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10 traditional pub games we know and love (and some you’ve never heard of too!)

On 20/01/15 by Michelle Elston (The Bath Arms)

The great British pub has been a mainstay of any community throughout the ages. Whether we’re taking dates out to dinner or putting the world to rights over a few good malts, generations of our families have loved and laughed in the oak panelled confines of our beloved locals.

The modern pub might sport a pool table or two, or if you’re lucky perhaps even a crumbling dartboard, but back in the day the pub was very much a place to play. A lack of Sky Sports and fruit machines left patrons looking for things to do, and this led to the establishment of some excellent bar games and sports. Here are some of the pub games that we’ve loved and lost, some of which you might not have heard of at all:
1. Skittles

More familiar to generation Y as ten pin bowling, traditional skittles were often played in the back rooms of pubs around Britain. This game used only 9 skittles and a wooden ball and, although popularised in the 19th century, is still played in some pubs today.
2. Quoits

Played both indoors and outdoors, quoits involves throwing rings onto stakes to score points. Originally the rings would have been horseshoes, although these were later exchanged for hoops made from rope. Modern iterations of this game can still be found in a few dog friendly pubs in Wiltshire, although the hoops and stakes are now manufactured from plastic.
3. Shove Ha’penny

Played in taverns as long ago as the 15th century, shove ha’penny was originally called Shoffe-grote, as they used Edward IV groats. The game involved shoving coins up a board with a goal of landing them in between horizontal lines known as ‘beds’.
4. Backgammon

Still a popular board game today, backgammon boards have been found dating back to Egyptian times, the game being honoured as the oldest board game known to man.
5. Dominoes

It’s not clear how long ago dominoes first started to be played, but it is thought that their origins are based on Chinese dominoes from the 11th century. Many traditional spit and sawdust pubs around the UK still keep dominoes behind the bar so their patrons can while away the hours.
6. Bar billiards

Originally played on the floor in the 14th century, bar billiards are now more commonly played on tables a bit like pool. Each player uses a ball which they try to pass through a hoop known as the ‘port’, and then back to hit a skittle known as the ‘king’.
7. Ringing the Bull

Dating back to the 12th century, this game involved a ring tied to the ceiling and a bull’s horn. Players would attempt to throw the ring over the horn, although later versions of the game used metal hooks instead of actual bull’s horns.
8. Toad in the Hole

Similar in nature to another bar game known as ‘pitch penny’, toad in the hole involves throwing brass discs (the ‘toads’) at a table with a hole in the middle. Usually four toads are thrown per turn, and the player gets two points for a toad in the hole, and one for a toad on the table.
9. Devil among the tailors

This game uses an arrangement of nine miniature skittles (the ‘tailors’) placed in a 3 x 3 square on a purpose made box. At the corner of a box stands a vertical pole, to which a golf ball sized wooden ball (the ‘devil’) is attached by a chain. Players must swing the ball in an arc around the post in an attempt to knock down the pins.
10. Aunt Sally

The original game of Aunt Sally used a figurehead of an old woman with a clay pipe in her mouth. Players would try to break the clay pipe by throwing sticks at the head. Modern iterations of this game can still be found in pubs in Oxfordshire, where the figurine has been replaced with a ball on a stick.

There are many other pub games that may still be played in some locations today, and many more that have been long since forgotten. Why not head to your local pub today and see what games they still offer, or let us know of any games we’ve missed off the list?

The Bath Arms

This list was collated by Michelle Elston at The Bath Arms, a pub with accommodation set in the heart of the Wiltshire countryside near Longleat Safari and Adventure Park!


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