Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A Compendium of Pub Games Images - Pt. 24

The Tobacco trade of the post-war years had very strong connections with the licensed trade. Judging by the huge amount of tobacco and cigarette advertising which appears on items associated with the pub, a trip to the local seems to have been as much about smoking as it was drinking for many. The pub was certainly seen by the tobacco industry as the ideal place to push their brands to potential customers.

The various brands of Wills Tobacco seem to crop up more than most on the ephemera of the pub trade. A popular 'smoke' no doubt, but also very active advertisers of their wares. Cribbage Boards, Darts Scoreboards, Ash Trays, Match Strikers, Mirrors, and Domino sets like the one shown here, all carried advertising for their Capstan Full Strength, Woodbine"Star", and Pirate brands of cigarettes and rolling tobacco.

Even before the recent ban on smoking in public places, the paraphernalia of the tobacco trade had largely fallen out of favour with all but the most avid collectors. But some of these items are attractive (even useful) in their own right, particularly given the current vogue for all things 'vintage'. These early 20th century Bakelite Dominoes certainly fall into this category, redolent of an earlier, albeit more smoky age, and still eminently usable for a game of Fives & Threes down the pub. These Dominoes would have originally come in a similarly branded tin, and of course all manner of branded Cribbage Boards like the ones shown here would have been available for scoring a game, all designed to keep the Wills brand in the public eye.

Recently re-opened following a gap of over a hundred years, the Red Lion is a welcome addition to the beer scene of Evesham in Worcestershire. The Red Lion is located in the very centre of town, and has the look and feel of one of the larger micro-pubs. It's a quiet drinkers pub during the daytime, with most of the chat centred around the bar where beers from the local Cannon Royall Brewery and others provide much of the interest. Traditional games don't feature as prominently as they do in other Evesham pubs, but I did notice a good Shove Ha'penny tucked away at the rear of the bar. You'll have to bring your own coins for a game though, as there don't seem to be any available at the bar.

Collectors of Put & Take spinners are truly spoilt for choice, such is the vast array of different forms that this simple gambling game comes in. Brass, Bone, and Ivory examples are all reasonably common, though only brass ones seem to be manufactured now. Six or eight-sided, numbered or lettered in numerous different languages, and with many quirks and subtle variations adding to the seemingly endless variety. The example shown here is an 'Odds On' spinner, based on one of the pub-goers favourite sports, horse racing. It features the names of six famous winners, with a separate rotating section to generate the odds ('DISC' is for a disqualified horse).
The sheer quantity of these spinners which still exist suggests that they would have been found in the pockets of pretty-much everyone with a penchant for casual or career gambling at one time. They've now pretty-much disappeared from use, principally due to the lucrative trade in 'rigged' or 'loaded' Put & Take spinners which were advertised alongside the ordinary versions in certain specialist publications. A subtle difference in weighting, or a spinner that was slightly off-centre were all that was needed to shift the odds in favour of those in the know. Eventually, it got to the point where so many of these dodgy spinners were in circulation that confidence in the pukka items evaporated, and so Put & Take, and other similar games of chance, fell out of favour amongst gamblers. Licensed betting and gaming has now largely taken gambling out of the pub and into the bookies or casino, and it's doubtful you'd ever see a Put & Take or Odds On spinner in serious use now.

The bar-room game of Ringing The Bull is rarely seen these days, and even where a good example does exists, as here at the Duke of Wellington in Norwich, it's likely to be infrequently played.

The idea is to swing the tethered metal hoop, often a genuine old Bull Ring, in a wide arc so that it catches on the wall-mounted hook. It's a tricky feat, and perhaps the best opportunity to fully appreciate the skill involved is when the locals play, and makes it look easy as they invariably do.

The big problem with Ring The Bull as a pub game, and no doubt the reason so many have now disappeared, is the space it takes up in what may be a busy bar or dining space. I know of a few examples of Ring The Bull which now rarely get played, such is the demand for space in the smaller drinking and dining spaces which are a feature of the more traditional pubs where the game is still found. The Duke of Wellington was in the middle of an extensive refurbishment when I visited, but the pub has plenty of space within, and the future of this rare game seems assured.

A blackboard in the bar of backstreet local The Beehive in Norwich promises Darts, Crib, and Pool. The Pool Table is located upstairs, the thoroughly traditional public bar the ideal place for a game of Cards or Darts.

1 comment:

Ian said...

The recently-retired landlord of the Duke of Wellington, Dougie Clarke, regularly used to show off by 'ringing' the bull while standing with his back to the hook - I guess he'd had plenty of time to practice over the years!