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.

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