Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Cranmer Arms, Aslockton, Nottinghamshire

The south Nottinghamshire village of Aslockton had until very recently two very fine pubs, both of which featured skittle alleys in the Nottinghamshire style, which is to say Long Alleys. The grade II listed Old Greyhound (right) was closed in 2007, and has sadly remained boarded-up and subject to redevelopment to this day. I never visited the Greyhound, but it sounds as if it was a cracking ultra-traditional village local. Multi-roomed and featuring a small 'snug', which was predominantly used by the local Dominoes players and served through a small hatch from the main bar servery. It's a sad fact that there are more great pubs like this that have closed forever than I'll ever get a chance to visit in my lifetime!

It's scant consolation for locals and enthusiasts of good pubs like myself that the remaining village pub, the Cranmer Arms, will have benefited somewhat from the ousted trade of the Greyhound. But if it means the last pub in the village has a better chance of survival, one good thing may have come from its closure.

The classy pastel paint job and florid sign-writing on the pubs exterior gives the Cranmer something of the appearance of a gastro-pub. In fact the pub is merely a tidy and well-run village local, featuring two bars either side of a central servery, the rear of which houses a Dartboard and Pool Table. Numerous cribbage board appended table-toppers are stacked in the rear vestibule of the pub, the Domino players having moved across the road from the closed Greyhound, and a friendly local rivalry now exists between the two 'home' teams.

The skittle alley at the rear of the pub is a genuine vintage one of great character, housed as it is in an old war-era Nissen Hut which is now engulfed and encroached by a mass of white flowered vines. The interior of the alley is decked out in the pubs original Home Ales signage, adding to what is already a truly atmospheric space for a game of skittles. In truth the alley is barely an indoor one, and though there's a well-used stove planted at the halfway point, I was told by a regular that you really wouldn't want to be playing out there in the depths of Winter.

Long Alley Skittles is played in the East Notts (Summer) Skittles League, a competition in a parlous state given that only five teams currently play in the league, with one of those being the Old Greyhound team playing out of the Cranmer!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Great Western, Gloucester

In recent years I've made special efforts to seek out back-street pubs like the Great Western. It's these classic community locals which seem to have suffered the most from the wave of closures and redevelopment affecting the pub trade in recent years. Some of those which I've visited have been quite clearly on their last legs. Shabby, unloved, and sparsely populated by customers. Victims of both changing tastes and a radically changed local population who may have no tradition of pub-going. But also often victims of the rapacious pubco and brewery greed which has all-but priced local drinkers out of their local pubs, and is killing community locals everywhere.

One thing I've noticed when visiting pubs like the Great Western, is that the very best establishments are often run by older, sometimes even elderly licensees who may have been a fixture of the pub for decades. This continuity of ownership is now quite rare in the pub trade, and yet the value of it is clear to see in the ever-decreasing number of well run, often beautifully maintained pubs which result, and the loyal band of customers who appreciate it. Such is the case with the Great Western, where licensee Lynn Mann has been in the trade for most of her working life, and has run this pub in particular for nearly 30 years.

This certainly shows when you walk through the door. Railway memorabilia and potted plants adorn the pub, and the front bar in particular has a warmth and welcome which you only ever seem to get in pubs like these. Pubs where the licensee and locals treat the place like a second home, and the 'locals' actually come from far and wide, such is the appeal of this, one of the last pubs of its kind in town.

The sad dichotomy of such well run and popular pubs like the Great Western, is that many of them are likely to be only a few short years away from changing forever. In the case of some this will inevitably mean closing forever. Because even licensees with such a strong and abiding attachment to their pub as Lynn Mann, have to retire sometime, and so it is with the Great Western.

It was only as I was writing this blog post, and only a few weeks after visiting the pub, that news filtered through of Lynn's imminent retirement, and consequently the Great Western's possible closure. Sadly a pub like the Great Western can only ever be as good as the person running it (and the people who use it of course), and with much of the trade travelling from across the city for the unique qualities that Lynn brings, it's hard to see how a pub like this could survive the massive changes that will inevitably come when Lynn calls it a day.

The Great Western is a lovely pub. The labyrinthine and award-winning beer garden probably the best in Gloucester, the welcome in the bar genuinely warm. A proper, well-run pub of a type which is becoming increasingly rare, so do pay a visit soon while you still have the chance.

Hidden away at the far end of the beautiful garden is the pubs very fine old skittle alley. A purpose built affair, featuring an alcove of fixed seating, and its own small bar servery, adorned with what appears to be West Country Breweries livery.

The alley is apparently home to four teams in the local Gloucester City Skittles League, and is therefore in use on most weekday evenings.

The rear, or left-hand bar has a Pool Table and Darts, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Cards and Dominoes are a feature of the pub too.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

More Northamptonshire Table Skittles Images

Fetes and Galas in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire villages rarely come without a skittles game of some description, and more often than not this takes the form of a traditional pub Skittles Table. A Northants or Leicester Skittles Table is often the best choice for events like theses as it requires less space than Long Alley, is an easy game for players of all ages, and the rough ground of a village green presents no obstacle to play. A table can even be moved indoors on the rare occasions when the British weather might otherwise stop play! The skittles table shown above and below is earning its keep in the grounds of St Mary the Virgin church in the village of Weston-By-Welland, Northamptonshire. The table is similar in build to a W T Black & Sons model, though not marked as such, and like so many of these old tables, is now in private ownership. The current owners told me that it was originally located at the former White Lion pub in nearby Market Harborough, a former hotbed of skittles play which is now down to only five venues for the game at the last count.

Another village fete, another skittles table raising funds for local causes. This one is my own W T Black & Son table, installed for the day at Cottingham & Middleton Village Fete, no great distance from home but some effort and helping hands are required to move these heavy tables around (right). The table is a 1956 model rescued from a long-closed Royal British Legion club in Rugby, though given that the table was reconditioned at a later date by A R Pinckard of Kislingbury, it may well have had a previous life closer to home.

The venerable old Skittles Table shown above and left was earning a charitable 'shilling' at the Harringworth Village Fete in the hot Summer of 2014. This ex-pub table is missing its 'hood' of netting, and apparently came from a long-closed pub in the village of Deene near Corby in Northamptonshire. The only reference I've found to a pub in Deene is the Sea Horse (below), a rather grand looking stone building and a good example of how almost every pub in the area, no matter how upmarket, would have had a skittles table at one time. The Sea Horse closed for good some time in the 1970's and is now a private residence. The village, like so many in this part of rural Northamptonshire, is now entirely pub-free.

Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of Northampton Museums and Art Gallery
The slightly home-made looking and, extensively renovated, but undoubtedly old Skittles Table shown below, has been in use at the Benefield Church Fete in Northamptonshire for a good few years. These vintage, sometimes antique tables are kept in playable condition by enthusiasts, usually men of a certain age, and it's great to see them still in use at events like this.