Sunday, 27 April 2014

A Compendium of Pubs Games Images - Pt. 20

This interesting stone frieze remains above the main entrance, but Ye Olde Bowling Green Hotel in Chester is long gone. The historic building remains though, and is now home to the St Werburgh Parish Centre, a fully licensed members club which offers Darts, Pool, and Snooker, as well as the local speciality of Bagatelle. The original Bowling Green was threatened with destruction following the sale of land at the rear of the building for development. But after several years of neglect and legal wrangles the green has now been lovingly restored by the club, and Bowling resumed in 2008.

This interesting piece of breweriana has recently been added to my growing list of 'mystery gaming objects'. Essentially a plain Mahogany box overlaid with a silvered brass or copper plate advertising Bass in Bottle. The perplexing aspect of this attractive little box, is the two sets of drilled holes in the metal plate, 16 in total, arranged in a similar pattern to a cribbage board.

Despite engaging the opinion of experts in the fields of pub games and breweriana, the purpose of this box, and the identity of the game associated with it remains a mystery. The main issue being that the number of holes on the 'scoring board' don't correspond to any game anyone can currently think of. I also have my suspicions that this object may have been locally crafted rather than manufactured specifically for the Bass Brewery as an advertising item. Certainly the metal plate appears to be 'correct', perhaps a re-fashioned plaque which would have originally been mounted outside a hotel or smart club, but even this is proving difficult to identify. If anyone reading this has seen something similar, or has any idea what game this box might have been used to score, I would be delighted to hear their thoughts.

The small Cambridgeshire market town of Whittlesey seems to me to have a slightly above average number of pubs for its size, many of which are traditional drinking establishments with a strong local following. There have obviously been closures in recent years, including the impressive George Hotel which has only recently re-opened as a Wetherspoon, but those that remain seem reasonably well supported.

The Bricklayers Arms on Station Road is currently closed and showing obvious signs of neglect, but during the annual Straw Bear Festival in 2014 the pub was temporarily re-opened for the crowds and visiting dancers. The pub has certainly seen better days, but vestiges of its former life as a valued local remain, including the Darts Board (above), and a trophy cabinet in the small snug to the right of the entrance. Pride of place amongst the handful of trophies is a large polished-out shield for the Whittlesey Town Domino League, a game still played in pubs and clubs throughout the town at league level. It's perhaps not surprising that this shield is now lacking it's attractive silvery shine, given that the Challenge Shield was first played for in 1926.

An enamelled trophy badge from the Taunton Brewers Skittles League. This league is still active in and around the Somerset town, though which Taunton brewers were the original sponsors of the league is not clear.

This Nine Men's Morris (or Welcome as it's known here) has at first glance the authentic appearance of a vintage wooden board, but in fact it's a cheaper moulded plastic item of a type commonly produced by manufacturers like Invicta of Leicester. It's another good example of a brewery branded game, this one featuring the famous Bass Charrington 'Toby' logo which dates it to the 1970's. In fact an example of this game appears in Timothy Finn's 1975 book 'Pub Games of England'. In all honesty, it looks like it's never been played, perhaps not surprising given how few people would have known how to play Nine Men's Morris at the time.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

George & Dragon, Broughton Astley, Leicestershire

When I was asked by the licensee of the George & Dragon why I was so interested in photographing her pub and its traditional games, I explained to her that given the rapid changes in the trade and with it the loss of so much heritage and tradition, I was keen to capture this aspect of pubs and pub going before it had all gone. I was firmly put in my place. "This pub isn't changing..." she said, which I found very reassuring.

Of course the George & Dragon will change, everything changes in time, and who's to say what state the pub trade will be in next year or the years ahead. With less people using pubs, and the inexorable pressures on the drinks trade from the health lobby, punitive taxation, and increasingly desperate pubcos managing the decline of their business, more and more pubs like the George & Dragon will be under pressure to change. Perhaps change to something a little less pub-like. Perhaps eventually closure and conversion to other use, which is as un-pub-like as it's possible to get!

Meanwhile, the George & Dragon is not for changing, and remains a popular pub at the very heart of village life. A pub for drinking, socialising, and gaming of a type which is becoming increasingly rare now, and a pub which is cherished by its locals because of it.

Darts, and the Leicestershire version of Table Skittles are the games which contribute to the success of the George & Dragon. The skittles table is a beautifully maintained W T Black & Sons model of 70's vintage, dedicated to a former landlord of the pub by locals and friends (right). A little of the history of a skittles table can often be learnt through an examination of its underside (below). This one shows the individual number of the table, which all Black & Sons tables carry, as well as the date of manufacture.

Pins and cheeses are the regulation yellow plastic of the Dunton Bassett Skittles League, and the pub field teams in both the mens and Ladies Leagues.

The deep grooves on this piece of stone (or brake disc?) have been created by many years of sharpening the tips of 'Arrows' ahead of play.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

King William IV, Kingsthorpe, Northamptonshire

The King William IV is an attractive ironstone pub of a type found throughout Northamptonshire. It's a village pub through and through, opposite the village green in fact, yet located on the edge of Northampton town's urban sprawl. The village of Kingsthorpe is blessed with at least one other welcoming locals pub in the Queen Adelaide, a pub which has already featured on this blog owing to the presence of a traditional Northamptonshire Skittles Table. The King Billy is also home to the local game, and you're welcome to have a 'chuck' whenever the table is free from the important business of league play.

League play is obviously an important part of what makes the King Billy tick, as evidenced by the windowsill full of assorted trophies for Darts, Pool, and Skittles. These include a winners salver for the 2003/4 season in the Coors Brewery sponsored Ladies League (right), and a little more surprisingly, this odd looking horn (?) trophy (below) from the Daventry & District Skittles League. The Daventry League is still very much an active one, but did play really extend this far to the north of the county at one time, or was the trophy brought to the pub by a former player from the Daventry area?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Plough Inn, Stathern, Leicestershire

Nestled in the heart of the beautiful Vale of Belvoir in Leicestershire is the village of Stathern, a typically attractive vale settlement blessed with a range of amenities sadly lacking in so many similar villages. These include an award winning butchers, as well as two very good pubs in which to try their fabulous meaty Lincolnshire sausages. The Red Lion, part of the Olive Inns group, has built a reputation as a foodie destination pub, nothing wrong with that but not what this blog is about. The Plough Inn is much more a traditional 'locals' pub. Welcoming, dog-friendly (and famous as the home of resident Otterhound, Max), and strong on traditional pub games as all good locals tend to be in my experience.

League Cribbage, Darts, and Pool are all played at the pub to varying degrees of success. The quarry tile floored bar is particularly well equipped, with two Darts Boards, a Pool Table, and a notice board covered with fixture lists and league tables for the various games represented at the pub. It's here you'll find pinned a fixture list for the East Notts Winter Skittles League, a clue to the Plough's other main pub game attraction, Long Alley Skittles.

The well appointed Skittle Alley at the Plough is located through a door at the rear of the pub signed as the Dining room. It's a fact of modern pub life that very few alleys in the East Midlands are entirely dedicated to the game of skittles, most serving as function rooms or overspill dining areas when not in use. Even the traditional outdoor alleys of the more northerly game are often essentially car parks by another name.

A traditional skittle alley takes up a good deal of useful space at a pub, and may well have a rateable value far in excess of fortnightly league or occasional social play. It's essential that this space has another use, and can therefore contribute income to the business outside of the welcome custom derived from the game itself.

When I visited the Plough Inn, the alley was still set for the previous day's Mothering Sunday trade. With the carpet down, tables spaced for dining, and the rear of the alley closed up and tidied away, you really wouldn't have known that this was a venue for Long Alley Skittles. I must thank the team at the Plough for taking the time to set the alley up for these photographs.

Regular readers of this blog, and of course those who play the game, will already know that Long Alley Skittles comes in two similar but quite distinct forms. The more northerly version played throughout Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire features three large wooden balls thrown full-toss at a set of pins, as shown in the images above. The Leicestershire game is played in a very similar way, but the pins are straighter, and perhaps more importantly the 'balls' are in fact barrel shaped, as seen in the image left.

It's unusual to find both variants of the game being played regularly at a single pub, but Stathern, and the wider Vale of Belvoir area, straddles the divide between the two Long Alley traditions, located as it is close to the Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire border. It's not a case of mix and match though. In the East Notts mens league you'll naturally find the Derby/Notts version in play, whilst the ladies game, which is based around the Melton area, prefer the slightly easier hand-grip of the barrel shaped 'cheeses' used in the Leicestershire game.

As can be seen on the fixture list for The East Notts Winter Skittles League (above), participating teams have now shrunk to just five (the sixth being a Bye), a parlous state for any games league. Licensee David Wilson informed me that there is certainly no shortage of alleys in the area, but sadly enthusiasm appears to be lacking from drinkers and/or publicans to field a team and support the local game.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Pub Games Compendium

The classic Pub Games Compendium (above), which includes numerous dice games housed in a Shut The Box, can still occasionally be found in pubs, though sadly it's much rarer to see them in use these days. The presence of a compendium like this in a pub is perhaps a little odd given that most of the games included, and this one lists 20 in the rules booklet, are traditionally associated with gambling. The Gambling Act of 2005 prohibits gambling in pubs.

In practice there are a number of exemptions to this prohibition on gambling in pubs, including the increasingly popular card game Poker, and what are termed 'Equal Chance Games' including Dominoes and Cribbage, so long as the stakes are small. The position with regard to other games of chance, such as the dice games included in this compendium, is not entirely clear, but given that the purpose of the current law is to protect the public from the potential for crime in environments where gambling is unregulated, it's perhaps unlikely that a pound or two on the roll of a dice or the draw of a Domino would draw much attention from law enforcement. Having said that, it's perhaps best to ask the licensee when money is involved in gaming, as it's likely to be their neck on the line should the law inadvertently be broken on their premises. The Poker Dice shown here is a set from games manufacturer K&C, and this game is now presumably included in the 'small stakes' exemption that Poker players enjoy.

The 'Imperial' Dominoes shown above are one of the most commonly found of all vintage sets, and can sometimes still be seen in use where the game is played in pubs. The set advertising Banks's Brewery is yet another example of the strong connection which once existed between beer and tobacco brands, and their prospective customers predilection for gaming at the pub.

Spoof is a classic game of concealment and strategic guesswork, played for small stakes, or more usually a round of drinks, and ideally suited to group play in the pub. The rules are simple. Players conceal from 0 - 3 coins in their closed fists before each player then takes it in turn to guess the total number of coins in play. No player can guess the same number as another, and the player who guesses the correct number each round drops out. The eventual loser is the one who survives the game longest without guessing the correct number, and therefore pays out the stake or buys the round!

Any three coins will do for a game of Spoof, but these Theakston Brewery branded examples add an element of the 'official' to a game which is essentially equipment-free. This set was kindly given to me by games enthusiast and keen skittler John Penny of Dorset. The pinnacle of Spoofing is the United Kingdom Spoof Open Championships, which will be held at the Sutton Staithe Hotel in Norfolk on the 19th of December this year.

The two small brass items shown here represent just two of the hundreds, possibly thousands of different designs of Put & Take spinners to be found. The variety in form of Put & Take's is almost limitless, and needless to say represents fertile ground for the collector. See here for an idea of the huge diversity which exists in such a simple game. Put & Take is yet another example of an easily concealed gambling game which would have been a popular pursuit in pubs at one time. It's also a game which I can't say that I've ever seen being played, which is kind of the point I guess!

More pub games designed to keep a particular drinks brand at the forefront of players minds. This Olde English Cyder 'Inne Games Compendium' includes three sets of branded Darts flights, Poker Dice, and the classic pub game staples of Cards, Dominoes, and a Cribbage Board.