Friday, 14 November 2014

Golden Cross - Clee Hill, Shropshire

Should you ever find yourself in the lovely Teme Valley area in search of a pint with a view, the Golden Cross at Clee Hill should fit the bill perfectly. I wouldn't particularly recommend the trip when snow is forecast though. The roads are steep and winding, particularly the one from Tenbury Wells that I chose to drive up, and I'd imagine the village can become somewhat isolated when the weather turns nasty.

The view from Clee Hill is certainly impressive, but if you like a good game with your pint, you may find it difficult to drag yourself away from the bar and take it all in. That's because the Golden Cross is home to one of the most impressive collections of traditional games your likely to find in a pub. Acquired by licensee and pub games enthusiast Aaron Jeffs over the course of several years, there's hardly a category of game which isn't represented at the pub.

The first item to meet your gaze on entering is a fine old Bar Billiards Table, covered when not in use and therefore in excellent playing condition. It's a John Bennett & Co table, a Billiard table manufacture which held a Royal and War Office warrant at one time, this table dating from around the 1950's judging by the London address on the name plate.

From my perspective, the most important gaming item at the Golden Cross is also one of the most humble in form. A simple, unpainted concrete Quoits Board sits solidly below one of several Darts Boards at the pub, again covered when not in use to prevent stray Darts Arrows damaging the surface. Quoits is of course the local game for the Shropshire/Herefordshire area, and league matches can be seen at the pub throughout the summer months, Darts and Pool taking precedence in the winter. Rubber Quoits and all the other paraphernalia of pub game play are available from the bar on request.

Note the unique handmade scoreboard to the left of the Darts Board. Outside of the Hereford Town League, where Quoits is a straightforward scoring game along similar lines to Darts, most leagues play a game where each team or player aims to accumulate specific scores, maybe from 1-12 or 1-15. Four Quoits are thrown and if for example 8 is scored, that panel on the board is claimed and becomes closed to your opponent. The board here goes up to 20, but given that this would require a full house of 'Pegs' (which score 5 points), perhaps the full board is reserved for 'expert' matches rather than regular weekly league play. Or maybe players in the Clee Hill League are far better than I give them credit!

Rare and unusual games are represented at the pub in the form of a fine Pitch Penny bench (left), possibly the only example in use outside of the East of England. This is a genuine and original bench acquired for the pub by a family member, the leaded backing added by the licensee to help preserve the wood from damage.

Other games available for play include Ring The Bull (below), Shove Ha'penny, Devil Amongst The Tailors, and Shut The Box, as well as the usual selection of Card games, Dominoes, Pool and of course Darts which is very popular at the pub.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Orange Tree, Baldock, Hertfordshire

The main bar area of the Orange Tree, Baldock, a traditional multi-room pub with a great reputation for its Beer and Cider.
The world of the pub games enthusiast is, it has to be said, quite a small one. Which is not to say that the many thousands of enthusiastic 'gamers', shoving, chucking, or indeed tossing on a regular basis in leagues and more casually, lack enthusiasm for their chosen game. Simply that these players take their gameplay largely in their stride. A game of Dominoes or a midweek Skittles match is to them just a part of day to day life. Nothing to get too excited about, and certainly nothing to warrant writing about!

The more finely tuned interests of enthusiasts like myself, often reflect a deeper cultural fascination with the subject, in my own case it's a wider interest in pub culture in general. This is often underpinned by a strong sense that if the very best of our traditions are to survive, someone needs to champion them in a way that simply wouldn't occur to those of us who merely participate, enjoy, and thereby help preserve our traditional pastimes.

One of the original pub games champions of recent times was Timothy Finn. A writer and keen Northants skittler, Finn was probably the first to treat the subject of pub games as a distinct subject in itself, rather than a sub-set of the much wider childrens and 'parlour' game tradition. His 1970's book, Pub Games of England, was at that time the most complete work on the subject, and is still a useful reference, particularly the listings of pubs where the games featured might be found. It's also an interesting book in the context of this blog post in that he caught the last vestiges of a game which has now almost entirely disappeared from pubs.

The game of Daddlums might be considered a slightly smaller regional version of Northamptonshire Skittles, and was once as common in the south-east of England as the Northants game still is in the East Midlands. The game has some similarities with the even rarer game of Old English (or London) Skittles, which by contrast is the most weighty example of the skittles tradition surviving to this day, and may represent yet another example of a game miniaturised and brought indoors for play during the colder winter months.

In Daddlums three small hardwood cheeses are thrown at a formation of nine stubby, somewhat top-heavy pins (above), which sit toward the rear of quite a long table. The technique for toppling the pins seems to be to land the cheese some way ahead of the diamond formation and slide into them, unlike the Northants game where the cheese generally hits the front pin full-toss. Whilst the game which is known as Daddlums seems to have been confined primarily to the South East of England, small table skittles games like this are understood to have been played much further afield, and certainly up the eastern seaboard through Anglia and into parts of the East Midlands where several examples have been recorded.

The decline of Daddlums and other small table skittle games can best be illustrated by the fact that only one original table is now known to exist. The Daddlums table at the Vigo Inn, Fairseat in Kent, is therefore an important survivor, and has provided the template for at least two newly built tables which help keep the tradition alive in the area. The Vigo Inn table has also provided the inspiration for the most recent revival of the game in the town of Baldock, Hertfordshire.

The Darts Room at the Orange Tree features this ingenious space-saving board which swings out from the wall for play, folding back flat against the wall when the room is required for other less competitive uses.
A Shove Ha'penny set up in the old Inglenook fireplace, now a cosy seating area. The licensee has more than one board available at the pub, as well as a Devil Amongst The Tailors, Shut The Box, Cards and Dominoes.

Licensee Rob Scahill is surely a pub games enthusiast himself, or at the very least a real champion of the pub gaming tradition. Why else would he have chosen to install the little known and rare as hens teeth game of Daddlums at the Orange Tree in Baldock, alongside a host of more common pub games.

The Daddlums table itself has been crafted in the style of the rare Vigo Inn example, and is the first of what will eventually be a pair of tables in the town, the other being installed at The Cock. In this way it is hoped to establish inter-pub competition, essential for this small but important revival to take hold and maybe one day thrive in Baldock. The pins and cheeses came c/o James Masters of Masters Traditional Games, who also tipped me off about the Orange Tree and it's many attractions.

More pub gaming ingenuity. The Daddlums Table, which is located in the opulent covered patio/smoking shelter to the rear of the pub, swings up and away to reveal a recently refurbished Bar Billiards table.