Sunday, 12 February 2017

A Compendium of Pub Games Images - Pt.28


It's perhaps hard for us to imagine just how popular games would have been to pub-goers in the early to mid 20th century. Pub games, alongside singing and performing, and the more prosaic pastimes of drinking and chat, were the cornerstones of what going to your local was all about, and practically all the games associated with the pub were played enthusiastically and competitively by men, and latterly women, in hundreds of local leagues.

A measure of just how widespread this games play was can be gauged by the profuse evidence for leagues which existed throughout the country for everything from Bagatelle to Shove Ha'penny. Almost all of these leagues have now declined or disappeared entirely, with only skittles, Darts, and Pool played at levels which approach their former glory. Brewers and other businesses associated with the pub trade were quick to see the benefits of sponsoring leagues, a symbiotic relationship which continued largely unchanged until the creation of pubcos in the wake of the 1989 Beer Orders, which had the effect of severing the direct relationship most pubs had with their drinks suppliers.
All the skittles medals shown here were for leagues which no longer exist, and sponsored by breweries which are now defunct. Georges' Brewery were based in Bristol, and sponsored an alley skittles league from around the time that this medal was awarded for the knockout competition in 1935. Georges was acquired by Courage in 1961, and the Bath Street brewery closed in 1999.

It's from this era around the war years that most of these silver (sometimes gold) medals date. Post-war austerity led to cheaper, sometimes more practical prizes such as the folding travel clock shown here for the Watney Mann sponsored Northampton (Table) Skittles League. Taunton Brewers Skittles League is still active in Somerset, though no longer sponsored by its namesake.

The Balmoral is a pub that's pretty hard to miss, even amongst the gaudy delights of Leicesters 'Golden Mile'. One of only two pubs on this stretch of Belgrave Gate, it's likely that the Balmoral will not be to everyones taste. It does seem to be a bit of a male preserve for example! But with a recent planning application accepted to develop the pub as a restaurant, it's days as Leicesters last proper Indian locals pub may well be numbered.

As it stands now, the Public Bar would certainly benefit from a sensitive refurbishment, but nevertheless it's a remarkable survivor. The lounge has seen alterations, including the blocking off of the original door from the front lobby, but the public bar is little changed since the pub was built by Ansells Brewery in the 1920's. The bar has a well-used Pool Table and original tables suitable for cards/dominoes, but the biggest gaming interest at the pub these days is when the Indian national cricket team are in action.


Despite Cirencester giving its name to the local skittles league, tracking down a pub with an alley in the upmarket town centre proved difficult when I visited the town recently. The alley at The Wheatsheaf is probably the only one that remains in the very centre of town, and as a consequence it's often busy with league play. A modest Cotswold stone frontage conceals quite a sizeable pub, and a large function room to the rear which also houses the skittle alley.



Two rare and unusual pub games have been squeezed into Worcesters first micropub the Bull Baiters Inn in the suburb of St Johns. Ring The Bull is regarded as being the oldest of all pub games, with perhaps the most famous example at the Old Trip To Jerusalem in Nottigham, one of several pubs claiming to be the oldest in the country. Fittingly, the example at the Bull Baiters is a full bulls head figure, with a choice of two horns to ring.

Below this is a traditional Rings Board, a game that was once reasonably popular and widespread but now confined almost exclusively to parts of Ireland and the Isle of Wight. The presence of these two games should come as no surprise given that the pub is run by the licensee of the nearby Brunswick Arms, a noted collector and enthusiast of traditional pub game.

CardsDominoes and Cribbage Boards for scoring are also available at the bar of the Bull Baiters.
In an attractive Dorset town like Sherborne, it comes as no surprise that most of the pubs have adapted to service the tourist trade, majoring on food for the most part. For more basic beery needs and a more traditional 'pubby' experience, I was directed to the Digby Tap, a backstreet boozer close to the impressive Abbey.

The Digby is a multi-room pub, relatively unspoilt, and regarded as 'the' beer venue in Sherborne by those in the know. A quiet retreat on a weekday afternoon, though I understand the Digby can get quite busy in the evening s and at weekends. There's a Pool Table tucked away from the main seating areas, but I preferred to roll the dice and attempt to Shut The Box with my local pint.

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