In the past I have been known to write pieces about the origins of specific pub signs and pub games.
Some of my previous efforts which have included the Goat and Compasses, the Twin Foxes and the Bolt-in-Tun; the latter piece later being updated and expanded and included in an edition of At the Sign Of… the journal of the Inn Sign Society.
Each of these signs was unusual and intriguing in their own way and an absolute joy to research. As regards pub games my previous articles have included ‘bumblepuppy’, ‘cork-throwing’ and the London East End Fives dartboard.
A while ago I was reading Scott Cooper’s book Rutland and its Pubs (1986), written when Ruddles was still an independent brewery, noting down points of interest along the way. I am always on the look out for information about pub games which I not only add to my archive but also I pass on to my good friend Arthur R. Taylor (author of Played at the Pub) just in case he hadn’t passed that way before me. I reached page 108 of Cooper’s work and espied mention of ‘the ancient game of gnurdling’ at a pub in Rookery Lane, Stretton.
I discovered that ‘gnurdling’ is just one of many names Arthur has discovered for pub games involving ‘landing a coin or similar object into a hole or target’, possibly the most popular names being ‘toad in the hole’ and ‘pitch penny’. But in Rutland it was called ‘gnurdling’ and Cooper described the method of play as ‘Basically, the players throw metal discs (now old pennies) into a small round hole in a bench seat.’ (Is that it?)
Arthur, as befits his status as the world authority on pub games, tells us more in Played at the Pub:
The target is a 2¼ inch diameter hole cut in a settle with a drawer to catch the coins. As can be seen, [see image © Arthur R. Taylor/English Heritage] the back of the settle is lined with lead, initially there to protect the furniture but in time offering players a useful bouncing board to add an extra dimension to their game.
Rules state that each player has to pitch thirteen ‘gnurdles’, the number thrown in each subsequent round to be reduced by the number of gnurdles previously holed.’
Interestingly Scott Cooper added that the game of gnurdling was ‘freely interspersed with crawling under the feet of drinkers in search of the gnurdles which have gone astray.’
But what was perhaps more surprising for me was the name of the pub in Stretton where Cooper has found gnurdling being played. It was (and still is) called The Jackson-Stops which as far as I am aware is unique. Why was it named thus? Did superstar Michael Jackson call in there on a couple of occasions during a UK tour back in the early-to-mid eighties? Of course not. So why the curious nomenclature?
According to Cooper the pub, in Rookery Lane, Stretton, just off the A1 on the borders of Rutland and Lincolnshire, was previously called the White Horse. When it closed it remained so for ‘an inordinate amount of time’ so long in fact that the local estate agents’ sign affixed to the building ‘usurped the proper inn sign’. Thus it became known as the Jackson-Stops. Surely this must be the only public house to earn its name from that most interesting and popular of occupations.
(I now await visitors to this website to dispute this theory.)
Today (2019) ‘a warm family welcome’ is extended to all by Rob, Mandy and their son Richard at the Jackson-Stops, a Grade II listed building where visitors can enjoy ‘beautiful food in a relaxed setting.’ According to their website it is an ‘ideal place to meet friends and family and enjoy fabulous food which is all locally sourced.’ There is no mention of gnurdling but then many years have elapsed since Scott Cooper gnurdled.
© 2012 Patrick Chaplin
Updated August 2019
Cooper, Scott. Rutland and its Pubs (Stamford: Spiegl Press, 1986) page 108
Taylor, Arthur R. Played at the Pub – The Pub Games of Britain (Swindon: English Heritage, 2009) page 127.