IT IS a game that has its origins in Tudor times or possibly even earlier – but though the heyday of shove ha’penny has passed, it has a dedicated following in Newport.
Teams from across the city currently battle it out on Mondays and Thursdays in the city’s Shove Ha’penny Leagues, and Newport has world champion credentials.
So what is the attraction? A group of regulars at the Hand Post pub, on the junction of Risca Road and Bassaleg Road, have recently formed a team to compete in the aforementioned league, and those who want to play darts now have to compete for space with another group of dedicated pub-gamers.
Shove ha’penny is played on a slate or wooden board divided into nine lined-off sections known as beds. Players take it in turns to shove five ha’pennies – old half-pennies, or metal discs – up the board, using the heel of their hand.
Each time a coin lands on a bed, a player gets a point, and the aim is to be the first to land three ha’pennies in each bed.
A simple premise, but difficult in practice, shove ha’penny requires great accuracy, especially as the beds are filled.
If, at the end of a player’s turn, a coin rests in a bed that has already been filled three times, then the other player gets the point, should he or she require it – a rule that can curb a player’s more cavalier instincts.
Though the first season has proved to be something of a baptism of fire, Hand Post team members believe that practice makes perfect, though there is good-natured debate as to whether alcohol can impair or improve one’s game.
Phil Halford used to play shove ha’penny with his father, but until he started up again a couple of months ago, he had not played for some time.
“It’s a bit like what they say about riding a bike – you never forget!” he said.
“There are plenty of boards around Newport, but not many people use them. But it’s a good game.”
Another Newport team, from Ringland Labour Club, boasts a history of world and Welsh champions – John Short and sons Steve, Gary and Paul.
SHOVE ha’penny in its current form is believed to have come into existence in the mid-19th century, but earlier versions are thought to have been played in alehouses in the 15th century or earlier.
Shoffe-grote, slype groat and slide-thrift are among the names for predecessor games, often based on the type of currency in use at the time.
It is a game, too, that boasts a bewildering terminology. In shove ha’penny world, to score with all five ha’pennies in one turn is called a gold watch; a 19, however, is an expression to indicate that a player has not scored with any; meanwhile, a Mary (a Virgin Mary in Isle of Wight shove ha’penny lore) means that one has scored with all five coins but they have not touched each other.