Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Crown, Bathley, Nottinghamshire

The Crown first came to my attention a few years ago following a visit to the Muskham Ferry at nearby North Muskham. The Newark area was, until quite recently, one of only a handful of places in the country where Table Skittles, or Devil Amongst The Tailors, was still played competitively at league level. Sadly the league folded several years ago, but occasional friendlies are still played in those pubs where the skittles table hasn't been packed away for good. The locals at the Muskham Ferry were just about to play one of these friendlies, an away match at the Crown.

I can certainly see the appeal of an evening friendly at the Crown, it really is a great all-round village local. A pub noted for good beer and food in an attractive rural location, and with a lovely garden for the summer months. The lounge bar with its open fire a comfortable retreat in the winter, and a smaller public bar which houses the pubs well-used Darts Board. It's also the principal venue for village functions, and the meeting place for local council business given that the village has no other suitable venue.

The Skittles Table may only see occasional friendly use now, but the alley where it resides is still in regular use for games in the Newark & District Long Alley Skittles League. Long Alley in the Newark area is played with the same iron-shod curvy pins and large round balls found throughout Nottinghamshire, and as far north and west as Clay Cross and Ashbourne in Derbyshire. This is a very well-appointed alley in an area where many are still located outdoors and largely exposed to the elements. The cast iron 'frame' is set a little smaller than many, which means the pins stand slightly closer together resulting in higher than average scores.

Most of the skittles tables I've seen in the Newark area are locally made, usually by a pub regular or someone known to the league. These tables often bear a small brass plaque with the name of the maker, and perhaps uniquely to the Newark area, feature a small drawer rather than the usual lidded trough to store the pins in. The one at the Crown however seems to be a good quality manufactured table, similar to the better quality old Jaques models where a crib-style scoreboard acts as a cover for the skittle storage trough. The dimensions and spacings are standard though, as they would have to be to facilitate league play.

In the games heyday of the early 20th century, these 'league standard' skittles tables were made by numerous small manufacturers throughout the country. Some were very high quality indeed, sturdily manufactured from mahogany or other expensive hardwoods, and with leather padding to reduce impacts and noise during a game. This table is more modestly upholstered, as most pub tables are, with a few offcuts of carpet. The skittles table can be brought into the bar for a game on request.

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