Played At The Pub – The Pub Games Of Britain By Arthur R. Taylor

Played at the Pub - The Pub Games of Britain
By Arthur R. Taylor

Arthur R. Taylor has been researching pub games for nearly forty years and has recently published his ultimate work on the subject Played at the Pub – The pub games of Britain.

Arthur’s first excursion into pub games publishing was Pub Games (St. Albans: Mayflower Books) in 1976. Sixteen years later ‘son of Pub Games’ was published in the form of The Guinness Book of Traditional Pub Games (Enfield: Guinness Publishing, 1992), a massively expanded and extended version of his earlier book with much more information and many more illustrations and photographs. But Played at the Pub, quite honestly, kicks both of them into a cocked hat.

Over the years Arthur has travelled the land (and other lands too) researching, playing games and expanding his knowledge. After four decades of research into hundreds of pub pastimes he now takes us all on his marvellous journey of discovery.

His subjects range from the immensely popular pandemic game of darts through skittles and quoits, ring games, bowling games, games where you shove something, games where you push something else, games involving throwing, cobbing (that’s clog cobbing of course), spinning and twisting and ends up with the modern craze for pub quizzes and the most recent ‘traditional’ game of dwile flonking. (I had no idea how many different types of skittle games there were/are and Arthur doesn’t think he’s found them all yet.)

Of course of specific interest to visitors to this website will be Chapter Two in which Arthur minutely covers the history and development of the sport of darts which is given pride of place as it is the first pub game examined in detail in his book. Arthur’s coverage of regional dartboards will be of particular interest and I invite everyone to check out these boards and let me know (via my Guest Book) if some of them that appear to have disappeared (such as the Club Board) are still being played on in some hidden corner of the country.

Arthur Taylor covers the whole history of the great sport of darts from its origins to the present day and features an exclusive interview with Stanley Lowy MBE, son of the founder of Unicorn Products, Frank Lowy, which I found totally absorbing. For the darts chapter, as with the rest of the book, the images are of top quality and compliment Arthur’s knowledge perfectly. In my opinion Played in the Pub is worth buying for the darts chapter alone.

There is a very poignant chapter titled ‘Lost games’ where Arthur bemoans the loss of once popular pub pastimes including ‘Knur and Spell’, ‘Nipsy’, ‘Peggy’ and ‘Lawn Billiards’. How I would love for people reading this to tell me that at least some of these games are not lost, not ‘merely resting’ but still being played in some out of the way public houses just waiting to be rediscovered. Talking of lost (or nearly lost) ironically, the book launch for Played at the Pub was held in August at the Freemason’s Arms, Hampstead in the last surviving skittle alley in the capital (see photo).

‘Skittle alley at Freemason’s Arms, Hampstead
‘Skittle alley at Freemason’s Arms, Hampstead; the only surviving alley in the capital’ (Photo: Arthur Taylor)

‘Skittle alley at Freemason’s Arms, Hampstead; the only surviving alley in the capital’ (Photo: Arthur Taylor)

Played at the Pub is a unique work. In it Arthur has preserved for posterity details of numerous games that have now disappeared from pub bars and back yards and rigorously researched many others (still played) so that their true origins (and how to play them) are permanently recorded. Without Arthur’s research much of the information would undoubtedly have been lost. This book, which is lavishly illustrated, is clearly a labour of love but it is also the definitive work on British pub games.

And, by the way, when I wrote ‘ultimate’ earlier in this review I could well be wrong. I understand that Arthur’s research continues apace and that he is currently working on a new book in which he majors on skittles. Perhaps this is the start of a whole new series!

My recommendation then is


Played at the Pub – The pub games of Britain is published by English Heritage (as part of its Played in Britain series, edited by Simon Inglis). It costs £14.99 and is available from all good bookshops and via

© 2009 Patrick Chaplin

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