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.

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