Thursday, 23 October 2014

Four Pubs for a game of Shove Ha'penny

Considering how few people there are that actually play Shove Ha'penny now, or even know what the game is for that matter, there are still an awful lot of boards out there, some of which can even be found in their natural home of the pub.

Like almost all traditional pub games, Shove Ha'penny is a game you have to make time for, but most people these days seem to have already accounted for their time before they walk through the door of a pub. Dining, watching sport on the telly, focusing fully on the beers, or just catching up with and chatting with friends that we see less often now. All good reasons to visit the pub of course, but it's perhaps rare now for a group of drinkers to arrive at the pub without the day planned out in fine detail, which leaves little free time for the pleasures of a casual afternoon or evening game.

This of course is a large part of the reason pub games have declined so much in recent years. Few have the time, or are prepared to make the time for them. It's also why those games which have survived, and in some cases continue to thrive, are usually played by older, often retired pub-goers who find it easier to take a couple of hours out from the day to shuffle Dominoes or shove a coin up the highly polished surface of a Shove Ha'penny. Sadly all the boards shown in this post are rarely if ever used, but at least they're still in situ at the pubs where they rightly belong, and available for play should time and a willing opponent permit. The one on the left, a fairly modern laminated board supplied as a promotion by the now closed Ruddles Brewery, can be found at the Dukes Arms, Woodford, Northamptonshire.

This venerable old slate Shove Ha'penny (above and below) is firmly bolted to the top of one of those old treadle sewing machine tables that started appearing in pubs in the 80's. It provides a solid and weighty base for a slate which has clearly seen good service over many years at the National Trust owned Fleece Inn in the village of Bretforton in Worcestershire. Until recently the Shove Ha'penny resided in the Games Room of the pub, but sadly both it and the Darts Board have been retired from use to provide more space for diners at this very popular historic pub. With its protective wooden cover on, the board now lives in a corridor and is used as a table for cutlery. The licensee of the Fleece has a keen interest in many aspects of English tradition. A Morris Dancer and Cidermaker in addition to being custodian of two of Worcestershire's most important heritage pubs. I'm reasonably sure that he would be happy to see the Shove Ha'penny polished up and played during quieter times at the pub, though whether the Ha'pennies remain is unclear, so you may have to bring your own.

One of the very first of the new-wave of Micropubs which are springing up throughout the country was Just Beer in Newark, Nottinghamshire. The single bar-room at Just Beer is a little larger than some of the micro's that have opened in its wake, there's even room for a Darts Board, and the layout lends itself well to games such as Dominoes which are available in a vintage Watney Mann box in the bar. A good solid-wood Shove Ha'penny hangs on the wall ready for play, though how much use it gets and whether a well-polished set of coins is available I couldn't say, it's just great to see it in the bar. Either way, Just Beer has a superb reputation for its beer and cider, and is well worth a visit when out for a pint in Newark.

The people behind the Thurlby group of pubs must have a bit of a soft spot for the shoving and pushing tradition of games. The Tobie Norris in Stamford has a very good example of a Pushpenny board in the cosy snug area, and the nearby Exeter Arms at Easton on the Hill had an old Shove Ha'penny as part of the furnishings the last time I visited. The latest addition to this growing collection is a modern laminate Jaques Shove Ha'penny at the Lord Nelson (above and below) in the Rutland market town of Oakham. Whether it gets a great deal of use at a pub which is noted more for its food offering than the (admittedly very good) beer and wine selection, I've no idea, but it seems unlikely to be honest. All the same, it's a nice addition to the pub, and the lovely tile-floored snug where I photographed the board would lend itself well to an afternoon game, though once again you may have to take your own coins.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Three Horseshoes, Ecton, Northamptonshire

Thirsty travellers on the old Wellingborough to Northampton road might reasonably assume that the village of Ecton has just the one pub, the Worlds End on the busy main road. Indeed rural villages the size of Ecton are often lucky to have a pub at all, so the Worlds End is certainly a welcome local amenity as well as a useful venue for business travellers or a family looking for a meal. I've not been inside the Worlds End but the website gives all the clues I need to determine that this is probably not my kind of pub.

Take a turn off the main road and into the village itself, negotiating the narrow High Street for a pub more to my own tastes. The Three Horseshoes has been extended over the years, but the original pub dates to 1757 and is believed to have been the location of a blacksmiths business run by Benjamin Franklin's grandfather! The Franklin family connection means that Ecton receives a good few American tourists throughout the year, and I'm sure that many of these visitors must be delighted to find such an authentic and relatively unspoilt hostelry in the very heart of the historic village.

The pub recently became free of brewery or pubco tie, and the current owners have taken this opportunity to invest in the business with a sensitive refurbishment of the historic interior. The traditional multi-room layout has been retained, a separate bar and games area meaning the pub can continue to serves the needs of a diverse range of locals, visitors, and of course the resident games teams which include Northamptonshire Table SkittlesDarts, and Cribbage. I wonder what the tourists make of the unique local skittles game!

Skittles at the Three Horseshoes is played in the Dave White Skittles League, which follows the same format as that played in my own neck of the woods. Two teams of seven, playing man-on-man over seven legs. The winning team is the one with the highest total number of legs over the course of the match. A memorial trophy is also played for at the pub, the roll of honour having pride of place in the smart games room.

Monday, 6 October 2014

A Compendium of Pub Games Images - Pt 22

A vintage Billiards medal by Pinches of London. A game and dress-code from another era, although Billiards has not yet been completely overtaken by Snooker.

The continued loss of traditional drinking pubs and community locals is creating a vacuum for pub enthusiasts like myself which no amount of off-the-peg chain bars and new-build family dining 'pubs' are likely to fill. The reasons for this decline are manifold, but certainly includes the serial neglect and sometimes deliberate running-down of otherwise viable pubs by some of the larger brewers and pub owning companies. But whatever the underlying reasons, the fact is that some of the older traditional boozers are now just too big to succeed in the current market without major investment from people who genuinely care about our pub tradition. Some of the smaller brewers have shown this commitment, the Project William partnership with Everards Brewery being an excellent example. Another example where people with a genuine enthusiasm for pubs are filling the gaps left by the larger cash-strapped operators, is the relatively new concept of the Micropub.

Micropubs have been around for a few years now, but it's within the last year or two that the concept has really taken off, probably a direct result of this spiralling decline of traditional wet-led pubs. Small, bespoke licensed premises specialising in quality beer and cider, and the very best traditions of social pub-going without the distractions of a busy kitchen or a multitude of televisions. It's proving to be a winning combination for many, though one which is always likely to be 'niche' given the diminutive nature of the premises, and the fact that not everyone seems to like the social side of pubs and drinking! Micropubs are springing up at an ever-increasing rate, and I hope to feature a few of them on here in the near future.

Traditional pub games fit nicely with the micropub concept, though given the space restrictions, some games such as Darts and Skittles are not really appropriate. Dominoes and Cards are of course perfect for such small and intimate spaces, as shown in the image above at the recently opened Abdication micropub at Daybrook in Nottingham.

This Bar Billiards table can be found at the Sandford Park Alehouse in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Owner Grant Cook obviously has a keen interest in the game, having previously installed what still remains the only such table in Leicester at the Swan & Rushes. The Sandford Park Alehouse is a bright and modern homage to the brewers arts, but it's nice to see that space for a traditional game has also been found in the bar.

The front bar of the multi-roomed Red Lion in Earl Shilton, Leicestershire. Wear and tear on this table is a clear sign of enthusiastic Domino play at this friendly and still relatively unspoilt boozer. A former Bass Brewery house which has always had a good reputation for its ales, Draught Bass in particular which was in excellent form when I visited. Sadly, current owners Punch Taverns have neglected the pub to the point where it's now desperately in need of refurbishment for the pub to realise its full potential. Unfortunately the chances of this happening seem slim given Punch's massive debts, and their track record of chronic underinvestment in their estate.

The White Lion is a classic 'Brewers Tudor' style pub on the edge of Alcester town centre. The interior is somewhat spoilt by the modern office-style false ceiling, but the wood panelling, stained windows, and original Bell Pushes in the lounge bar are still evident, as is this fabulous record of gaming and sporting success at the pub.

Another mystery scoring board, this pair spotted at an antiques fair in Cambridgeshire. The protruding knobs at the end are pegs safely stored in drilled holes. If anyone knows what they were designed to score I'd be delighted to know.