Thursday, 28 January 2021

A Compendium of Pub and Games Curiosities - Pt.30

Almost 10 years of exploring, photographing, and writing about traditional pub games has inevitably thrown up a few curiosities and mystery objects along the way. The fact is that despite being the pastime of many thousands of individuals, day-in, day-out for much of our recorded history, games such as Skittles, Shove Ha'penny, and Cribbage have never achieved the prominence that might lead to someone documenting and recording them, at least not to the degree that many of our national sports have been.

With practically every game of any age, there's always a strong element of guesswork about their origins, and in the case of games which are effectively extinct, it can prove all-but impossible to determine the precise rules of play. So it's no surprise that objects turn up from time to time that baffle experts and enthusiasts alike, because more often than not there's no comprehensive written records available, and of course those that might know the game inside-out are often no longer with us to tell the tale.

So I throw these curiosities out to the online world in the hope it might reach that one knowledgeable person with the answer, or perhaps just a theory I haven't thought of yet. I've included a couple of pubs I have photographs of, but not as yet an identity.

Bass in Bottle Scoreboard

A longstanding mystery object, and one that's already featured on this blog without a positive identification. Even the archivist at the National Brewery Museum in Burton-on-Trent was unable to find anything similar in their extensive records. This is from the original 2014 blog post with some minor editing:

Essentially a plain Mahogany box overlaid with a thick silvered copper plate, deeply engraved with an advert for Bass in Bottle. The perplexing aspect of this box is the two sets of drilled holes in the copper plate, 16 in total so presumably designed for two players, or two pairs of players scoring to 8. What appears to be the 'finishing' hole is offset as it is on a standard cribbage score board.

Despite engaging the opinion of experts in the fields of pub games and breweriana, the purpose of this box, and the identity of the game associated with it remains a mystery, though the size of the box suggests it would have housed a pack of Cards or set of Dominoes. The main issue being that the number of holes on the 'scoring board' don't correspond to any game that anyone can think of. I also have my suspicions that this object may have been locally crafted rather than manufactured specifically for the Bass Brewery as an advertising item. Certainly the metal plate appears to be 'correct', perhaps a re-fashioned and cut-down plaque that would have originally been mounted outside a hotel or smart club, but even this is proving difficult to identify. If anyone reading this has seen something similar, or has any idea what game this box might have been used to score, I would be delighted to hear their thoughts.

 Mystery Pub #1

Just a little bit more clarity in this old photo and there would be all the clues needed for a positive ID. What can be discerned for sure is the swinging sign which gives the name as The Swan Hotel. The only part of the wall mounted signs I can make out for sure is that the hotel does 'Teas', and unfortunately the destinations on the road signs are indistinct, though it does appear to have A232 on the left-hand section giving a possible location of Surrey or surrounds. Judging by the motor car out front this could even be pre-war, and if the hotel is still standing it's likely the heavily pollarded tree is now gone.

Lion Ale Chalkboard

This interesting chalkboard was tucked away at the back of an antiques shop in Wisbech, and was subsequently passed on to a breweriana collector at a Tipplefair event we did at Peterborough Beer Festival some years ago. Another item that has foxed the games and breweriana community, it's thought that the Lion Ale branding refers to Mathew Brown's Lion Brewery in Blackburn. So a pub or club scoreboard that's clearly associated with playing cards, but the game it scores remains a mystery. Since this example was sold on, I've seen a couple more identical scoreboards in the antiques trade so perhaps not as rare an item as I initially thought.

Victoria Skittle Club

I've failed to find anything of note about the grandly titled Victoria Skittle Club, other than what can be gleaned from the set of rules themselves. The crucial detail is in Rule 12 which gives the location of the club as being in Leicester but sadly there's no registered address given. A further reading of the rules give some idea of the kind of Skittle Club we're dealing with here. Clearly a gentleman-only club at the time, where 'Gambling, offensive language, and disorderly conduct (are) strictly forbidden'. A club of reasonable standing too given the committee structure and numbers required to invoke a Special Meeting.

So probably not a club for the 'working class' games of Long Alley or Table Skittles. It's more likely that the Victoria Skittle Club would have been a well-appointed indoor alley, either in the style of a nine-pin 'bowling' alley such as the one at the Old Royal Navel College in Greenwich, or an alley for what we now call Old English Skittles. This latter game was once the standard skittles game throughout south-east England and probably as far north as the Midlands, with alleys established in the 'improved' pubs of the time, private members clubs, and sporting establishments. Whilst these skittles clubs were widespread and common (an alley is known to have existed at Melbourne Cricket Club in Australia!), only two such club remains in the capital now.

It's entirely possible that there are records of the Victoria Skittle Club in a dusty archive somewhere, although it's equally likely they would have been disposed of as being entirely unimportant at the dissolution of the club. There may also be clues in the names of the Chairman (Charles Johnson) and Hon Secretary (H W Griffin), who are likely to have been gentlemen of some standing in the local Leicester community.

Mystery Pub #2

Another unknown hostelry, and remarkably another pollarded tree marking the spot. Whilst it's doubtful the tree is still standing, this seems to be a more recent photograph given the cats eyes in the road so hopefully the pub still does. This one is clearly a Courage house, advertising their Alton Ales, Wines & Spirits, so possibly one of the 70-odd former Alton Brewery Co pubs acquired by Courage in 1903. This may put the pub in the Hampshire area, though nothing much else to go on other than the gables which appear to be distinctively curved.

A Shove Ha'penny Curiosity

The classic bar room game of Shove Ha'penny is one that I'm very familiar with, in fact it's one of my favourite pub games. A game that's still played competitively in some parts of the country so the rules are not exactly hard to come by. As it is, I have several books with the rules included, some dating back to the immediate post-war years when the game was very popular.

One curiosity of the game is the single, very occasionally double (as shown here) 'D' zone adjoining the furthest bed. Not all Shove Ha'penny boards have this 'D', indeed most of the modern and earlier manufactured boards omit this feature (Pushpenny boards don't have them either), and yet very many early handmade examples do, but for what purpose I've yet to discover. The board shown here is unusual not only in having a double 'D', but also the corresponding zones at the side for chalking the score of what is effectively an extra two beds to the usual nine. So what was it for? My best guess is that it's a tie-breaker for a drawn game, or possibly used to decide who shoves first, or maybe just an extra bed for expert players to test their accuracy. I've used it occasionally as a 'Trump' bed whereby a coin landing squarely in the 'D' scores to any bed of the players choosing.

Shove Billiards

Shown here is a game that I sadly failed to acquire in an antiques shop near Ely some years ago, the owner was reluctant to part with it to the point of refusing to name a price. He claimed he was keeping it by for a relative who ran a pub, but I doubt it ever made it back into a bar. Now this isn't the only example of this unusual game I've come across. James Masters of Masters Traditional Games has a very good example in his collection, an all wood model featuring the traditional beds of Shove Ha'penny too. The Brunswick Arms in Worcester also has something similar in the game of Shove Snooker, though this is quite a modern example.

A careful examination of the (incomplete) label reveals that the game was called '....-Shuv Billiards' (possibly Penny-Shuv or Ha'penny-Shuv). The thick slab of smooth Slate has four corner 'pocket' depressions, and markings for the position of two discs. These would correspond with the two Cue Balls of Billiards, the single Object Ball would be shuv'd in this case from the bottom edge of the board. The scoring system seems to follow that of Billiards too, and peg holes on the top 'cushion' suggest a 'match' is concluded when the first player wins three games.

Clearly the concept of cannoning coins or tokens to score in the 'pockets' is the basis of the game, with all play from the bottom edge only. So I've a reasonable idea how the game worked, but not how it was actually played? So I'm hoping that someone out there may have their own Shuv or Shove Billiard board, and more importantly, know how to use it.


Of all the medals I have, there are a couple that I would like to know more about. The silver medal shown here is unusual in that it seems to have been presented for what we now know as the game of Old English Skittles. The gentleman depicted looks set to throw what appears to be a large (Lignum Vitae) discus down a short 'alley' at a frame set with large (Hornbeam) skittle pins.

There are literally thousands of medals for the more common versions of the game of skittles, usually showing someone ready to 'bowl' a ball at the pins, or occasionally featuring one of the numerous tables used for the smaller indoor game. This is the only medal I've come across with the oldest of all the skittles games still played competitively, but the mystery is for which competition or league it would have been presented for. The engraved rear of the medal seems to give plenty of clues, and yet what was the I.S.S.C (I.S. Skittles Club?), and indeed what part of it constituted the HODAC Dept when this was presented immediately prior to the second world war?

Another medal which seems to have more than enough information on the reverse for a positive ID is this one for Table Skittles, although even the game depicted is not entirely clear. Whilst the table shown bears a strong resemblance to a Kentish Daddlums Table, it's hard to draw a firm conclusion as these medals are often somewhat generic in subject matter. Nevertheless, it's an interesting medal from the inter-war years, the key to which is surely the S.T.S.T designation which is likely to be the club or league for this Cup Competition

10 Pt 3 Player Mystery Scorer

A pair of scorers

These two scoring boards were spotted at an antiques fair some time ago. Again the scoring numbers, which would seem to go to 24, are perplexing and certainly don't match Cribbage, Dominoes, Crash, or any other Card game I can think of. Each comes with a pair of wooden pegs. Needless to say the dealer had no idea what they were for and neither have I, but I'm sure someone does...

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