Sunday, 14 June 2015

Newark, Nottinghamshire

Newark is a long-time favourite destination of mine from back in the day when rail fares were still reasonably affordable, and the time needed for a leisurely afternoon of drinking around its pubs seemed much easier to come by. Perhaps its the fact that Newark was once an important brewing town, but it's always seemed to me to have slightly more than its fair share of pubs. Needless to say, a few of these have been lost in the intervening years, but there's still a very good choice of pubs in the town, many of which are now tapping enthusiastically into the current vogue for all things beer and cider.

The modernised Organ Grinder (formerly the
Horse & Gears) has reintroduced a Darts Board
Perhaps inevitably, this rush to embrace the Craft & Cask trend has had an impact on some of the more traditional aspects of the towns pubs. On a recent visit I witnessed work in progress to convert a skittle alley to more profitable beer garden use, and multiple rooms continue to be knocked through, quirky or bland modern decor preferred to the genuine heritage which has served pubs so well for generations.

So Newark is undoubtedly a better destination for the beer drinker than it's ever been, but its pubs are changing at a rapid pace, and the kind of traditional community locals I love are giving way to a more upmarket, 'premium' offering.

Of course an open and thriving modernised pub is infinitely superior to a struggling or closed traditional boozer. It must also be said that a good deal of the change that Newarks pubs are undergoing has left room for locals to help shape the direction of 'their' pubs, and for the traditions of game play for example to either remain or be reintroduced should there be a demand. This is particularly important given that one of the three traditional pub games which are local to the area, Table Skittles, has already ceased as a league game, and the two which do remain are being pushed ever further out of town with every refurbishment.

Spring House

Long Alley Skittles is a case in point. Played throughout the East Midlands, the Newark & District Long Alley Skittles League is probably the most far-flung easterly outpost of the game, but alleys within the town are not as common as they once were. Maybe as many as half a dozen pub alleys are still in use, with the south of town being best represented.

A short walk out of the centre along Mill Gate takes you past the Watermill pub, and on the very edge of town the Spring House. I remember stopping in at this pub some 20 years ago on the way to Lincoln, though I can't honestly recall much about the place other than it (possibly?) served Mansfield Brewery beer. Back then it would certainly have had a league standard Skittles Table (Devil Amongst The Tailors) somewhere on the premises, a game which was played in a local league until quite recently. In fact the trophies from the final year of play are still held at the Spring House (above), and the table itself is still at the pub, though sadly no longer set up for play.

What is set up for play though is the Long Alley. It's no surprise that I don't recall this from my previous visit, the alley being located in an enclosed yard at the back of the pub, and far too short for play without opening a set of gates to the car park. As you can see, it's an outdoor alley, and play continues comes rain or shine, the surface having a tendency to hold a bit of water following a downpour. Perhaps that's why the 'Spring House Lads' now play out of the Malt Shovel on the other side of town, equipped as it is with a cosy indoor alley. Note the curved shape of the pins, and three large wooden balls, a feature of all Long Alley play in the Nottinghamshire (and Derbyshire) area. So too is the tin sheet positioned in front of the 'frame' which has to be cleared for a throw to score.

The Watermill

The Watermill plays host to the (locally) famous Flintstones Skittles Team, one of the few Long Alley teams in the Midlands to have any kind of online presence. The skittle alley is located outdoors to the rear of the pub, but covered against the worst of the English weather. The pub itself retains a fairly traditional multi-room layout, including a rear bar with a Skittles Table, and a second Darts throw on which the licensee had kindly set up the pubs Lincoln or Doubles Dart Board (below) for my visit.

Doubles Darts is one of the many regional variants of our most common traditional pub game, and is usually played in addition to, and not instead of the standard trebles board. This style of Doubles Board is local to the Lincolnshire area, though it only differs from the almost identical Yorkshire Doubles Board in its lack of green, red, and white colouring. Mens and Ladies Doubles Darts are played locally in the Newark & District Doubles Darts League.

The rear bar area with Doubles Dart Board set up. The pubs Skittles Table can be seen propped up against the wall, and is available for play on request.

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