I remember that less than 25 years ago I could play bar billiards at will in the Shelfords. You could have a good game in the Plough Little Shelford, the Defreville Arms Great Shelford, or the Longbow and now there are none. This set me thinking about how and why our traditional pub leisure pursuits have disappeared.
Darts appeared in ancient pubs to hone skills for archery and for years it was the most common sight in an English pub. Back in the early 1960’s when Brownie Boy was a lad he would visit the Square & Compasses Great Shelford with his Dad to witness the vision of naked ladies on the wall, and see the novel sight of instead of splitting the 11 - they would aim for a nipple! Great sport in those days.
About 10 years later, the girls were gone, but I would rush to the pub on a Sunday at noon just to get my name on the chalkboard in the vague hope that I might win a game and stay on to meet someone else. In those days it was like a religion; it didn’t matter if you were a dustman or a doctor, everyone was even in the eyes of darts.
I suspect the advent of food becoming more important was another reason for the demise of our most popular pub sport. There is the odd pub that bucks the trend, and certainly Bryn and the boys in the Queens Head Newton have taken in the evening to a habit of slinging miniature daggers at the wall. It never happens in this particular games room at lunchtimes as it is full of diners, many of them, (in my opinion) too young, but that is another thing altogether! The Queens Head has a veritable assortment of skittles, shuffh’penny and the like and has to be commended.
There is still a chance to “Ring the Bull” at the Blue Ball in Grantchester and the Salisbury Arms in Tenison Road Cambridge, but these are few and far between. To see the licensees John and Karolin at the Blue Ball majestically showing their particular art off in this sport is inspirational in this wonderful old pub. Is there a change in attitude? Or is it just the progression and evolution of pubs that means that certain things will be lost forever?
I recently went up to Durham to work on a project and was challenged to a game of darts. The results were pitiful… hardly surprising when you have not chucked a dart for 15 years! Possibly we should look at this particular part of our heritage and see if it is worth preserving. I hope so, but I suspect it could be down to a thing called age, and with the younger drinkers in pubs, it is possible that traditional games may well have passed them by.