Thursday, 23 January 2014

Brown Jug, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

I must have walked past (and occasionally drank in) the Brown Jug literally dozens of times over the last decade, and yet it's only recently I've noticed the pub comes equipped with a very fine skittle alley. In common with many similar skittling pubs, there's little to give the 'game' away from outside, and even from the bar it may not be obvious that skittles is a popular game at the Brown Jug. Unless a game is in progress of course!

In mitigation, I'd have to say that I'm rarely in town on days other than at the weekend, which is altogether the wrong time to catch the highly competitive business of league play. Skittles is largely a Monday to Thursday pastime in Cheltenham, and more often than not you simply won't find an alley in use on a busy Friday or Saturday evening. Also, the alley at the Brown Jug is tucked away to the rear of the pub, an entirely necessary precaution given the noise generated during a hotly contested league match.

I sometimes feel that skittles (and traditional pub games in general) could benefit from being 'advertised' a little more at the pubs where they are played. I wonder how much more interest there might be in our great pub gaming traditions if their custodians shouted a bit more about them. If there's one thing that my own interest in pubs and pub games has revealed with some measure of certainty, it's that even the healthiest local gaming traditions can quickly and irrevocably decline without a steady take-up from interested newcomers, and new blood is always needed for a game to thrive. Clearly skittles has already seen a marked decline in Cheltenham, as it has almost everywhere. The question is, will this decline continue to the point where alleys like the one at the Brown Jug are just a memory.

Right now though, the game of Skittles is a major part of what the Brown Jug is all about, with league matches played at the pub most weekday evenings. As can be seen from the number of skittle sets under lock and key in the alley, there are currently several teams playing out of the Brown Jug, including some which have been exiled from their original homes.

Norwood Arms 'A' are a good example of a team now playing in exile. The team are presumably well settled at the Brown Jug, and yet they've retained their original name in the league. This seems to be entirely normal, and probably traditional throughout league skittles, but can be a little confusing for an outsider like myself. Put simply, a pub team playing under a particular pubs name is no guarantee that the game is still being played at that pub, or even that the pub is still standing! The Norwood itself is still trading, located as it is only a stones-throw from the Brown Jug. But it's now a pub without an alley following extensive refurbishment and a focus on the more prosaic business of dining.

The best seats in the house?

A print now adorns the wall where the Darts Board was once found. A recent smart refurbishment has prioritised seating over the game, though the front bar is still above all a space for drinks and chat. The 'Oche' can still be seen fixed to the floor boards (above).


Tone said...


A great little report, a pleasure to read first thing in the morning.

One of our last pubs with a skittle alley located in a small building at the rear of the pub has just shut. This was a pub called the Old Courthouse in Cove Road, Farnborough and is now going to be turned into a Tesco Express :-(

Keep up the good work.

Tony Lea

Mark said...

Thanks for that Tony. They're disappearing all over, one of the reasons for writing this blog is to try and record what's left before it's gone. Guest blog posts are welcome by the way. Cheers, Mark

Dot said...

It's doing fine in Cornwall, we have a large league with 4 divisions and the venues are all over the East of Cornwall