Monday, 24 June 2013

Skittles On The Green - Thrussington, Leicestershire

The many attractive villages of the Wreake Valley could be said to lie at the very heart of the Leicestershires Long Alley Skittles tradition. Pub and club alleys in Ashby Folville, Hoby, Melton Mowbray, and on into Syston are still going strong, though certainly many more have been lost in recent years. The village of Thrussington has a very special place in the Long Alley tradition, and yet neither of the two village pubs have an alley these days. The Star Inn on the village green was given an extensive makeover in 2011, and is now highly regarded principally for its food offering. The nearby Blue Lion is a much more traditional affair. Home to lively Darts and Dominoes matches, and with several teams 'chucking' in the local 1990 Pétanque League, but the original Long Alley which would have existed at the rear of the pub is now long gone.

What marks Thrussington out as a skittling hotbed is the unique annual tradition of Skittles on the Green. On two evenings in June, villagers and skittlers from near and far compete for various team and individual trophies in the Leicestershire version of Long Alley Skittles. It's a marvellous community event, enjoyed by men, women, and children equally, and an important fundraiser for the upkeep of the village hall. It's also unique as far as I can tell in that the twin alleys used for the games are located not at a pub or club, but on the village green. Of course outdoor skittle alleys are not in themselves unusual, most of those found in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire are located in the car parks and beer gardens of pubs. But a 'municipal' long alley, set up as these are on the village green, is something I've not come across anywhere else in the Midlands, though I'd be delighted to learn of other examples should they still exist.

The two 'alleys' on the green are laid to concrete, complete with the usual sunken foot hole and nine metal rings for locating the pins. Straw bales, a sturdy wooden return chute, and steady stream of willing competitors complete the facilities. A decent run of good weather helps too!

Mandy Gisborn, licensee of the excellent Blue Lion, very kindly allowed me to photograph the trophy and shield ahead of the start of play on Friday evening. If we assume that the presentation of the Crowden Cup marks the beginning of this unique village tradition, it can be seen that Skittles on the Green has been going for over 50 years, with the Black Swan, Melton Mowbray the very first winners, and Syston Social Club the current cup holders.

Of course skittles may well have been played in a similar fashion in the village well before 1961, either on the green as it is now, or in one or more of the pubs in the village. More recently, the skittling has been shortened from the original three evening sessions to a Friday and Saturday event. Support from local teams has not been as strong as in previous years, perhaps not helped by the run of poor Summer weather we've had recently. This year the weather held good though, with the Friday evening session particularly warm and pleasant, so hopefully the suggestion that this could be the last year for Skittles on the Green will prove to be premature. It would be a great shame to see yet another wonderful social tradition disappear along with the many similar events that have already been lost.

The all important men in the 'Woodyard', without whom the setting up of the pins and the return of cheeses would be a lengthy process during a game. It's a job which doesn't come without some element of risk, both from the unpredictable bounce of the hardwood cheeses, and the high probability of splinters when handling the pins. The two shown here are obviously old hands in the woodyard, and presumably still sprightly enough to avoid any serious injury during the heat of competition.

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