Sunday, 28 February 2016

A Compendium of Quoits Images

The game of Indoor Quoits is a good example of a once popular outdoor game, miniaturised and adapted for play in the relative comfort of the public bar. The game's origins lie in the outdoor 'sport' of Quoits (also known as Steel Quoits), an early 20th century national obsession, once played in practically every corner of the British Isles (and successfully exported elsewhere). It's perhaps hard to imagine just how popular the outdoor sport of Quoits was in its heyday, but most villages would have had at least one Quoiting Field, many of which were located at pubs and clubs. The more successful practitioners of the sport were regarded in much the same way that professional athletes and sportsman are now. The outdoor game has declined to the point where most people will probably never have heard of it, and play is now confined to a handful of leagues in northern England, Scotland, Wales, and Anglia.

The indoor version was probably developed for play during the cold winter months, a more comfortable alternative to handling heavy steel in freezing conditions, but is now played all-year round, and is for the most part no longer associated with the original outdoor sport. It's possible that versions of Indoor Quoits would have existed wherever the outdoor game was played, which is to say just about everywhere. The game of Rings for example, itself a widespread and popular pub game which is now confined almost exclusively to Ireland and the Isle of White, may originally have developed from Quoits play. As it stands though, only two examples of Indoor Quoits proper are known. One of which, Suffolk Quoits (above), is no longer played to my knowledge, though a later variant called Caves survives at The Crown, Bedfield in Suffolk. The small painted wooden boards of this Anglian game survive only as curiosities now, occasionally emerging in the antiques and collectables trade.

Only the version of Indoor Quoits played in the West Midlands and Welsh Borders exists today as a pub game. Known locally as Step Quoits, Table Quoits, Dobbers, or more often than not just simply Quoits, this is quite close in style to the original game of Steel Quoits, with a number of features which seem specifically designed to replicate the outdoor game:

  • In the outdoor game the goal is to land your steel Quoit as close to the projecting 'Hob' as possible. The indoor game replicates this by having two concentric scoring zones, 1 point for the outer, 2 for the inner, plus a projecting bolt or 'Spike', the ringing of which scores a maximum 5 points.

  • Steel Quoits have a distinctive convex profile, and I've come across older rubber quoits for the indoor game, still in use, which are similarly shaped. To score, these rubber quoits have to land convex side uppermost. The majority of quoits used now for the indoor game are manufactured flat, and replicate the original convex profile by having a white and black side. Only those quoits which land white side up score.

  • In Steel Quoits, a major aspect of tactical play is to throw and position your own quoits in such a way that they might block your opponent from getting theirs close to the Hob. A similar blocking strategy to that used in Lawn Bowls in fact. The unique scoreboards used in many indoor quoits leagues (right) introduce a similar level of strategic play by allowing each player to 'block' their opponent from claiming particular scores during the course of a game.

In common with almost all traditional pub games, Quoits has declined markedly in recent years. In Arthur Taylor's book Played at the Pub, the Forest of Dean League is noted as having 25 teams in the 1980's, but this is now down to just 9 teams playing from 7 venues in the current 2015/16 Winter League.

Rural and community pub closures have undoubtedly contributed to this decline. The kind of pubs where traditional games like Quoits are popular and still played at league level, are also the ones which have suffered most from the general decline in pub-going. Many of those which remain open have understandably taken the option of developing their food trade, often at the expense of more traditional pub pursuits such as games.

Forest of Dean pub the Miners Arms at Whitecroft was until quite recently renowned not only for it's huge range of ciders and perries, but also a very fine Skittle Alley and a bar where the local game of Quoits took centre stage. Whilst the fine traditional bar area remains at the pub, the Miners Arms is probably better known now as a quality food destination. The Skittle Alley has also survived, though not currently in use for league play, but sadly the Quoits Board is long gone. Only a white line on the flagstone floor (above) and a team photograph (below) indicate that the game was once popular at the pub. Quoits is still played in the village at the nearby Royal Oak which has already featured on this blog.

Still in the Forest of Dean, the photograph below shows the winning team from the Rising Sun pub at Bream, taken sometime in the mid 1970's. This photograph was supplied to the Old Photos of the Forest of Dean website by Roger Clutterbuck, shown seated on the left, and is reproduced here with their kind permission. Quoits is still played at the Rising Sun, with 'A' and 'B' teams competing in the Forest of Dean league.

As a league game Quoits may have declined markedly from its heyday, but interest in the game continues, and the distinctive wooden or concrete boards can still be found in rural and village pubs throughout the games traditional area. James & Lisa Aubrey (above) have recently taken on and reopened the Pandy Inn in the village of Dorstone, Herefordshire, with the intention of re-establishing the pub at the centre of village life. The Dartboard has already been rehung, but sadly the pubs old Quoits Board was given away by the previous licensees. Two sets of rubber quoits remained at the pub though, and the couple were keen to track down a replacement board, with enthusiastic support from regulars who presumably miss the game. By chance I happened to have a 'spare' board and was planning a trip to Herefordshire. James and Lisa are shown here with their 'new' Evesham board in the bar of the Barrels pub in Hereford, and I look forward to a game at the Pandy Inn on a future visit to the county.

Quoits is still played in the city of Hereford, though as elsewhere the number of venues for the game is greatly diminished from even a few years ago. The Cotterell Arms for example, features in the Quoits section of Arthur Taylor's definitive work on pub games, but this back-street locals pub has been closed for a few years now. Another former hotbed of Quoits play in Hereford, Broadleys, has a dedicated Quoits Corner in the lounge bar, but sadly the board was recently removed. The very future of this pub has been in doubt for some time now, Broadleys being just one of many that brewers Marston's offloaded to a property developer, keen to convert the pub to retail use against the wishes of locals. Hopefully, once the long-term future of the pub has been secured, the local game may return to Broadleys Quoits Corner.

Despite the fact that many traditional pub games enjoy wide support, and are played by literally tens of thousands of people on a weekly basis, very few other than Darts and Cue sports seem to make it into the pages of literature. The gentle regional pursuit of Quoits is certainly no exception, and I was surprised to find any mention of it at all given the paucity of references that even games as widespread and popular as skittles get, such is the everyday invisibility of so many of our pub traditions. There is however a brief mention of Quoits in a slim novel set in 1970's Hereford.

The Last Great Pub Crawl by John Shane (1976), is the tale of a bunch of old-timers out for one last booze-up before retirement and the expectations of their peers get the better of them. Arriving at the Wellington in Hereford (above), the party, by now several pints up and swelled in numbers, spy the pubs traditional Quoits board. Could this be the only written account of the game in fiction?

'... "Good shot!" the Smallholding shouted, as Victoria scored a quick twenty points. A large, smartly dressed, silver haired man, in a business suit, stood close by at the bar.

"Funny things we get up to eh?" he said, slowly and deliberately, in a broad Yorkshire accent. "Tossing little rubber rings at a nail stuck in a bit of board, and scoring points for it! Pretty odd sort of a thing for grown men and women to be doing, though, ain't it?"

In recent years the Wellington has traded under several different names as a lively edge of town circuit venue, before finally reverting to its original name. Needless to say the pub no longer has a Quoits board....

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