Friday, 26 July 2013

The Plough, Little Downham, Cambridgeshire

At first glance, the Grade II listed Plough might appear to be the kind of village local which has been largely untouched by the passage of time. The interior of the pub is certainly 'unspoilt' and thoroughly traditional in appearance, but the fact is the Plough will have seen many changes over the years. Any village institution which has managed to weather more than a hundred years of changing customer taste, and an occasional change of ownership, simply has to change or face almost inevitable decline. It all comes down to how sensitively that change is managed whether a pub can juggle the often conflicting goals of tradition and staying 'on-trend' as it were. The Plough succeeds where many similar village pubs have failed in this regard, indeed I think you'd have to be a regular of long-standing to see the joins at all.

Perhaps the most significant change at the Plough would have been when the front Tap Room (see image below) was extended into what was originally the cellar (image above). I wonder how much grumbling emanated from the locals when this idea was first mooted, though it's hard to imagine how the pub would have survived to this day without the subsequent doubling of trading space which resulted.

The history of the Plough is written large on the walls of the pub, a fascinating photographic journey through several generations of locals, licensees, and their many sporting and gaming pursuits. Currently, it's Shooting which seems to plays a large part in the activities of both the village and the pub, though Darts and Dominoes are also popular if the stack of Cribbage Boards and Tiles seen below are anything to go by.

The Plough of the 21st century remains thoroughly relevant to both villagers and visitors, with an excellent reputation for beer, cider, and Thai food.

This fabulous image is reproduced with the kind permission of John Clarke of the Little Downham Community Archive, and features George Green in front of the Pitch Penny bench in the bar of the Plough sometime around the 1940's or 50's. Sadly, as with the vast majority of pubs where this simple bar-room game was once played, the bench is now long gone and the game all-but forgotten. A good example of a Pitch Penny bench still in use can be found at the Jackson Stops Inn, Rutland, and another fine bench at The Bull in Essex is featured on the Pints & Pubs blog.

A set of Steel Quoits sit rusting by the stove. The game of Quoits was once played throughout the country, and still clings on as a league game in nearby Ipswich. Note the Yard of Ale behind, a pub game which has never to my knowledge been played at league level! The trophies are for Shooting.

The last date for the winner of the Little Downham Conker Championship appears to be around the mid 90's. Sadly, it doesn't take much for a village tradition like this to come to an untimely end, or for a defunct tradition to be successfully re-booted for that matter!

This photograph, which hangs above the stove in the bar, shows a game of Dwyle Flunking (or Flonking) in progress on the green opposite the Plough. Perhaps the least said about this particular drinking game the better, since as traditions go this one has the distinct whiff of pastiche about it. A raucous amalgamation of Morris Dancing and school playground game, it is widely believed that this Suffolk pastime was invented in the 1960's, during the height of interest in all things Goon-ish or Monty Python-esque. The game is listed amongst many other examples of British eccentricity on Montegue Blister's Strange Games blog.

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