choice of man for the job.

All of these books can be fairly easily found in the secondhand book market, but Played at the Pub is available to buy new, and I urge anyone with an interest in pubs and the games played in them to go out and find a copy.

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