THE LONDON VARIANT of the game of skittles had nine pins at which was tossed (not rolled) a 10-pound discus-shaped ‘cheese’ made of hardwood. It was once a fairly widespread pub sport, particularly near the docks, but now only survives at the Freemasons Arms in Hampstead.
In 1938 the BBC sent the commentator C.W. Garner to cover a dock workers vs city clerks match at the Talbot House skittle alley in Tower Hill (catalogue number 828219). It’s a noisy event with shouts, cheers and the loud clatter of the pins being felled. At one point Garner comments that scoring a 6 and an 8 is ‘the correct thing for a solicitor’s clerk’ and he uses the term ‘floorer’ to refer to when all the skittles are knocked over in one go. The final score is a victory for the dockers at 128 to the clerks’ 111.
Garner is mentioned in only one or two other catalogue entries, including being the commentator for a darts match in 1937 and, more obscurely, playing the role of claimant in the folk custom of the Dunmow Flitch Trial, still held annually at Great Dunmow in Essex.
He also appeared in a pre-war television program, mentioned in the Radio Times listings for August 25, 1939, in which he described the game of shove ha’penny.
Talbot House was a social centre established by the Toc H charity and had its origins as a soldiers’ club in the First World War. The centre is now no more, but Toc H retains a link with the nearby church of All Hallows by the Tower.
Recording © copyright BBC. Audio digitisation and restoration by the London Sound Survey. Many thanks to BBC Worldwide for granting permission to reproduce this recording here.