Thursday, 27 October 2016

Some Cribbage Boards

I don't play Cribbage, and yet I seem to have acquired one or two Cribbage Boards in recent years. Cribbage is a game that takes slightly more time to learn than most traditional pub games. The basics of games like Dominoes, Skittles, or Darts can be grasped in no more time than it takes to explain them, even if some measure of expertise in the game may take much longer to achieve. But mastery of Cribbage comes through experience, and even then the game seems to involve frequent, and to the uninitiated, baffling debate over the scoring!

To be taught the game of Cribbage is a great thing though because like Fives & Threes Dominoes, once you know how to play to a reasonable level, there are usually plenty of opportunities to find a casual afternoon game. In my limited experience of observing Cribbage around the country, there are a great many players who are more than happy to peg a board with a stranger, such is the appeal of the game to those who appreciate its intricacies. Like Dominoes, it's also a very sociable game, which perhaps goes some way to explaining its decline in recent times! For more about Cribbage, I'd recommend a look at Siv Sears Cribbage in the Counties blog, a travelogue and labour of love based around the six (occasionally five) card game.

A classic old polished Brass & Mahogany Cribbage Board. Whether it was made by a tradesman, or homemade from recycled pieces that were to hand I'll never know, but it's nice examples like this that help explain the attraction of Cribbage Boards to collectors. Note the large hole at the end for hanging on a wall.
Three Player parquetry inlaid Crib Board
Cribbage Boards seem to have been designed principally for scoring Cribbage. A statement so obvious it's hardly worth stating, but Crib boards have been co-opted to score many other games since then. In fact the scoring of some pub games seem to have been designed specifically around the standard Crib Board. Devil amongst the Tailors sets often come with a cribbage style scoring board built into them, with 121 the target score. Similarly Fives & Threes Dominoes scores to 121, and this is what I tend to use my small collection of boards for.

This of course doesn't explain why I've got far more Cribbage Boards than I'll ever need for an afternoon game of Dominoes. Just one would do the job adequately, and of course many pubs have their own boards available for use. The fact is, there's something wonderfully 'collectable' about Crib Boards. This is principally down to the endless variation in design, but also because some are such beautiful works of craftsmanship. I certainly don't aim to acquire every board I see, indeed some are offered at such ridiculous prices it could become a very expensive collecting interest, but when I see one I like, well it's hard not to...

I resisted the urge to buy these two, which are typical brewery branded Crib Boards from the late 20th century. Pretty much every sizeable brewery offered these advertising items to licensees, and Bass Worthington were a very sizeable concern indeed, with a truly national presence through their bottled and draught beers. These are cheaply made commercial examples, of more interest to the Breweriana collector than those of us who appreciate a nice bit of old polished wood.

Brewery branding on Crib Boards is common, but so too are more personalised examples. Some carry the name of the maker or owner, whilst others like the one shown here at the Bakers Arms in Mickleton, Gloucestershire are marked with the name of the pub. These are nice items to find, particularly if you can track down which pub they originally came from, often a lot more difficult than it sounds.

This monster size Crib Board is practically a piece of furniture! At around 15 inches long it could best be described as 'oversized' for the job, and the mahogany door knobs for feet don't help the size issue. In common with most of these earlier Crib Boards, this one features some nice parquetry in boxwood and a darker 'ebonised' wood, and there's a sliding cover underneath concealing a small compartment for the all-important Crib Pegs.

Strangely enough, the Crib Boards I'm most attracted to are tatty old examples like the one shown here. Definitely a homemade or 'shed built' board, there's something so appealing to me about old wood that's obviously seen many years of hard service. A basic, utilitarian board, probably fabricated from an offcut of wood. Stained dark brown from years of smoke, beer, and handling, items like this reflect an aspect of social history that rarely makes it into the history books. A working mans Crib Board, rescued from oblivion (and in due course the fire!) to score a game once again.

The Ushers Brewery of Trowbridge in Wiltshire was closed over 15 years ago. This Crib Board dates from a good deal before then probably the mid-20th century, given that few breweries advertised Stouts as part of their portfolio due to the ubiquity of Guinness toward the end of the century. The Mahogany and Brass circular Crib Board below is a somewhat impractical beauty, which given the similarly unfeasible price I resisted the urge to add to my collection.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Cricketers Rest, Kimberley, Nottinghamshire

Pub closures are down to just 21 a week according to industry figures, a statistic that's being trumpeted as some kind of good news story in certain quarters! It's still a thoroughly depressing figure though, particularly given that the vast majority of these closures are the kind of village and suburban locals that communities can ill-afford to lose. What's most depressing about this figure is that a great many of these closures are entirely unnecessary, and of course almost always against the wishes of the locals affected.

The reason that's so often given when a pub closes for the final time is that the custom is simply not there anymore, but this often hides the role that some pub-owners have played in driving custom away. 'Use it or lose it' is certainly true up to a point, but the fact is that many of our most traditional pubs have been so badly neglected in recent years, and become so run down that they're simply not fit for purpose. A tatty boozer selling a limited range of drinks, and at the artificially inflated prices many pubcos inflict on their licensee 'partners', will always struggle to attract and retain customers. The myth that people don't like pubs anymore is just that, and the smokescreen it creates continues to be readily accepted by all too many observers of the trade and repeated ad-nauseam by the media, which of course helps pave the way for the asset-stripping that follows.

Needless to say there are many villains in this destruction of our pub heritage, from the cash-strapped pubcos that own so many of our best community boozers, to the developers and supermarket chains who prey on these easy targets. And of course the lax planning laws that makes it so easy to convert important community assets like the pub to other use. Thankfully, it's not all bad news though, and there are still plenty of local heroes in the pub trade. People who are that little bit closer to the shop-floor, and therefore still able to appreciate the value of pubs to the individuals and communities they serve. People that have the flair and passion to manage pubs both profitably, and for the good of everyone.

Castle Rock Brewery in Nottingham are pub heroes, and have been instrumental in rescuing numerous pubs from neglect or threat of closure. Born out of the pioneering Tynemill pub chain, itself an early entry in the burgeoning real ale scene of the 90's, their small pub chain was quick to establish itself as a firm favourite with beer drinkers in the East Midlands. This at a time when the beer and pub scene was still largely dominated by the old established regional and national breweries.

My first encounter with the Tynemill chain was on our frequent trips to Loughborough for what seemed at the time a remarkable range of real ales at the classic Swan in the Rushes pub. Tynemill, and latterly Castle Rock Brewery pubs have always majored on good beer, but they also tend to be the kind of traditional multi-room locals that have fallen out of favour with the bigger breweries and pubcos, which makes Castle Rock an important custodians of our vanishing pub heritage.

Castle Rock's latest acquisition is the Cricketers Rest in Kimberley, a north Nottinghamshire village with a proud brewing heritage. The pub stands almost in the shadow of the now defunct Hardys & Hansons brewery, to which many of the pubs locally, the Cricketers included, were formerly tied. Sadly the brewery and its pub estate fell into the hands of Greene King following a management sellout in 2006. The brewery was closed in short order, and almost from day one there has been a steady disposal of the more traditional wet-led locals in the former Hardys & Hansons pub estate.

Sadly, pubs like the Cricketers simply don't fit in with the food and family dining concept which large pubcos lke Greene King see as the future of pubs. A strong local campaign wasn't enough to keep the New White Bull at nearby Giltbrook from being permanently closed by Greene King, and it's easy to see how the Cricketers could have become yet another of the 21-a-week statistic.

The Cricketers Rest is set back from and above the main road through Kimberley, close to the old GNR rail station which served the village before it too was closed in the 60's. The original multi-room interior has been opened out over the years, but there are still three distinct areas. Needless to say the beer range has improved under Castle Rock ownership, and the Cricketers now forms a link in a chain of nearby good beer destinations which include the recently opened Miners Return micropub, and the Stag Inn, both in Kimberley village.
Long Alley Skittles is the local game, and I'm delighted that Castle Rock have retained this traditional East Midlands game at the pub. The Cricketers Rest has a very good quality alley located in the garden to the rear of the pub. The 'frame' (right) is covered, and doubles as a smoking shelter for pub regulars, but the 'Chock Hole' and throw are open to the elements, as indeed they usually are in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Long Alley.

I was lucky enough to chat with a couple of locals when I visited recently, and there are plans to get a team up for competition in the local Border Skittles League. With the recent loss of alleys at the Miners Welfare and New White Bull, the alley at the Cricketers Rest is now one of the last of its kind in the immediate area, so it's great that it will hopefully come back into regular use in the near future at yet another Castle Rock rescue job.