Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Case Is Altered, Fiveways, Hatton, Warwickshire

The vast majority of pubs in England and Wales are owned by breweries or pub companies, run as either managed or leased businesses with widely varying degrees of autonomy. This makes The Case Is Altered near Warwick something of a rarity. In fact it's that rarest of all pubs, an independent, family owned and run free house. This means it's free from the interference and unreasonable demands of pubcos, free to sell ales from whichever breweries the owners wish, and free to run the pub just the way the owners like it. At The Case this means for the benefit of a regular custom of drinkers who like the pub just the way it is, largely unchanged and unspoilt by unnecessary change.

It's the family owned bit that's particularly important at the Case Is Altered, and what makes pubs like this unique and precious survivors. The current landlady took over the running of the pub from her late grandmother over 30 years ago, and this has resulted in the kind of continuity of ownership which is now unusual in the pub trade.

The constant churn of licensees in practically all areas of the trade, and the resulting endless rounds of refurbishment and reinvention, is one of the key factors behind the loss of so much genuine character in so many pubs. Of course I'm not saying that change in pubs is always bad, but when it's change for the sake of it, and without reference to local feeling or thought for the history and heritage of the pub, we often lose something important and irretrievable in the process.

So it's this continuity of ownership at the Case Is Altered that has helped maintain the pub as a truly unspoilt (if not entirely unchanged) classic. But it's not just the decor that's been preserved and cherished, it's also a hard to define, yet instantly recognisable 'timeless' quality which has endured in the bar. You get the feeling that things are much the same in the quarry tile floored bar as they've always been, give or take a few price rises.

A rare and genuine survivor at the pub is a very fine old Bar Billiards Table, tucked in a corner of the entrance lobby, and showing the deep patina of age and use. Bearing the label of A W Chick Ltd, a Birmingham cue sports manufacturer who seem to have been in production until the early1960's when the business was finally wound up. The timing and ball release mechanism remains unaltered from pre-decimal times, and old sixpences are available to buy from behind the bar for those wanting a game.

As can be seen above, Cribbage is still popular at the pub, with Monday evenings set aside for play, and beginners to the game welcome. I can't imagine a better place for a card game than in front of the open fire at this classic village local.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

A Collection of Shove Ha'pennys

The almost limitless variety to be found in manufactured and home made Shove Ha'penny boards is a dangerous thing for those of us with a penchant for collecting. Putting aside the relatively common and quite similar boards which were manufactured by Jaques, K&C, Wisden's etc. it seems that from my own observations almost every carpenter, cabinet maker, joiner, and sundry other craftsmen would have knocked up a few boards for sale locally. Add to this the literally thousands of handcrafted boards made by locals and hobbyists, and clearly it's not a collection anyone is ever likely to complete.

© John Penny
Of course, when I use the word 'variety' in the context of Shove Ha'penny boards, I'm referring to quite subtle differences in what is essentially the same basic form. To the untrained eye, one wooden Shove Ha'penny might look much the same as another, but it's these subtle differences which make it hard for the enthusiast to resist acquiring yet another piece of highly polished timber or slate whenever one comes up for sale.

The slate shown on the right is from fellow enthusiast, and keen Dorset/Somerset skittler John Penny's collection. I don't know how many boards John has, but I do know that pub games are a passion, and I hope to feature more from his collection in future posts on this blog.

This example was made by Alfred Merewood of 36 Surrey Street, Portsmouth. Cabinet maker? Games Manufacture? I've been unable to find any details of the business online. The slate itself is similar to the more commonly found 'Imp' Shove Ha'penny boards, which were embellished with a cheaper and less attractive plastic end stop than the fine wooden one on this board.

© John Penny
Smooth and durable Slate seems to have been the preferred material for Shove Ha'penny boards in pubs throughout the West Country, with many still in existence in their natural home.

The one shown to the left is located a little further east of this at the White Lion Inn, Wherwell, Hampshire. It's a very serious chunk of slate, not the kind of thing that wants moving around too much but ideal for pub use. It also features five handy recesses in the wooden end stop for the coins.

John has speculated that this may in fact be a Pushpenny given that the recesses are a good fit for old pennies. It's all in the bed depth though, which is hard to gauge from a photo. Perhaps John will have a game the next time he visits.

© John Penny
The detail on the wooden Shove Ha'penny shown above (and below) is a beautifully made, and very neat solution to the safe storage of coins or tokens when not in use. This board was made by John's great uncle, obviously a skilled craftsman, and is certainly pre-war in date.

Of course any half decent collection of Shove Ha'penny boards requires an accompanying collection of Shove Ha'penny Tokens. Here we have examples from the St Georges Series, the Shove Ha'penny Control Association, and assorted plain brass and silvered discs. Judging by the examples shown here, tokens for the game are also an area ripe for the collector.

© John Penny
I think it's true to say that the examples shown above represent the most common materials used for Shove Ha'penny boards, though I've also seen Marble and Granite used on occasion. But every now and then something truly unusual comes to light which makes the point that any hard smooth surface will do for the game, and of course there's really no reason to stick with natural and traditional materials. The board shown below was recently acquired from a snooker club in Cheltenham which was having a clear out. It's very heavy, very smooth indeed, and made from what appears to be some form of man-made resin or laminate such as Paxolin.

It's an unusual board in other ways. It's hard to imagine this would have been 'manufactured', and yet the lines have been precision cut in a way that suggests it was machine tooled rather than cut by hand. The end stop is made from some kind of industrial plastic capping which is effective but quite rudimentary and lacking elegance, and the bracing baton underneath is an off cut, still with vestiges of the paint from its previous life.

The design of the playing surface is unusual too, with a semi-circular 'D' zone, and two inexplicable circles in the end zone. Quite a mystery, and given that I still haven't managed to find out the true purpose of the more common 'D' zone, not one I'm likely to solve to be honest.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Pattenmakers Arms, Duffield, Derbyshire

If it wasn't for the fact that so many good pubs have had so much of their character and history 'refurbished' away in recent years, a pub like the Pattenmakers Arms would perhaps be regarded as a largely unremarkable backstreet boozer, and in many ways it is. It's a friendly and welcoming locals pub for sure, and certainly noted for serving a good pint, but going about its business in the unfussy and unpretentious way that backstreet pubs like this have been doing for generations.

It's the widespread blandness evident in modern pub design and decor, and the relative paucity of those which have retained a vestige of their heritage intact which makes pubs like the Pattenmakers special. Largely unspoilt Edwardian pubs like this are not nearly as common as they once were, and sadly are becoming rarer still with every closure and crassly insensitive refurbishment.

Etched and colourful stained glass windows at the Pattenmakers act to diffuse the bright sunlight in a way now frowned on by our current crop of pub designers. An attractive mix of original quarry tile, parquet, and mosaic flooring has survived throughout the pub, and the entirely un-radical use of carpeting, curtains, and other soft furnishings helps to absorb sound. It's the curse of modern coffee house style pubs and bars, that even when only moderately busy the cacophony of conversation and general noise can rise to unpleasant levels. All the result of the current trend for bright hard surfaces at the expense of old-fashioned comfort.

So the Pattenmakers is a pub full of genuine heritage and character, comfortable and cosy, and with a great reputation for beer and a friendly welcome. Which makes it even more sad that at the time of writing, the pubs owners Enterprise Inns are to set to reward the hard-working licensees of the Pattenmakers with a doubling the rent. Such is the reward for success in the licensed trade these days, particularly under the yolk of near-bankrupt pub companies such as Enterprise, and it could be that the pub will change hands in the near future. I wish the licensees the very best with their negotiations. I can only hope that going forward Enterprise might treat the pub with more sensitivity and respect than they have the licensees.

A traditional local like the Pattenmakers is naturally home to a range of traditional pub games. Dominoes is popular, as is Darts and Long Alley Skittles, both of which are played in local leagues.

A skittle set resides for safe keeping under the pool table of the bar. The alley is located in the car park, overlooked by a small beer garden which is ideal for spectators to view proceedings on a warm summer evening. This alley features floodlighting, and a rain-proof scoreboard so that play can continue in the Belper & District League even through the very worst English summer weather.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Oadby, Leicestershire

The east Leicestershire village of Oadby would have been quite a hotbed of Long Alley Skittles play at one time, with at least three pubs in the village known to have had an alley, almost certainly more if we include clubs.

The image shown to the right is now probably of historic interest only, as The Wheel has recently received an extensive makeover. I haven't had a chance to visit for a drink yet, but I can see no mention of a skittle alley on the smart new livery, and it seems unlikely to have survived the refurbishment.

The Wheel was until quite recently a well supported community local where traditional pub games would have been popular. On one of the last occasions I popped in for a drink, I recall seeing a dozen or more Domino sets and Cribbage Boards stacked in an alcove, sadly underused and gathering dust by this time. Note also the presence of an 'Innovative Shulbac' at the pub, a game I never actually saw when the pub was in its prime, but which presumably refers to the Dutch disc-sliding game of Sjoelbak. Sadly the pub had become seriously neglected in the years before its short closure, to the point where the skittle alley was being used as a storage space, virtually unusable for play. I hope to visit the newly refurbished Wheel again soon. Perhaps I'll be surprised, perhaps the alley has been brought back into service!

Update: (4/12/13) - I've now had a chance to pop in to The Wheel, and can confirm that the current licensee is planning to bring the skittle alley back into use some time in the new year.

The impressive 1930's roadhouse that is the Oadby Owl was listed as having ' fewer than four bars and a skittle alley' in the local CAMRA pub guide of 1979. Re-styled as a Hungry Horse family dining venue some years ago, it seems unlikely that the alley has survived in anything like playable condition. If by some miracle it does, I'd have to say that the owners are keeping it very quiet as there's no mention of the game anywhere that I can see.

An alley which has survived, and in perfectly playable condition albeit currently missing a set of pins and cheeses, is the one at former Banks's Brewery pub the Black Dog. This historic building is yet another of Oadby's once thriving village locals which has struggled to adapt to changing tastes (and the opening of cheap beer specialist JD Wetherspoon in the village!). The Black Dog is now in the hands of local brewers Everards, and it's hoped that plans for a much needed refurbishment will help to revitalise this historic pub. From my own perspective, I also hope that the historic skittle alley will be preserved and promoted as an asset for the pub, particularly as it may well be the last one left in the village.

The alley is housed in former stabling at the rear of the pub (there are still a number of the original tethering rings on the wall). I was informed by the current temporary licence holder that the alley has listed status, though more likely to refer to the bricks and mortar than its actual use. The alley is looking a bit dusty at the moment, the result of the home team, who play in the Tom Bishop League, upping-pins and moving to the Shakespeare pub in Braunstone. I can only apologise for the quality of these images. Strip lighting and no natural light make for challenging photographic conditions. The collecting box for cheeses at the end of the return chute, shown below, is slightly unusual, and indicative of the amount of play this alley would have once seen at the height of the games popularity.

The main bar has the basic, tile-floored, and somewhat utilitarian appearance common to many Banks's pubs. Note the leather upholstered bench seating though, which even in their current well-worn state add a certain sumptuous quality to surroundings. There are currently three separate rooms to the pub, including the Pool room shown here. This is likely to change following the forthcoming refurbishment by Everards. The wall currently providing the anchor for a Darts Board (below) is understood to be going in the forthcoming refurbishment, leaving a single 'U' shaped bar area in place of the current separate Public and Lounge bars.

Next door to the Black Dog is Everards Brewery's original pub in Oadby, the Fox Inn (below). A cosy traditional boozer with a warming open fire for winter, and with Darts and Pool available to play.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Crown & Anchor, Northampton

The eastern side of Northampton town centre, an area broadly known as Abington, has always seemed to me to have an unusually high number of pubs. Perhaps even more unusual is that so many of them are still open and appear to be trading reasonably well.

This area is a classic mix of high density terraced housing and small businesses. Well serviced by restaurants and takeaways, and yet close enough to the town centre to be considered a part of the 'circuit', which all adds up to busier than average pubs I guess. There's a good mix of pubs, including several wet-led and largely traditional 'locals'. The Crown & Anchor, located just off the main Wellingborough road, is one such example, and like many back-street locals, maintains a strong gaming interest.

Indeed the website of the Crown & Anchor suggests that the name of the pub derives from an old dice game of the same name. I don't know how accurate this is, I've certainly seen other suggestions for the origin of this pub name, but the connection is reinforced in this case by a fine example of a Crown & Anchor gaming board which can be found displayed on a wall of the bar (above).

The game of Crown & Anchor is a simple gambling game using three specially marked dice. Believed to have a naval origin, but also a popular pub game at one time, though strictly speaking not a legal one so the game would have been played furtively if at all. Players stake money on one or more of the six symbols, with the payout determined by how many of the three dice come up favourably. Needless to say the odds are stacked firmly in favour of the banker. These days the game is usually found as part of a compendium which includes other dice games such as Poker Dice and Shut The Box.

Games which are still played at the Crown & Anchor include Darts, Pool, and Bar Billiards. The pub currently field two teams in the Northampton Bar Billiards League, and I believe this is the closest pub venue for the game to the town centre.