Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Shove Ha'penny Control Association

Not much is known about the grandly titled Shove Ha'penny Control Association, which is perhaps surprising given how widespread the game was in pubs and clubs until relatively recent times. As yet, no-one has managed to unearth an archive of minutes and transactions for this auspicious control body, neither have any trophies, awards, or league tables come to light bearing their name. So it's a bit of a mystery just who or what the Association were actually controlling!

In reality there probably never was a fully functioning Shove Ha'penny Control Association. Perhaps it was simply an invention of one or more manufacturer, a marketing trick to encourage purchase of their 'official' board as opposed to inferior homemade or crafted boards, or indeed those sold by their competitors. Perhaps there was a serious attempt to set up an official governing body, an attempt which was treated with disdain or simply ignored by the local leagues and casual bar room players it was aimed at.

In the post-war years when the game was at its most popular, there were one or two short-lived attempts to develop Shove Ha'penny as a  nationally competed game. The News of the World organised competitions for a number of pub games including Shove Ha'penny. Occasional world championship events still occur to this day, and several regional champions of the game can be seen shoving for a big money prize on Yorkshire Televisions fabulously un-PC Indoor League series in the 70's (now available on DVD). But other than these rare moments in the spotlight and the few local leagues which still exist, the game remains resolutely one for casual play at the pub, without the need for Control by an Association of any kind.

This very heavy slate Shove Ha'penny was the very first board I acquired, and is still a particular favourite of mine. The slate is very smooth indeed, and in remarkably good condition for its age. The Patent number gives a date for this design of somewhere in the 1920's, a time when the game would have been very popular in pubs, clubs.

There's plenty of additional design to warrant the patent, including this handy depression to hold your chalk and numbered beds for a scoring game. This appears to have been the Rolls Royce of Shove Ha'penny slates, there was also a cheaper 'Challenger' model without the numbering, and later slates were of a similar design but with plastic surrounds replacing the expensive alloy of the originals. Many of these slates were drilled for screwing to a table top, not strictly necessary given the weight, and possibly more of a guard against theft.

Serious league play, of the kind the Shove Ha'penny Control Association were presumably trying to foster, would require a stringent set of rules which left no room for ambiguity or dispute. Before play began, the 'Number of Beds' required for a win would have been chalked into this circle, a simple verbal agreement simply wouldn't do. Needless to say, this and the Challenger board are the only ones I've ever seen with this entirely unnecessary design quirk.

The French Chalk tin is a red herring, actually used to hold a set of five old ha'pennys. A number of treatments are recommended to help achieve the requisite slipperiness of the slate surface, including Arrowroot, Talcum Powder, and French Chalk. I've tried a few of these and come down firmly on the side of Talc. In actual fact, the talc doesn't create a more slippery surface, the slate is smooth enough to provide this already, but acts to even out any particularly smooth areas or dead spots on the board. One problem in common with all really smooth surfaced Shove Ha'pennys is the tendency for smoothed and polished coins or tokens to either overshoot on a cushion of air, or stop dead unexpectedly on hitting a speck of dust or minor imperfection in the surface. A small amount of talc helps creates a slightly slower, but more predictable playing surface.

The manufacturers of this board were not ones to miss a trick, making special Shove Ha'penny Tokens for use in place of the age-old solution of a plain old ha'penny.

These bespoke tokens are made from a thin disc of Brass. The top side is silvered and cast to indicate the 'official' nature of what is essentially a brass washer! To be honest, they do work very well, once again removing some of the unpredictability of using a mixed-bag of old coinage.


cockneybarrowboy said...

I have the same board in similar condition along with the five discs.
I found it in an antique shop in Kalk Bay, Cape Town. Although I'd never sell it, what do you thing one would fetch on the open market.
Thanks, Robert

Anonymous said...

I have a similar board marked British Shove Ha'penny Board of Control. I paid £20 for it at an antiques market thirty plus years ago and it was borrowed from me by Burlington Slate Company (Cumbria) in 1984 so that they could copy the slate details (not the surround) for a customer in , I seem to recall, Saudie Arabia.
How much it is worth? I've no idea. I've not seen one for sale since I found mine.

Mark said...

I've no idea how much they might be worth, only that mine was £50, and on the rare occasions they appear on eBay etc. they're usually asking for £100 or more. Having said that, I don't know whether they actually sell for that much. I'd say these are one of the best quality boards that were 'manufactured', but I've seen much bigger slate boards, and much better surfaces on old Mahogany Shove Ha'pennys.

Jeff Hook said...

I found a manufacturer in the US that still makes the boards at a reasonable price, but they are solid wood rather than slate. They can be found at Backyard TailGator

David said...

Hi I have a disc/coin if anyone's interested