Monday, 25 August 2014

Oadby Owl, Oadby, Leicestershire

I made brief mention of the Oadby Owl in a previous post on this much-expanded Leicestershire village, and wrongly suggested that the original Skittle Alley may not have survived recent changes at the pub. In fact the alley remains, is in very good condition, and still in regular league use, though you'd be hard-pressed to know it without asking, as it's existence is not advertised even in the pub!

The Oadby Owl is described in the 1979 edition of CAMRA's Real Ale Guide to Leicestershire & Rutland as being an 'Impressive 1930's 'International Style' building...' '...with no fewer than four bars and a skittle alley'. Built alongside the then newly opened bypass, it served the needs of travellers on the busy A6, and residents of the extensive housing which continues to grow along this stretch of road. A classic Deco-ish roadhouse, it's still an impressive looking pub from the outside, though now entirely knocked through from the original four rooms, and with a strong emphasis on dining under Greene King's Hungry Horse concept. Nevertheless, the front bar area features a games area, and still attracts a local crowd for televised sport and the like.

Alterations to a pub, like those which have occurred at the Oadby Owl, often spell the death-knell for a Skittle Alley, but a couple of factors may have worked in its favour. Firstly the alley is entirely separate to the main body of the pub (the single story red brick building seen to the right of the frontage in the top image). Given the size of the pub and extensive car parking available, there would have been little pressure to create more usable space by converting such a small outbuilding.

Regular weekly Long Alley Skittles play in the Tom Bishop Memorial Skittles League seems to have continued for many years at the Owl, essential for the survival of alleys like this. Local team the Oadby Owls play in summer, winter and knockout competitions, and presumably the alley is available for casual games and functions at other times.

From the sunken 'mott' to the cast iron 'frame' and heavy rubber sheets at the business end of the alley, it's clear that this has always been a skittle alley and not a conversion of an already existing outhouse. Many breweries in the East Midlands included a skittle alley in their new-build pubs as standard, such was the popularity of game throughout most of the 20th century. The practice 'cheeses' (below) seem to be marked for the Black Dog, a recently refurbished Oadby pub with its own alley, though currently not in use for league play.

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