Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Leicestershire Table Skittles - Stoney Stanton

Despite the overall decline of most pub games in recent years, South-West Leicestershire remains one of the hotbeds of traditional pub and club Skittles play. Not only are there a reasonable number of venues for Long Alley Skittles in the area, the game of Table Skittles is also remarkably well represented, particularly considering the loss of so many village locals which are the natural home for highly social games like these.

It's probably true to say that most of the more traditional village pubs, and practically all of the clubs in the area have a skittles table, with several Winter and Summer leagues managing the important business of competitive play. The Dunton Bassett League alone consists of up to five leagues, totalling 60 teams during the more popular winter season, such is the continued popularity of skittles hereabouts.

Which is not to say that the game is thriving to anywhere near the degree it once was, when practically every pub and club would have had a well-used table. I certainly recall playing on skittles tables at the Francis Arms in Stoney Stanton (closed), the White Horse, Desford (looks to be closed but no skittles for some time anyway), the Old Inn, Littlethorpe (table removed prior to re-opening recently), the Tavern Inn, Walcote (permanently closed), and the White Lion, Kilworth (recently re-opened as a Wine Bar/Restaurant, skittles table long gone). The Red Lion, Sapcote still advertises the presence of Table Skittles at the pub, but sadly the table was removed several years ago.

The external signage of the Bulls Head in Stoney Stanton (above) promises 'Traditional Pub Games', but in this case the promise holds true. Pride of place in the cosy Tap Room of this two-room traditional local are a Darts Board and this fine old W T Black & Son skittles table.

This is a classic Northampton-made table, but the game is played to Leicestershire rules which include the obligatory use of plastic pins and cheeses rather than the wooden sets still favoured throughout Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire. Traditional Boxwood and other hardwood skittles are becoming ever more difficult to obtain, and given the excessive wear and tear of league play, an increasingly expensive part of the game.

It seems that at some point in the past, with more and more teams going over to the durable plastic alternatives, the Leicestershire and Warwickshire leagues must have made the decision to abandon wood entirely for league play. Certainly it's now rare to see a wooden skittle set in this part of the county, though the Northants tradition of Boxwood pins and cheeses persists in the nearby Market Harborough area of Leicestershire.

The Bulls Head really is the quintessential village pub. Lively and popular, noted for the quality of the beers and ciders, and run by enthusiastic supporters of rugby, and the Leicester Tigers in particular. These photos were taken in the summer of 2014 when the pub was decked-out for the football World Cup. Expect a similar showing for the forthcoming Rugby World Cup later this year.

The Star Inn (below) is one of three pubs which remain in the village of Stoney Stanton, and it too is a long-standing Table Skittles venue (the Social Club in the village has both a Skittles Table and Long Alley). The table at the Star is located in a separate games room off the main bar area which also featuring a Darts Board and Pool Table.

Interestingly, the Skittles Table at the Star is a somewhat rarer Leicester model, and an unusually old one at that. These tables are most commonly found in the suburbs and villages immediately surrounding the city of Leicester, though I've also seen examples as far out as Syston, Blaby, and Whetstone. These tables were originally built for use with the much thinner hardwood pins and cheeses of the Leicester game, but nowadays wherever you find them they tend fulfil a multiple role for the various leagues and different games played.

All in all, the Leicester Tables seem somehow less sturdily constructed than the more common Northants versions. This one has clearly seen many years of service, the metalwork screwed to the side cushions (below) seem to be part of the running repairs and refurbishment common to tables of this age.

The table is shown set for play with the stubby Northants style pins in these images, but I understand it's also used by at least one team for the distinctly different Leicester game which the table would have presumably been originally built for.

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