Friday, 10 January 2014

A Trio of Devil Amongst The Tailors

Devil Amongst The Tailors, sometimes known as Table or Bar Skittles, is one of the most accessible and fun of all the traditional pub games. It's a game I clearly remember playing as a child, albeit a relatively small 'toy' version of the type with a pull string to reset all the pins, and most people of a certain age, even if not familiar with the more regional pub games, will instantly recognise a Devils table when they see one. Sadly, and perhaps not surprisingly, younger people have often never come across Devil Amongst The Tailors, and have no idea how the game is played, which is not to say they're not interested. In my experience, when given the opportunity, children love to play skittles of all types. In an ideal world, Devil Amongst The Tailors is one traditional game that every pub should have, though they can be expensive to buy new, and difficult to source second hand. One option is to do what generations of local craftsmen have done before us, and construct your own table as I have (see below).

The table shown here is a vintage Oak example, purchased in a rather shabby state from an Antiques centre in Lincolnshire. It's unfortunate that dealers in the antiques and collectibles trade are rarely happy to reveal the source of their stock, so where this table originally came from I've no idea.

It's a full size 'league standard' table with slim but heavy-weight Lignum Vitae pins and what looks to be the same dense and durable wood for the swinging ball. The red painted swivel appears to have been purpose made for the job, and I'd say this was a manufactured table rather than home made. This table has seen a fair bit of afternoon skittling action in my local pub, The George at Ashley in Northamptonshire, but has now been sold.

Some of the better quality old Devil Amongst The Tailors tables come with a base which is 'upholstered' with padded leather or vinyl. This is not simply to improve the looks of the table, though many of these older tables are beautifully made. It's more that playing the game in a quiet bar can cause quite a disturbance as the pins rattle down onto hard wood, so padding like that shown above is often desirable if not essential. The table shown here is available for play in the Malt Shovel in Newark, Lincolnshire. Many of the pubs in Newark have a Devil Amongst The Tailors table, the result of a now folded local league. The Malt Shovel hosts a team in the still active local Long Alley Skittles league, with a covered alley to the rear of the building.

The images shown below feature my own home made Devil Amongst The Tailors table.

Most of the basic construction of a table like this is relatively simple given a few woodworking tools, and in this case a collection of assorted bits and bobs of finished wood. The body of the table is a 3x2' piece of ply, with the walls and plinth constructed from offcuts of Oak skirting board acquired from a local hardwood timber supplier. This is broadly in the style of several tables I've seen in the Newark area, including a fine example at the Royal Oak in the town centre. Instead of a drawer for storing the pins located below the scoring board, I created a pull out Crib Board from a scrap piece of wood which was originally a clock top. I've drilled out a few Crib Boards in my time, and without exception it's tedious work, particularly with an electric hand drill. Much easier and more accurate with a bench drill I'd say.

Unless you have the experience and tools for wood turning, the pins are always going to be a tricky job. In practice, it may be that this is the part that either needs doing for you, or buying 'off the peg' pins from one of the handful of suppliers online. If so, these could end up being the most expensive part of the whole game as good quality hardwood pins and ball don't come cheap. I was lucky enough to have some offcuts of Mahogany which have done the job, though strictly speaking the pins shown here are a little too stout for serious league play. The ball is equally tricky to fabricate, requiring a dense and heavy wood to be truly effective without being too large. The one I had was far too light for the job, but I got round this be filling the wide cavity with a generous quantity of lead solder.

I've used the same idea for the swivel as the one on another Devil's table I used to own, which is an old bicycle hub cut in half, and in this case mounted on top of a section of an old fishing rod. A Devil Amongst The Tailors is in essence a very simple game, but constructing one from whatever you have to hand requires a fair bit of ingenuity and experimentation, which is exactly the way these home made tables have always been made I guess.


John Penny said...

An excellent piece of construction Mark - and sentiments to which I concur.

Mark said...

Thanks for that John. The table was fully play-tested on Boxing Day at a national award-winning club in Cheltenham. Looking to make a Norfolk Skittles Table now...