Thursday, 28 March 2013

Dog & Gun, Enderby, Leicestershire

The South Leicestershire village of Enderby is an old stomping ground of mine from the days when I lived in nearby Littlethorpe. Within easy walking distance of home, the village had just the right number of pubs for an afternoon pub crawl, some of which were very good pubs indeed. Sadly, and in common with most parts of this country, Enderby has lost a few of its more traditional pubs in recent years.

The ultra-traditional Havelock Arms was the first to go during the time when I was a regular visitor to the village. Crassly re-invented as The Chatsworth, and victim to one of the most garish and unsympathetic refurbishments I'd hitherto come across (needless to say I've seen plenty on a par with this since). The pub has subsequently morphed into an upmarket Italian bar/restaurant. The locals de-camped up the lane to the relatively unspoilt New Inn, fixing a small notice to the wall adjacent to the bar, giving notice that this was a welcome home for ex-pat Havelock drinkers. Since then the similarly traditional Plough on the hill was given a slightly dull off-the-peg refurbishment by Marstons and the King William IV was closed by local brewer Everards.

Thankfully, there are still a few traditional, and largely unspoilt pubs trading in Enderby, including my favourite the Dog & Gun. This compact village local still retains a separate public bar, which is where you'll find the well used Darts Board, as well as a more plush lounge bar. Pool and Leicestershire Table Skittles are played in the rear games/function room.

Table Skittles accounts for the majority of the silverware on display in this trophy cabinet. The pub fields teams in both the Dunton Bassett Table Skittles League and the Dunton Bassett Ladies Skittles League.


Sunday, 24 March 2013

A Suffolk Quoits Board

The county of Suffolk has a long association with Quoits, a game which seems to have been played just about everywhere in Britain until the latter half of the 20th Century. Even a casual examination of the records of pubs and clubs will often reveal evidence of league or cup Quoits competition, indeed the game was played throughout my own home county of Northamptonshire. A good example of a Northamptonshire Team, proudly displaying their winners trophy and Steel Quoits, can be seen on the Burton Latimer Heritage Society website (this website also includes images of other pub and club game teams, including those for Billiards, Darts and Northants Table Skittles).

Although the game has declined dramatically since its heyday in the early-mid 20th Century, Quoits continues to be played in several regions of the country, most notably the northern counties of England, and is still strongly associated with pubs, clubs, and of course the drinking of beer on a Summer evening. The game is still played in Suffolk, though whether the two leagues mentioned on the excellent Quoits pages of the Suffolk CAMRA website are still active, I couldn't say. Quoits is of course a Summer game, and in common with other outdoor games such as Long Alley Skittles, it's quite likely that smaller indoor versions would have been developed for Winter play. Evesham Quoits is perhaps the better known of these, but there was also a Suffolk version which now appears to have completely disappeared from the pubs where it would presumably have once been quite a popular game.

The Suffolk Quoits Board shown here is typical of examples which occasionaly turn up in the antiques and collectables trade. You certainly won't find one to play in a pub to my knowledge (though I'd be happy to be proved wrong). Arthur Taylor, author of Played at the Pub, describes Suffolk Quoits as being a simple scoring game where four small flat rubber rings are tossed at the board from a distance of 8 ft. The board is tilted towards the thrower, and presumably the quoits must land squarely within the boundary of the five scoring zones. There is a slight mystery with my own board in that a central brass disc or nail head is marked for 10 points, a feature not apparent on the board shown in Played at the Pub. I don't currently possess Quoits suitable for play, but these would have been a fair bit smaller than those used for the Evesham game. There is a photo of a gentleman playing what appears to be the Suffolk game here.

As an aside, the dealer who sold me this board informed me that he'd also acquired another similar board in with the deal, which he's now sold on. From the description given this appears to have been a Suffolk Caves Board, somewhat different to the Quoits board in that the scoring zones are formed of five depressions, into which the quoits need to land. The game was apparently invented by the licensee of the Black Boy pub in Bury-St-Edmunds in the early 20th Century. Interestingly, the dealer was given to understand that this was where the board had originated, in fact he failed to sell the board to the current licensee who presumably didn't understand its significance. The only Caves board currently in use is at the Crown, Bedfield, but this tale suggests the original board may still be in existence, possibly even ready to return to active service in a Suffolk pub sometime soon.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Engineers Arms, Henlow, Bedfordshire

The Engineers Arms has such a good reputation for its beer and cider that it was judged a finalist in CAMRA's national Pub of the Year awards in 2012. A regular entry in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide, the pub also plays host to annual beer and cider festivals. It's also a friendly, welcoming, and thriving community pub, buzzing with locals when I visited, and if all that were not enough, it's a bit of a treasure trove for the pub games enthusiast.

The games corner at the pub features numerous board games, including the laminate Shove Ha'penny shown above (in need of a serious polish it must be said), Dominoes, and a good Dice set which includes the pub staples of Shut The Box and Crown & Anchor. The licensee also has a much better quality slate Shove Ha'penny which is currently being mounted into a wooden frame ready to install as a fold-down board on a wall of the bar. I believe there may also be an Evesham Quoits (or Dobbers) Board at the pub, though this was not on show when I visited recently.

A recent introduction to the pub, and an increasingly popular game throughout the country, is the Monday Poker In The Pub night. Whatever you think of Poker as a pub game (and given that until relatively recently it has been illegal to play Poker for money in a pub, and so it could hardly be considered 'traditional'), the good thing about the game is that it appeals to such a wide range of people. This includes many of the younger drinkers who have previously not engaged in the more traditional games such as Skittles and Darts (it's notable that the Engineers doesn't appear to have a Darts Board, though it may be that I simply missed it). The red padded table toppers for the game can be seen on the left of the Shove Ha'penny image above.

Perhaps the jewel in the crown of pub games at the Engineers Arms is this play-worn old Skittles Table, of the type found throughout Bedfordshire and beyond. This is a very well used table, mounted on sturdy turned-wood legs, and with what may well be the original leather covering. The table can be found 'outside' the rear bar in the covered patio area. A sensible precaution for a game as noisy as this, and playable throughout the Winter months thanks to the presence of a number of large patio heaters.

League skittles play doesn't extend quite as far as Henlow, but casual games are popular at the pub, including the Friday night bar room favourite of Killer

Saturday, 16 March 2013

A Compendium of Pub Games Images - Pt.15

The area around the Warwickshire town of Rugby is another outpost for the game of Table Skittles, though existing tables are few and far between in the town itself. The Alexandra has one of the last remaining tables in the town centre, quite a vintage W T Blacks model from the look of the turned legs and the fragments of two plastic labels which can still be seen pinned to them.

The Pins and Cheeses are the yellow plastic variety favoured in the adjacent Lutterworth and Dunton Bassett leagues. This set are stamped with the moniker of joiner and skittle table repairer Colin Swinfen, based in the nearby village of South Kilworth in Leicestershire.

The Bridle Lane Tavern is a small, effectively single bar pub located on the edge of the city centre. The pub stands adjacent to a large traffic island, and is overlooked by the Belgrave Flyover (there are currently plans to demolish this ugly concrete edifice and redevelop the area). At one time the pub must have been hemmed in by buildings on either side, though it now stands isolated, a thin wedge of a building which helps explain the diminutive size of the drinking area. It's a welcome survivor in an area which has lost many of its local pubs, reflecting the radically changed demographics and the steep decline in industry of this area of Leicester. Despite the limited space there's still room for a good Darts Board, with another located in what appears to be a covered yard to the rear. Until fairly recently the pub was also home to a Leicester Skittles Table, an increasingly rare traditional pub game which sadly ended up in a skip during refurbishment by a former licensee.

When I first spotted these skittles at an antiques emporium in Lincolnshire, I thought they were of the style known as Old English Skittles, the largest skittle form still played in England. In fact they resemble more closely Long Alley pins of the Derby/Notts variety though larger and more bulbous in shape. The 'cheeses' are still a bit of a mystery though. These appear to be a cross between those used in Northamptonshire Table Skittles, and the large Lignum Vitae 'discus' shaped cheeses used in the now very rare Old English game. The owner describes them as Country Fete Skittles, which is probably as accurate a description as any. Given their current condition, riddled with worm holes, and set at an unrealistically high price, I can't see them coming back into use any day soon.

Domino players required at the Kings Head in Leicester. Since re-opening as a Black Country Ales pub in 2012, the Kings Head has returned to the fold as a good pub for beer, and under the current licensee is now settling in as a proper locals pub too. It's slightly unusual to see league Dominoes being played at a pub so close to the centre of town. Unusual but very welcome.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Nine Men's Morris

My own Nine Men's Morris Board, pictured at The Castle Inn, Castle Bytham, Lincolnshire, a cosy and welcoming village pub where Pool, Darts, and Dominoes are available to play.

Even before we explore a little of the history of Nine Men's Morris (also known as Merrels), it's simplicity of form clearly marks it out as a game of great age. Believed to date back to Roman times at least, Merrels seems to have been a game of common folk, often played on a simple scratched playing surface (see below) using pebbles or perhaps cereal grains as counters.

A simpler form of the game is known as Three Men's Morris, examples of which have been found carved or scratched onto surfaces dating from pre-Christian times. Three Men's Morris is played on a smaller 'board' using only three counters apiece, but resembles the nine counter version in that the object of both games is to arrange your counters into a straight line of three, called a Mill, in order to capture your opponents counters. The rules are simplicity itself, and yet these are games of real skill and strategy. An online version of the game can be played on the Tyne and Wear Archives & Museums website: Nine Men's Morris).

But can Nine Men's Morris really be considered a pub game? Clearly the game has been played in pubs for very many years, and yet to my mind it doesn't seem to have any particular affinity to the pub, any more so than the Churches and Cathedrals where so many Morris 'boards' have been found scratched into pews and benches. It's a matter of semantics I guess. Does the playing of a game in a pub naturally confer on it the status of a Pub Game? Clearly all pub games originated as games which were then adopted by pub goers, and whilst Nine Men's Morris is rarely seen these days, at one time it was presumably a very popular game in the tap room. Whatever, the game of Nine Men's Morris is a very good way to spend time with a pint and a friend, and in this regard it is an ideal candidate for pub play.

The stone benches in the porch of Honington Church in Lincolnshire are covered in scratched graffiti, including many of the crossed squares which would have been used for the game of Three Men's Morris. Note the indentations at the intersections where the counters would have been placed.

Heavily worn Three Men's Morris squares scratched onto the porch benches at Market Deeping Church in Lincolnshire.

This large solid wood Nine Men's Morris Board is one of several traditional games available at the wonderful Queens Head, Newton, in Cambridgeshire. The game was apparently known as Murrels in Cambridgeshire, and Meg Merryleys in Lincolnshire.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Lilacs Inn, Isham, Northamptonshire

The Northamptonshire village of Isham falls within the bounds of the Wellingborough & District Skittles League. The Lilacs Inn field a team in the league, playing their home matches on this fine old table, probably a W T Blacks model judging by the appearance.

Until recently the pub had two Pool Tables in the large games/function room, with four teams active in local league play. This is a good indication of how popular the game of Pool has been at a time when other pub games have struggled. But even Pool is not as popular as it once was, and The Lilacs is now down to just the one table with currently no league games played at the pub. The licensee is anticipating the return of league play soon, but for now the noticeboard is exclusively the preserve of the various league and knockout skittles competitions.

A battered and bruised brass plaque on one of the front legs indicates that the skittles table was refurbished in 1997 by John Tonks of Northampton.

Originally the playing surface of these tables would have been  covered with leather, or a cheaper leatherette alternative. Nowadays the surface tends to be of tough and durable Formica, a tasteful grey/blue here, but sometimes more of a pink hue.

This handsome skittles trophy was presented to the pub by Mike O'Hare in 1997, presumably to record the highest individual or average scores over a season. Sadly it was last competed for only a couple of years later.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Pub Games in Newark

The Nottinghamshire town of Newark plays host to several traditional pub games, though sadly not all are thriving to the degree they once were.

The area noted for the Notts/Derby version of Long Alley Skittles extends at least as far as Newark and possibly into Lincolnshire, with several pubs competing in the Newark & District Long Alley Skittles League. This version of Long Alley is predominantly a Summer game with many of the alleys located outdoors, or at best in sparsely heated outhouses. This perhaps gives a clue as to the why another form of skittles is still quite common (though not so widely played) throughout the area.

Devil Amongst The Tailors (known locally as Table Skittles) is the most diminutive form of skittles still played in pubs. Through league play the game would have provided keen skittlers with their weekly fix of competition in the warm comfort of the bar, when the draughty alley would have been a thoroughly uncomfortable environment for drinking and play. The game is found throughout the Notts/Derby area, and is also popular in the West Country where alley skittles is still the game of choice in pubs. The absence of 'Devils' in the areas traditionally associated with the indoor game of Northants Table Skittles can therefore quite easily be explained.

Until recently, a re-launched Table Skittles League was active in Newark. Sadly, this league has now ceased, but the tables are still available for casual play in several pubs in the town.

This fine locally made Skittles Table is located in the back bar of the Royal Oak, a pub noted for some fine original internal fittings, including the 60's bar shown above (I'm not sure whether the funky seating is original, but it certainly suits the bar). The table appears to have been made from offcuts of skirting board, stained and varnished, and with minor repairs evident from many years of service. The drawer underneath the cribbage style scoring board is an unusual feature. Note also the short piece of net curtain wire attached to the pole. This is not, as you might think, to steady the pole, but acts as a bar to sideways shots which are not allowed in the league rules hereabouts.

The Skittles Table sits atop a converted Singer sewing machine stand, once a common sight in pubs, often complete with original treadle intact. The bar also has a number of original games tables, featuring shelves for pints during play. The noticeboard to the left is pinned with fixtures for the local Domino League.

The Newcastle Arms was also active in the local Table Skittles league until its recent demise. The table is now available for play on request. Also of interest at the pub is an example of the unique Lincolnshire version of the ubiquitous bar room Dartboard, featuring just a doubles ring and a single bull. Darts played on a Doubles Board like the one shown here is not unique to Newark or the Lincolnshire area, doubles darts is still played in parts of Kent and Yorkshire. Only in this area (to my knowledge) are the doubles boards entirely black like this one, giving them a little of the appearance of the original 'log-end' boards of the Manchester area. The Newcastle teams play in the Newark & District Double Board Darts League. The bar also has a number of original games tables as seen below.