Saturday, 26 March 2016

A Compendium of Pub Games Images - Pt.26

Given that so much of the heritage of central Leicester continues to be casually brushed aside by developers and the council, and so many of its old pubs closed or modernised beyond recognition (the architecturally important Black Boy being the latest undervalued gem under threat of demolition), it's a wonder that a pub as honest and relatively unspoilt as The Salmon has managed to survive. Particularly given the pubs close proximity to the grim Highcross shopping centre, and the chronically congested roads that service it.

The Salmon is a pub I've been frequenting on and off for most of my adult life. Initially as a two-room Banks's Brewery pub, a basic tile-floored public bar to the right, a plusher carpeted lounge to the left. Around the late 1990's the partition between bar and lounge was knocked through, creating a single room wrapped around the central servery. At this point the brewery gave the pub a full, and it has to be said, very attractive 'Unspoilt By Progress' makeover. That the polished dark wood and brewery branded brass fittings remain to this day is testament to the quality of the work. The pub was eventually released from the Banks's (now Marston's) empire, and a period as a freehouse specialising in real ales followed.

Ownership of the pub has now returned to the West Midlands under the stewardship of Black Country Ales, a traditional family brewer with a strong commitment to running largely 'wet-led' pubs like The Salmon. The pub remains one of the most traditional and largely unspoilt drinkers venues in the city centre, popular with both beer enthusiasts and rugby fans (the pub can be very busy on match days).

It's also the perfect venue for an afternoon game of Dominoes, or maybe even Shove Ha'penny, though we had to take our own board for the game shown above. Following the transition to Black Country Ales ownership, the Dartboard has also returned to what was the original quarry tile floored bar area, and in common with its equally traditional sister pub the Kings Head, the licensee is keen to field teams in local leagues.

There can be few more iconic images of early 20th century pub-going than that of a group of men, settled at a table with pints at hand, playing Dominoes or Cards, and smoking roll-ups. Smoking and social activities such as game play, were until relatively recently as much a part of the pub experience as the beer, and it's for this reason that so much of the old advertising paraphernalia that once adorned pubs is for cigarette and tobacco brands. In fact the bewildering array of tobacco products available at the time, including those for the almost extinct habits of chewing and snuff-taking, feature far more frequently on advertising than any drinks brands. This is probably because most pubs were wholly tied to a brewery in those days, and whilst every pub would have had a reasonable choice of tobacco brands, there would have been little choice when it came to the beer. Little point then in advertising what people were compelled to drink anyway by virtue of the tie.

Dominoes, Cards, and Cribbage Boards, were the ideal vehicle for advertising tobacco products. The Franklyn's branded Dominoes shown above are unusual hollow tinplate examples, the spots formed by holes in the metal. Not at all nice to play with actually. The Bakelite Park Drive set (left) are much more comfortable in the hand, and far and away the most common type of advertising Dominoes I've come across. Indeed these are the kind I prefer to use myself, being slightly smaller in the hand than the 'club' sets commonly used in league play these days.

The snug front bar of the Man of Ross (above) is for me one of the most pleasant venues for a pint in the centre of Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire. Cosy and comfortable, with a good mix of locals and visitors like myself. It has the feel of a vintage hotel bar, but this is definitely a pub. There's a Dartboard, and a regular Wednesday night Quiz. There's also a number of trophies for the local Skittles League, slightly incongruous given that the pub does not, and probably never has had a skittle alley. The trophies belong to a local team who prefer to use the Man of Ross as their home base, which I suppose only goes to confirm my own feelings about the pub.

The Digbeth area of Birmingham is little more than ten minutes walk from New Street station, and has a number of truly outstanding heritage pubs that should be on every pub-goers list of 'must-visits'.

Pick of the bunch for me is the White Swan, one of several classic Victorian 'terracotta and tile' pubs in the area, built at a time when the local brewery Ansells seemed to be vying with their competitors over who could offer customers the most opulent drinking environment. Unspoilt and beautifully maintained, the White Swan is as fine an example of a Victorian urban boozer as you'll find anywhere in the country, and with a welcome to match I might add.

To the right of the servery, which stretches almost the full length of the public bar, is the pubs Dartboard (above), behind which is the original off-sales, intact though currently not in use. A table-topper with attached cribbage board is stored in the off-sales room, and available for games of Dominoes or Cards on request.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Cross Keys, Barwell, Leicestershire

A village the size of Barwell might be expected to support around half a dozen pubs, indeed this is exactly the number listed in a local CAMRA pub guide of 1979. What's perhaps surprising is that even with the loss of the historic Three Crowns, and modern estate pub the Red Hall (latterly the Boot & Shoe), the figure remains at six today. There can't be too many villages which can boast the same number of pubs they had 30-odd years ago, although it has to be said that at least one club has closed in the village, so the overall number of licensed premises is in fact down. Nevertheless, Barwell folk seem to appreciate their pubs in a way that many villagers sadly no longer do.

These six pubs, along with the Constitutional Club, continue to offer something for all the residents of Barwell. There's a sports dominated pub for younger drinkers, most offer food of some description, and there's at least one traditional wet-led community local where traditional pub games and sport are just about as important to the customers as the beer.

The Cross Keys is the kind of friendly village boozer where just about every competitive pub pastime is represented in one form or another, and there's rarely a night when something sporty or games oriented isn't going on. Televised sport is of course the lifeblood of pubs like the Cross Keys, football in particular, including enthusiastic support for the local Barwell FC. League Dominoes and Darts are staples of the Cross Keys bar room, as well as Pool, played in the Hinckley District Pool League. There's also a popular Quiz Night on the first Wednesday of the month, and games even make a showing as part of the Christmas celebrations. The Cross Keys Christmas Knockouts event was established as an annual fixture in 2014. An open competition featuring almost all of the games played at the pub, rifle shooting being one notable, though entirely understandable exception!

Not too many traditional Skittle Alleys remain in the Hinckley area of Leicestershire now, in fact Barwell may represent the very edge of Long Alley Skittles play on this side of the county. It's perhaps just as well that the alley is in such regular use then. Not only does the Cross Keys skittle alley play host to a team in the Tom Bishop Long Alley Skittles League, but it's also the venue for Darts tournaments and competitive Air Rifle Shooting.

Barwell may be on the very edge of the Leicestershire Long Alley Skittles tradition, but Bell Target Shooting has been popular in this part of the East Midlands for a very long time, perhaps even as far back as the sport's Victorian origins.

The fascinating history of competitive small bore rifle shooting can be found on the Bell Target Shooting website, but essentially the sport was established and encouraged nationally as a result of the poor standard of rifle shooting observed during the Boer War. The Smallshaws Air Rifle Club shoot at both Bell and Paper targets in the Cross Keys skittle alley, and compete in the Hinckley & District Air Rifle League.

The Hinckley & Bosworth Licensed Victuallers Association no longer exist under that name as far as I'm aware, yet the Domino league still carries the LVA title. Such are traditions maintained, and unnecessary change resisted in the world of 'Fives & Threes' Domino play. The back room at the pub (below) houses yet another Dartboard, and the Pool Table.