The game of Bat & Trap is almost solely played in the county of Kent and before the Covid restrictions came into force it remained a popular pastime. The Canterbury & District League are fast approaching their centenary year and press officer Jakey Janes - born and bred in the city - has given a little insight into the popular pub sport.
WHEN DID YOU START?
I started playing in 1985 and am in the process of writing a book on Bat & Trap. My team, Gentil Knyght B, has won every trophy going and we have always been up there, but the Artichoke are probably the best in the league at the moment.
The Gentil Knyght has been flattened now but as kids we used to climb the wall and watch them playing so the sport was installed in me from an early age. Once I started getting into the pub at the age of 16 that is where the doors opened. I played pool, darts and bat & trap. It beats sitting indoors.
What I enjoy is being with your mates, going out midweek and having a few drinks. There isn’t a great deal of exercise involved, the most you have to do is going to the bar to get a pint!
HOW DO YOU PLAY IT?
It is eight-a-side in our league but you could play with any amount of players really. One side bats and one side bowls, you toss a coin to see who bats first.
The batsman starts by putting the ball in the trap. You hit the back of the spoon (on the trap) with the bat and that throws the ball in the air, then with the same bat you aim to hit that ball between two posts. If you don’t hit it between the posts you are out, if you don’t reach the line you are out and the bowling team can also catch you, providing they have one foot behind the line (between the posts). Also if you knock it too high - seven foot - you are also out.
The distance is 22 yards - it used to be 21 yards, the same as a cricket crease, but that got lowered in Canterbury because a few teams were slightly under so they reduced it for all. The bowling team then take it in turns to throw the ball back down and attempt to hit the hinged flap infront of the trap. If that goes down you are out.
Each time it comes back down that is one run and the batsman stays in until someone hits the flap. You don’t actually have to run anywhere and it can be played for all ages. It is a team game but also an individual game because nobody actually passes you the ball.
IS IT STILL POPULAR?
We used to have eight divisions with 10 in a team and that was the maximum we could run at as a league. If your pitch wasn’t up to scratch you would be kicked out of the league and there would be a new team waiting to come in.
We still have a lot of friendly rivalry, some good banter. It is a pub sport but unlike darts and pool you are outside, it’s played in the summer and you are in different gardens and it is not just restricted to Canterbury, we go to Whitstable, Herne Bay and Chartham and Faversham. We play the Sevenoaks champions in the annual Kent Cup and we also have the Invicta Cup against the Medway champions.
Pre-lockdown we had 31 teams in the Canterbury & District League and 96 in the whole of Kent, in the various leagues. The league in Canterbury has been going since 1922.
The best pitch I would say is the Smugglers Inn, Herne but the best venue is probably the Golden Lion in Broad Oak, they have two pitches and also the Market Inn, Faversham where they have two pitches and covered sheds for the bowlers. In 1951 the Canterbury & District Bat & Trap League was the first in the country to make all teams have floodlights, even before the Football League.
WAS THERE A WORLD CUP?
The World Cup was set up between all of the leagues in Kent and we all met in Maidstone. We changed the name because of sponsorship to the Charity Cup.
I did attempt to get towns that were twinned with those in Kent to get involved and went to Reims and their council offices. I had my Canterbury rugby top on and was looking for a twinning sign but couldn’t find one!
We only recently had someone in America who used to live in Kent ask to buy a trap. Last year someone in Australia wanted the dimensions and he has built the trap and is keen for an Ashes tour. We did have a group of Australians who drank in the Gentil Knyght and we once burnt a bat and put it in a pot and played them in 2005. England won it.
We have had contact from a Spanish man in Bilbao who wanted to join our league with a group of lads who wanted to play. I know the Faversham Darts League play virtually but I am not sure it would work for bat & trap!
HOW MUCH SKILL?
You need an eye for the ball above everything else, for when the ball is coming off the trap and then when you are bowling underarm, if you look low enough you can see if a pitch has bumps in it.
There was a man called Cecil Gower and in the 50s the Brewer’s Delight were the first team to do the treble and that pub was good at all sports, football, darts, the lot. He used to inspect the pitches and make sure they were immaculate. He was the main man in the 50s and was known as the ‘grand old man of bat and trap’.
PLAYING OUTSIDE OF KENT
It is traditionally played in East Sussex in Brighton every Good Friday on a place called The Level. There has been similar sports played, like a northern game called Knurr and Spell. It is also played with a trap.
The league in Canterbury was formed in 1922 and after that there was a ladies league and other leagues around Kent were formed. The game has been played for a long time though. There is a tapestry with a boy playing bat and trap dated from the 13th century.
THE IMPACT OF COVID
We have had to stop play during Covid and it has been tough because we only play in licensed premises but during the Second World War play continued and they had to adapt the rules to take into account any potential air raids. If there was a raid the game would be abandoned and it would be scored one-all.
Some of the soldiers who came back from the First World War found the sport good if they had been maimed because you play it with just one arm.
Hopefully we can start playing again in June but we will have to wait and see because it wouldn’t work when it’s limited to groups of six. Some of the smaller gardens had to use their pitches to help keep the distance and utilise what space they have so I am not sure the pitches will be up to much this season.
We are looking at restarting in June and we are already having meetings to discuss restarting. We will have to wait and see what teams want to play so we may just play cup games to start with. We just hope that no pubs have to shut.
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