Sunday, 23 February 2014

New White Bull, Giltbrook, Nottinghamshire

The New White Bull in Giltbrook is the kind of community local that people like myself with a real passion for pubs tend to seek out and appreciate. All the more so as they are becoming rarer by the day! More than just another licensed retail outlet, the New White Bull is a genuine social hub which attracts a loyal local following. Largely 'wet-led', the pub is well-run and welcoming, and fulfils a much wider role in the community than the bland managed houses currently favoured by so many of the larger pub operators.

East Anglian brewing and property company Greene King own the New White Bull, and their commitment to the pub could perhaps best be described as questionable. This is a company which has grown in recent years to become a very large national pub and beer operator. Long gone are the days when Greene King were a highly regarded regional family company, committed to supplying a local estate with beers brewed to a local taste. In fact locally they've already shown with their closure of the nearby Kimberly Brewery that they care little for local distinctiveness, and even less for local feeling when it comes to the future of pubs like the New White Bull.

Several years of neglect under the current ownership has resulted in a pub which is long overdue some investment, but it seems that Greene King would much rather close an important community asset like the New White Bull than spend the money required to realise the pubs true potential. Currently on the market at a level which is widely believed to be 'priced to close', the current licensees Les and Carol would dearly love to continue running the pub on behalf of the community, but sadly Greene King seem to be unmoved by theirs, or indeed wider local feeling. As a result, the future of the New White Bull is far from certain.

The survival of the New White Bull would of course be a wonderful thing for the locals, but it would also prevent the loss of so much local history and tradition, even more so given that so much has been lost already at similar pubs throughout the country. Multi-room pubs like the New White Bull are not nearly as common as they once were, and this traditional layout helps support diverse usage, including traditional games such as Darts, Dominoes, and Pool. Best of all though is the substantial Skittle Alley located in an old barn to the side of the pub, well used in the Ilkeston & District Long Alley League, but also available for social games on request.

Outside the barn which houses the alley can be found the original outdoor skittles 'frame' (above), possibly still used in the finer Summer months. A small 'Skittles Bar' can be brought into play on the other side of the yard, making the beer run during a match that much easier.

The shield shown below hangs in the central corridor opposite the bar servery. Presented by Hardys & Hansons Brewery to commemorate three successive years of victory for the New White Bull team in the local Kimberley Brewery Skittles League. It's perhaps hard for us to appreciate just how important sponsorship and recognition of pub games leagues would have been to local and regional breweries at one time. With almost every pub fielding teams in numerous leagues throughout the trading area, and an awful lot of beer being consumed in the process, local breweries like Hardys & Hansons would have seen a clear benefit from encouraging as much play as possible in their pubs. This attractive memento has a small sticker on the rear advising that the metal plaque should only be dusted lightly lest the silver plate be worn down to the copper base!

A recent 'Fives' skittles match was held to show support for, and help raise awareness of the issues surrounding the pub. The New White Bull 'A' and 'B' teams (seen chalking and setting pins in the 'woodyard' below) somewhat predictably battled it out for the top spot, whilst a Nottingham CAMRA team managed to avoid the Wooden Spoon against the local Blue Monkey Brewery (right). More images from this most enjoyable evening can be seen here.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Crown Inn, Hardingstone, Northampton

Leafing through a dog-eared 1990 edition of The CAMRA Guide to Northamptonshire Pubs, one aspect of the pub scene of 25 years ago becomes clear. Perhaps as many as half of the pubs in the county (and almost all the clubs) were furnished with a well used Northamptonshire Skittles Table, some having more than one. Most of these tables were sensibly sited in the public bar or separate games room, some even housed in a dedicated 'skittles room'. It's a noisy game after all, and not best suited to open-plan pub design.

The widespread removal of interior walls and the wholesale 'knocking through' of so many pubs was well under way by the time this guide was published by the local CAMRA branch. Indeed some of the descriptions make clear how local members viewed this often unwelcome change. It was this opening out of multi-room pubs into a single large space which signalled the end for the game of skittles at many pubs in Northamptonshire, a process which sadly continues to this day.

The Crown Inn is exactly the kind of large, high ceilinged pub which could easily have been knocked through into a single large room, wrapped for convenience around a central servery. I'm sure that if the pub had been located in a more 'towny' location, this is exactly what would have happened. Recent refurbishments at the pub have resulted in a smart, attractive interior, which has thankfully maintained a separate, quiet lounge for dining. This leaves the bar and adjoining games area free to host matches in Skittles, Pool and Darts, as well as the all-important televised sport which helps keep pubs like the Crown busy with drinkers throughout the week.

Wednesday nights at the Crown are skittles nights, in the appropriately named Wednesday Skittles League which covers a wide area in and around Northampton. A good night for spectating then, but if it's a game you're after, Sunday afternoons are best as this is the time when the locals like to play for fun and all-comers are welcome to throw a few cheeses.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Plough, Keyworth, Nottinghamshire

Traditional Games are promised on the roadside signage for the The Plough, a self-styled 'Traditional Local' in a village well served with pubs. The Plough is certainly a 'local', a friendly and welcoming one at that. The promise of traditional games at the pub also holds true, and includes a fine example of perhaps one of the most traditional and recognisable pub games of all, a Devil Amongst The Tailors. The skittles table shown below stands centre stage in the front bar of the pub, and is apparently very popular with both locals and visitors, including several visiting teams in the local Table Skittles league.

The area to the south of Nottingham has the rare distinction of having one of the few remaining leagues for this once popular pub game. The Plough's team play their skittles home or away on Thursday evenings in the Nottingham & Arnold Table Skittles & Domino's League. This combined games league is drawn predominantly from local clubs in an area which would have been a hotbed of both Long Alley and Table Skittles play at one time.

The village of Keyworth itself sits slap-bang in the middle of an area still noted for a Long Alley Skittles tradition. The Leicestershire version is still found throughout the Wreake Valley area between Melton and Leicester, and a handful of Nottinghamshire alleys are still in use at pubs and clubs in the nearby suburbs of the city.

It seems that wherever alley skittles has traditionally been played, a Devil Amongst The Tailors table will not be too far away. Presumably this fulfilled the need for competitive skittling during the winter months when alleys were too cold or wet for comfortable play. This would have been particularly the case in the Nottingham and Derby area where many alleys are still located outdoors and exposed to the elements, and where indoor alleys are more often than not unheated.

Dominoes is also very popular game at The Plough, and of course played in the local league. The Domino table topper shown above is one of several at the pub. A Pool Table and Darts Board can also be found in the rear bar.