Sunday, 15 November 2015

Shoving Games

Many of the traditional pub games we see now have developed as scaled-down versions of much larger competitive games. Usually it was simply a case of miniaturising for the convenience of play in pokey Tap Rooms and Parlour Bars. Often too it was a way of bringing outdoor games such as Quoits and Skittles indoors, maintaining play during the inclement winter months.

Shove Ha'penny is a good example of this, a miniaturised version of a game known as 'Shovel Board' which was once highly fashionable amongst the gentry. Shovel Board was a fairly simple game which involved sliding metal or wooden 'pucks' up a highly polished, often very long table. The aim was to land your puck as close to the end of the table without overshooting and sliding off the end. Points were scored, and wagers were commonly placed on the outcome.

Shovel Boards, like the one shown above in the 'Audit Room' of Boughton House in Northamptonshire, were by necessity games of the larger country houses and stately homes since nowhere else could easily house (or afford) such a huge piece of carpentry. Inevitably, what was a fashionable game of the wealthy filtered down to the masses, and smaller versions of the game, measured in feet rather than yards, became popular in the drinking establishments of more common folk. Several Shovel Boards survive in the stately homes of England and Wales, but these smaller 'Tavern' tables are very rare indeed. Of those that have survived they are often only distinguishable from ordinary farmhouse tables by the lines scored into them for play, but they do occasionally surface in the antiques trade.

Smaller they may have been, but they were still bulky and expensive fixtures of a public house, so further miniaturisation of the game to that which we see now was perhaps inevitable.

An afternoon game of Pushpenny at the Organ Grinder in Lougborough
Pushpenny is the rarer, and possibly earlier cousin of Shove Ha'penny. Old English pennies are used in the game of Pushpenny, smoothed and polished on one side and with a slight bevel on the edge to stop the coin 'digging in'. The board is similar in size to a Shove Ha'penny, but the nine beds are wider to accommodate the bigger coins. The rules are similar, though only three pennies are shoved up the board as opposed to the five of Shove Ha'penny.

Old Pushpenny boards like the one shown here occasionally surface in the antiques and collectibles trade, particularly in those few areas where the game is still played. This board is a classic Stamford Pushpenny, the Lincolnshire town being one of only two places in the country where the game is still played at league level, the other being the Hastings area of Sussex. This Stamford board has been made from a fairly slim piece of highly polished Mahogany, most likely recycled from a redundant piece of furniture. There's a shallow dip in the surface at the end of the board to receive over-hit coins, and a vertical end-stop. The lead-in is barely wider than the beds, which is uniquely the standard for the Stamford game. These Pushpenny boards are also characterised by having extremely smooth polished playing surfaces, the lightest touch required to score in the first bed, and all too easy to overshoot the last one.

This heavyweight Shove Ha'penny gives a good illustration of the condition that many of these old boards are in when found in the antiques trade. Liberally smothered with the very worst kind of sticky oil and wax finish, in a pointless effort to 'age' what is already quite clearly an item of some vintage. Bees Wax and oil based finishes like this effectively make the board unplayable, and need to be carefully removed. A jar of White Spirit and a lot of elbow-grease will eventually remove the worst of the wax, and help reveal the beauty of the old wood as shown here.

This is a slightly unusual board in that the beds are quite wide for a Shove Ha'penny, though narrow for a Pushpenny. Older boards like this probably pre-date the commercial production of Shove Ha'penny boards by Jaques, Wisden etc. which may explain why the spacings and dimensions are often slightly different to later examples, a vestige of how the game would have been played when more local rules applied. This is a very high quality board, the scoring zones at the side are made of slate, and there's a good quality Brass end rail at the curved end.

Just a few of the many different 'coins' which have been shoved up polished wood in pubs and clubs over the years. From left: Victorian Penny, smoothed and polished on the 'Brittania' side for Pushpenny. Also shown is a set with the Monarch side smoothed off, regarded by some as something of a heinous crime! Half Penny, this one a George VI but many others are used including the earlier Britannia design. Again, these have had the monarchs head smoothed off. St Georges Series, a silvered brass shove ha'penny token manufactured in tandem with various boards, probably post-war or later. Trumans Tap Bitter, brewery advertising tokens for Shove Ha'penny. Half Penny Tokens, based on the 'ship' half penny design, but blank and with a raised-edge on the reverse. Jaques London, manufactured tokens by the famous London games retailer. French 5 Centimes, there are two of these along with three Victorian half pennies. These were given to me by a friend, and were originally used by his father, and possibly grandfather who operated a pub in London. These coins have been smoothed on the reverse, and are wafer thin from decades of use and polishing.

This Slate Shove Ha'penny is one of the cheaper (possibly later) variations on the 'Challenger' board, supposedly issued for play by the Shove Ha'penny Control Association. The design is identical, the cast metal end stop replaced here with a plastic version carrying advertising for a popular cigarette brand.

My recent visit to the Albion Brewery Tap in Northampton was principally to view the Northamptonshire Skittles Table and Bar Billiards. I was later informed that the bar also has this Shove Ha'penny available for play.

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