Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Dog & Bone, Lincoln

Such is the fascination for some of Britains more obscure local or regional pub games that they can sometimes crop up in the most unlikely places. Full-on pub game enthusiasts such as those at the Brunswick Arms or Golden Cross are certainly likely to have more examples than most, and my friend and fellow writer on the subject John Penny has a track record of introducing 'funny foreign' games to his local pubs in the Dorset area. There are also numerous examples where foreign visitors have been so taken with a game they've constructed their own version back home.

Then there are those who just get taken-up with an idea for a new or revived game. A bright idea amongst friends over a few too many afternoon pints, or maybe a brainwave for a charitable fundraising event. This is often the origin of some of our most eccentric and unusual gaming 'traditions'.

What led a group of Lincolnshire pubgoers to sign up for a 'World Championship' tournament in deepest Sussex is anyones guess, but needless to say, until they did there was no known tradition of Toad in the Hole play in the county, indeed little indication that the game has ever been played outside of the South-East of England.

Toad in the Hole is a game which has experienced a significant revival in its home county of Sussex in recent years. Though similar in form to the game of Pitch Penny, which can still be found in a handful of mostly Eastern counties pubs, the equipment and rules of the game are entirely unique to the area. The very simple premise of the game is the tossing of metal discs (Toads), onto a lead-topped table with a hole in the middle (the hole!). Landing a Toad cleanly on the surface scores one point, a Toad in the hole scores two.

Toads tables like the one shown here were falling out of use and heading for extinction in their home counties in the south-east, until a late 80's revival, spurred on by a bunch of local 'Toads' enthusiasts, brought the game back from the brink. This revival has been so successful that new tables continue to be built, and the local Sussex league is one of the very few pub game leagues which have actually grown in recent years. More details on the game can be found on comedian Ben Ward's excellent website, and you can follow the games progress through the season on the Lewes & District Toad in the Hole League blog.

The game of Toad in the Hole arrived in Lincoln in 2012 when a touring team from Sussex challenged locals in the city to a friendly match. The Toads Table was subsequently presented to the Lincoln players, resulting in a team attending the annual World Championships in 2015, an open competition run by the Lewes Lions.

The Dog & Bone is now home to the 'Lincoln Toads' team, with regular practice nights and competition in the pubs 'Dog Kennel' games and function room. Recently the team have initiated a North-South Divide competition, playing an invitation team from Sussex for a handsome Toads Trophy.

It's easy to see why the Lincoln Toads team might have chosen the Dog & Bone as their home base. A very traditional and beautifully maintained back-street locals pub with a great reputation for its beer, and as fine a place to settle in for a few pints and a natter as you're likely to find anywhere. The left-hand bar area (left) has a stove for cosy winter drinking, and there's a lovely garden at the rear for the summer months, which is also where you'll find the 'Dog Kennel'.

The bar is also home to a Dartboard, and hosts a team in the local Lincoln & District (Doubles Board) Darts League. The all-black Doubles Board can be seen to the right of the numerous awards the pub and licensee has received over the years (below). The Doubles board is not usually on show, but I visited on the day following a victorious home match.

The 'Dog Kennel' at the rear of the pub is of course the venue for Toad in the Hole games, but there's also a 'Pin' Bagatelle Table, Cribbage Boards, and a couple of good quality Shove Ha'penny boards. The games pile in the 'lounge bar' side of the pub (below) is also well equipped with traditional pub games and more modern board games, so it's no surprise that the pub has hosted occasional 'Pub Games Olympics' in the past.

Sadly the current licensees are moving on following several successful years at the Dog & Bone, but it's hoped that little, other than the faces behind the bar of course, will change under new stewardship.

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