ROARING FIRE, CORK-THROWING AND DEMOLITION
Memories of the Fox and Hounds, Thorpe Audlin
Back in 2009 I was in conversation with a man named Frank Hudson whose grandfather, Frank Martin, was licensee of the Fox and Hounds at Thorpe Audlin, near Pontefract, West Yorkshire from 1950 until 1964. Although our discussions originally centred round a rather unusual pub game played at the pub, it was not long before the conversation broadened out into the history of the pub itself.
But let’s start with the art of cork-throwing.
Frank told me that, during the 1950s, a customer named Freddie Crowcroft, a regular dart-thrower at the pub, was also a master at ‘cork-throwing’. Frank added, “When cash was short Freddie could always keep his thirst slaked though his prowess at cork-throwing.”
Spotting a pause in the conversation that revealed my ignorance of the sport, Frank politely explained, “In case you don’t know what the game entails, we used to throw three bottle corks into a half pint beer glass placed on the floor from the same distance as in darts [usually nine feet]– seven up!” The game brought a great deal of enjoyment for the regulars, being warmed by the fire roaring in the tap-room bar on a cold winter’s night.
Frank continued, “As the corks didn’t have caps and were very light, they were obviously unsuited to achieve a true trajectory. Some cork-throwers held their corks like a dart along the ‘barrel’ – for want of a better word – and others held the two ‘ends’ between finger and thumb, but to me the latter didn’t seem to be as successful as the former. The skill came in being able to hit the lower ‘back’ inside surface of the glass to reduce the velocity which allowed the cork to drop and stay in the glass. If you caught the rim or the bottom of the glass they bounced all over the place: though we were never short of fielders!”
Frank further explained that a fair thrower might take perhaps twenty to twenty-five throws to score the necessary seven points to win, that is one in three or thereabouts. Whitewashing was fairly common, rather like hitting the wire on a dartboard and bouncing out every time. Frank added, “I’ve watched Fred do a seven-cork finish on more than one occasion. In fact, although not very often, I achieved it now and again myself, but I never managed to do it when I was up against him!” The game also had its serious side and Freddie and other the top exponents of cork-throwing often held challenge matches.
As for the Fox and Hounds, Frank informed me that, together with its whitewashed stables and outbuildings, the pub was built in the early 19th century. To this day Frank regrets not having kept an iron mount displaying the date ‘1811’ which was affixed below the eaves to one of the stable walls. He vaguely recalls an old villager mentioning that the pub stood on the site of a much earlier hostelry, but is uncertain about this.
An even bigger regret for Frank is that he has no photographs of either the interior or exterior of the pub. The Fox and Hounds was situated on the old Roman Road seven miles south of Pontefract, in the very heart of Badsworth Hunt country – hence no doubt the origin of its name. Frank consulted the Archivist at the Badsworth Hunt for exterior images but all to no avail.
Frank’s grandfather, Frank Martin, became the landlord of the ‘Old Fox’ in 1950 and remained there for over a decade. Frank Martin had served in both world wars, was a well-known public figure, a local councillor and chairman of governors at a local school. He had been appointed a magistrate and in 1962 was awarded the M.B.E. for his public services in the West Riding. He worked at Frickley Colliery from 1906 to 1960, his colliery work as a checkweighman – a representative elected by coal miners to check the findings of the mine owner’s weighman whose miners are paid by the weight of coal mined – continuing this occupation throughout his life as a publican.
In the early 1960s the owners of the Fox and Hounds, Bentley’s Yorkshire Breweries Ltd., (who were in the throes of being taken over by Whitbread & Co. Ltd.) had decided to demolish then rebuild half a dozen of their old pubs – all of them antiquated and without flush toilets. This half a dozen included the Fox and Hounds.
The Martin family took three or four days to move in stages into the new Fox – which was only a few yards away from the old pub – completing the move on the 9th November, just twenty four hours before the old Fox was demolished. It took less than half a day for the old Fox to be razed to the ground. The team of demolition contractors appeared on 10th November and within two hours turned the old Fox and Hounds into a pile of rubble.
Returning from Pontefract later that day, Frank Martin was furious when he learned that not even one photograph of the exterior of the old Fox been taken beforehand.
The new Fox and Hounds opened its doors on 11th November, Armistice Day, 1962. Frank Hudson told me, “My grandfather stayed on as licensee in the new Fox for a further two years until late 1964 when Whitbread’s became more involved – behind the scenes that is – in the decision making at Bentleys Yorkshire Brewery, even though the formal take-over would not take place until 1968. Grandfather ‘retired’ – for want of a better word – and an ex-jockey, Cyril Rowley, took over as landlord.”
There are a few issues here that I am hoping visitors to my website might be able to help resolve. Firstly, does anyone know if another hostelry stood on the same site as the Fox and Hounds pre-1811? Secondly, has anyone a photograph of either the interior or exterior of the pub any time before it was demolished? Thirdly, has anyone any record of the genteel art of cork-throwing being played in pubs in West Yorkshire or elsewhere? Please send any information you can provide to me via my contacts page. Click here. Many thanks.
Frank Hudson paid a visit in 2009 to the ‘new’ Fox. He told me, “ I called in for the first time in years and had a meal – seems a bit silly calling it ‘new’ now it’s approaching its half century. The place had been extended and re-vamped and there were photos of groups of people from years gone by hanging on the walls – no doubt purporting to be of the pub regulars from way back. I had to smile, because I’ve got two paperback books of country scenes of old England and they are all in it – most of them from the southern counties – but not one from the Pontefract area and certainly none of the old Fox regulars!”
For an independent assessment of the ‘new’ Fox and Hounds, hearken to the words of ‘Kathleen C’ of Leeds who also visited the pub recently. She subsequently left the following (unedited) message on www.bview.co.uk/c/Pubs/PONTEFRACT :
Pros – A nice sized, family pub with a traditional feel to it. Specialises in decent pub grub. Definately a place to take your parents. I went here for dinner with my dad and we had steak, chips and veg. Very nice it was too. The drinks are very nice, and the range is large.
Decor wise it is a very traditional, with dark woods, red upholstery and pictures on the walls, with plenty of low lights. It is very comfortable. It is clean, and the staff are very friendly. Parking is free, which is another good thing, and I would happily come here again with my family.
Cons – Not really a ‘date’ place – more a family dinner place. Is kinda in the middle of no-where – unless you live in the very small Thorpe Audlin, you really do need a car, as the buses are one an hour, to a stop at least 15 mins from the pub.
‘Free parking’ at the pub! Whatever next? And I don’t like the sound of that red upholstery: it brings back memories of ‘Grotneys’.
Funny there’s no mention of any up-and-coming cork-throwing tournament.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Those comments, and this article, were written over a decade ago so are only applicable to that time past. I am absoutely sure things have changed at the Fox since then.
© 2009-2010 Patrick Chaplin (Updated 2019)
The original version of this article appeared in the Pub History Society’s Newsletter Spring 2009. For further details about the PHS and how to join the Society please check out www.pubhistorysociety.co.uk.