Friday, 20 September 2013

Long Alley in Long Eaton, Derbyshire

The Derbyshire town of Long Eaton has for many years been at the very centre of the Long Alley Skittles tradition. Until relatively recently, Tuesday evenings would have been alive with the clunk and clatter of highly competitive skittling, such was the popularity of the game with the (mostly male) locals. From my own observations in the town, practically every pub and club must have had an alley at one time, indeed most still do, though sadly many are no longer in regular use. Even so, there is still an active Long Alley Skittles league centred on Long Eaton, with perhaps half of the towns venues hosting games in the Summer league.

One of the unique features of Long Alley Skittles as played in the north Midlands is that it's predominantly an outdoor game, often played on alleys which double as car parking outside of match nights. It's this durable and semi-permanent aspect to the alleys which has helped preserve many of them from loss, in stark contrast to the many indoor alleys and other traditional pub features which continue to be lost following changes of ownership, or over-zealous refurbishment.

The alley shown above is at the rear of the New Inn, a lively, fully modernised bar in the centre of town. It's a typical outdoor 'Summer League' alley of a type found throughout Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Despite being very well maintained, this alley doesn't appear to be in league use at the moment (the skittles shown here are my own). The New Inn team are still active, but appear to have moved up the road to Brennan's. This is quite a common occurrence in league play, sometimes the result of the home pub closing, or simply a change of ownership mid-season. Note the sectional concrete return chute on the right. Built to last, thoroughly functional, and yet somehow a more elegant solution than the modern plastic pipe returns commonly seen.

Meanwhile, the alley at the rear of the Tiger Inn (right) could do with a good sweep, and the return chute has certainly seen better days. A neglected skittle alley like this one is quite a sad sight, but at least it's still there, and it wouldn't take too much to bring it back into use at a future time.

The Corner Pin is a typical town centre bar, popular with a younger crowd and not noted for its skittles play, though presumably it once would have been. There are many Corner Pins dotted around this part of the Midlands (and a few elsewhere), the name usually referring to the local skittles game.

The alley shown below is another neglected example, this one at the rear of the currently closed Royal Oak. The pub stands on a large plot with an extensive car park and Long Alley area. The feeling in the town is that the Royal Oak is unlikely to escape the developer, so this alley may well be lost along with the pub in the near future.

The Stumble Inn has a Long Alley at the rear of the pub, but as can be seen in the image above, it is no longer in use. The 'throw' for this alley is now home to a tidy new decking area, so is unlikely to come back into use any time soon.

It's not all pub game archaeology at the Stumble Inn though, with active Pool, Darts, and Domino competition in evidence. There's even the relatively rare sight of a Pinball in the games area, a game which has ebbed and flowed in popularity over the years, mainly I think due to the high maintenance costs of the tables. It's also a game which has been around long enough in this country to be tentatively considered a traditional pub game!

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