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The Skittles Inn bar


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Opened on 8th March 1907, the Skittles Inn was the famous ‘pub with no beer’. Named after the skittles alley in a room at the side, the building was designed by Parker and Unwin to combine the styles of an old English Inn and a Continental Café. Its landlord was the well-known W. G. Furmston, known to many as “Old Bill”.

The Skittles Inn was built ‘to supply meals, literature, rest and social intercourse, principally for working people.’ In addition to the skittle alley, the building offered a bar, reading room with a variety of reading material and a games room. The skittles alley was short-lived, being replaced by a gymnasium and then converted into meeting rooms.

Many societies used these rooms and they were used for strike meetings and at one point was an official labour exchange for a short time.

Although not licensed for the sale of alcohol, the Skittles was licensed for billiards and tobacco. Bill Furmston prided himself on the establishment being what he called a ‘Liberty Hall’ where, despite not selling alcohol, people were not forced into other lifestyle choices such as being non-smokers or vegetarians.

Meals were sold from 6am to 10pm at a cost of 6d. upwards. Drink variety was not lost. There were around 50 types of drink available including apple wine, sarsaparilla and cocoa. A Temperance cider was sold but was then banned by Excise who claimed it had above the 2% alcohol allowed. Bill Furmston had his suspicions about the alcohol content of a ‘Nut-brown barley beer’, which according to one customer looked like beer, smelt like beer, tasted like beer and “titillated the nerves to the point of exhilaration’. He banned said brew but later reinstated it.

Despite not selling alcohol, the Skittles Inn was not trouble-free, though it was minimal. In 1914, about half a dozen people had been black-listed probably for causing trouble asking for alcohol. Some of the characters described as having paid a visit were a man in about 1908 who went in wearing a smock who ‘caused such a sensation’ and a man in a bath towel who was promptly told to leave.
It became The Settlement in 1925.

13th Aug 2009

Art and Design, Citizenship, Design and Technology, Geography, History

Key Stages:
Foundation, Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, Key Stage 4, Key Stage 4+

building, architecture, temperance movement, Letchworth

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