Friday, 29 May 2015

Brewers Arms, Hereford

Despite the myriad changes affecting the pub trade, much of it to the detriment of long-standing tradition and heritage, the gaming element that has been a part of pub culture since the very beginning endures. All but the most bland, corporate managed houses seem to recognise the importance of a shared gaming pursuit, even if it's just finding space for a Darts throw or a set of Dominoes and Crib Board on the windowsill. I've even come across a few pubs which have had a major gaming element such as a skittle alley reinstated, often at the behest of local players.

A dwindling few seem to make such a feature of their traditional gaming that it would be hard to imagine the pub surviving without them. The Brewers Arms in Hereford falls into this latter category, boasting a wide range of traditional pub games, including the local specialities of Skittles, Quoits, and the card game Phat, all played in leagues at the pub.

The major pub game feature of the Brewers Arms may not be immediately apparent when entering, the pubs Skittle Alley being entirely hidden from view when not in use. The traditional wooden floored alley runs down the back of the pub, and is normally concealed by a hinged partition located at one end of the public bar. A Darts Board completes the subterfuge, and it's only when a game is in progress that you'd know it was there. Skittles is played in the Hereford & District Invitation Skittles League, with play currently on Friday nights in the Summer league.

The Hereford & District skittles league is unique in that the 'skittles' used are all ex-bowling alley pins, often stripped of the white plastic coating (below). The use of old tyres to absorb the impact of balls and pins at the back of the alley is not unique to Hereford, but seems to be quite a common feature of the alleys hereabouts.

Indoor Quoits represents a smaller, though no less important part of the pub games scene in Hereford. This gentle but highly competitive game has suffered a catastrophic decline in recent years, disappearing entirely from former strongholds such as the Evesham area and down to just a handful of pubs and club venues in Hereford itself.

The Brewers Arms is just the kind of locals pub where this increasingly rare game can still be found, and still sees regular use throughout the summer in the local league. The red and green concrete Quoits Board and the steel frame it sits on (above), was rescued from the closed Cotterall Arms, another classic backstreet local with a strong gaming tradition in its day.

The card game of Phat, though certainly not unique to Hereford, is unusual enough to be considered a local speciality. Phat is a trick-taking game played by two pairs of players, and the giveaway that you're in a 'Phat Friendly' pub like the Brewers is the presence of large-scale scoring boards like the ones shown here. Unlike the more common game of Cribbage which scores to 121, players aim to reach 181 in the game of Phat, which is either three times around a standard Cribbage Board, or a more sensible once on the expanded Phat scorers shown here.

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