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.

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