Updated 4nd January 2018

Clutton Social Club

Merry christmas and a happy new year to all our members and friends

History of the game

The game shares its ancestry with the outdoor lawn game known as bowls and is thus distantly related to billiard sports, some of which also retain the use of skittles. The skittle dates to the earliest known forms of bowling and ground billiards, even as far back as 3300 BC in Ancient Egypt.

Game play

Skittles is usually played indoors on a alley, with one or more heavy balls, usually spherical but sometimes oblate, and several (most commonly nine) skittles, or small bowling pins. The general object of the game is to use the ball(s) to knock over the skittles, either specific ones or all of them, depending upon game variant. Exact rules vary widely on a regional basis.

Rules variants 

Front pin first 

In this variant of the game, pins are only counted if the front pin is knocked over first. If the front pin is missed, any pins that are knocked over are not reset. In Devon Summer League, this rule is played frequently. In Bristol, this is the form of the game played and "all in" skittles tends to be looked down upon as involving less skill. In Worcestershire this type of game is also known as king pin.


In this variant of the game, the player has to nominate the pin that will be hit first before the throw. Unless this pin is knocked over the player will not score. The names given to the pins may vary from region to region, in Wiltshire they are usually referred to as "front pin", "front right quarter", "front left quarter", "outside right" (or "right winger"), "centre pin", "outside left" (or "left winger"), "back right quarter", "back left quarter", and "back pin".Four-pinsIn this variant of the game, only four pins (the two coppers, the front and back pins) are put up and must be hit with the front pin first. It is often used in conjunction with nomination as well. Currently used in North Somerset Cup games.

London Bridge


A variant of nomination but with only the landlord and two coppers set up, i.e. one has to hit a pin with each ball and nominate which one each time.

Killer or German skittles


A game for any number of people. Each starts with 3 lives. Each bowls only one ball at a time. The first bowls at a full frame and the skittles are not stuck up until all nine are hit down. Each time a player fails to hit a single pin (but they can hit as many as they like), he or she loses a life. The winner is the last one left with a life intact. Usually played for money, e.g. £1 or 50p a game each player - the winner takes the pot. Found in the Somerset and Bristol areas.

Six-ball Westbury 

Another game for any number of people. Each player has one hand of 6 balls at a full frame. If all nine pins are knocked down within the hand then they are reset, meaning that a player may score anywhere between 0 and 54. The winner is the player with the highest score. Similar to killer in that it is usually played for money with the winner taking the pot.

Regional variations

Greater London

Also known as nine-pins, the Greater London version uses 9 pins (made of hornbeam) and a cheese. The cheese is thrown at the pins using a swinging motion whilst stepping forwards. After an initial throw, the remaining pins (the 'broken frame') may end up in a variety of formations - each of which has a distinctive (and usually London-based) name, such as a London Bridge or a Portsmouth Road. Knocking down all the pins at once is known as a 'floorer' and is highly respected. A player who manages to throw three floorers in succession is lauded.

While it was once a popular game played in pubs all over London (generally sited by the Thames river), it is now only played at two venues: one in Hampstead and one inNorbury. The origins of this skittles game are vague, but it is thought by some to have been started by Dutch sailors, possibly playing on the decks of moored barges.


In the Sarnia Skittles League of Guernsey,[1] the teams are made up of 6 players playing 6 legs of three balls. Currently there are 3 leagues of 9 teams and each Team plays the others 3 times during the season. Season runs from September to April.


In the Tewkesbury and District Skittles League[2] teams consist of 10 players playing 8 hands each. The league runs from early September through to the following April. The league was formed in September 1960. Each game has 10 points available with two points available for the first, second and third leg with another four for the match result. The highest ever individual score is 98 scored by Richard Booth for the Wye Emms team at Champagne Charlies on 15 March 2010.

In the Stroud and District Skittle League,[3] teams are made up of 10 players (Men's Sections) each having 8 hands of 3 balls. In the Ladies Sections each team consists of 8 players each having 10 hands of 3 balls. Games are played in two equal halves. The league runs from early September through to the following May.

In the Cheltenham Skittles League,[4] skittles is played with either a team of 12 (winter skittles) or 6 (summer skittles). Each player plays 6 hands of 3 balls. However, in Gloucester, the players play 10 hands of 3 balls, and a team is made up of 10 players.

The Berkeley and District Skittles League[5] was formed in 1957 and has in excess of 100 teams playing in 7 divisions in a geographical area of around 8 miles in diameter in the southern end of the county. Teams are made up of 8 players and each player bowls 8 hands of 3 balls. The pins (skittles) used in the League vary in size, but are between 9 and 10 inches high and between 4 and 5 inches in diameter at the widest (centre) point and are either made of wood (traditionally sycamore or beech) or plastic. Balls are between 4½ to 5 inches in diameter and again are either made of wood (lignum vitae) or a composite rubber. Alleys, on which games are played, are between 30 and 55 feet in length and are generally of a wooden construction, although one alley is linoleum over a concrete base. The League runs from September through to the following April.

In the Cirencester & District Men's Skittle League,[6] teams are made up of 9 players each having 6 hands of 3 balls. The league runs from early September through to the following May


In the Hereford & District Invitation Skittle League,[7] skittles is played with either a team of 12 (winter skittles) or 6 (summer skittles). In the Winter league each player plays four hands of three balls, and in the Summer League they play six hands of three balls. The winter league comprises 70 teams competing in five divisions, five cups competitions (KO, Front Pin, Man v Man, Champion of Champions, and Charity eight-a-side) and also singles and pairs competitions.


In the Devizes Skittles League,[8] skittles is played with a team of 9 players. Each player plays 4 'legs' of 3 balls. The league runs from August to April.

The Malmesbury and District League[9] is played with nine players per team, divided into three legs. Each player has six goes with three balls. Two points are awarded for each winning leg, and a further four points are awarded to the overall winning team, so ten points are available per game. Games typically last around 1 hour 40 minutes and are played Tuesday to Friday. This is one of the larger leagues in the area with 95 teams playing on 20 different alleys within a ten mile radius of Malmesbury Abbey. The league begins in September and concludes in April, although various cup matches occur in August and April.

The Swindon & District Friday Skittles League is played with twelve players per team, divided into four "legs" hence each is called a HORSE - (because a horse has four legs). Points are awarded thus - 2pts per Horse, plus 6pts for winning. There are currently 36 teams in three sections. The league runs from September to June. There are Cup Knockout Competitions throughout the season.

The top player with the average highest score is an Andrew Huntley of Devizes, Wiltshire.

Somerset and Bristol

The rules and team formats of "Somerset" skittles vary. Major skittles areas include Bridgwater, Wells, Yeovil, Taunton, Weston Super Mare, and Burnham-on-Sea. Bristol is also included in the "Somerset" skittles "set". Depending on where the leagues play, there may be 6 players per side (normally in summer leagues), or 8 per side (winter). There are mixed leagues (males and females in each team) and there are all male leagues and all female leagues. In 2008, the new "Huntspill & Highbridge league, possibly for the first time anywhere, started a league consisting

Traditionally, Somerset skittles uses wooden balls (made from apple wood or similar) and wooden pins. Times have changed and for various reasons, some alleys now use composite rubber balls and nylon pins.

In North Somerset, teams are of 12 (winter leagues) and 9 (summer leagues). Players may be organised in sets of 3 or 4 (teams of 12 only, obviously).[10]

Bristol alleys have, in the past been known for their "camber". Some alleys were (and still are) raised in the middle, making bowling an accurate art.

Some Bristol rules and terms:

Pin diamondThe pins are laid out in a diamond or 'frame', the lead or 'front' pin and behind it the middle or 'fat Annie' which is slightly wider at the girth than the rest of the pins, and the back pin- identical to the front pin. On each shoulder of the front pin are the 'quarters'- left and right, front and back. On the shoulder of the quarters are the outside 'copper' pins, left and right. In Bristol skittles, the front pin and the back pin are painted with a red band, top and bottom. The quarter pins are painted with a white band, top and bottom and the middle pin a single red band around the girth. The coppers are unpainted. There is enough of a gap between all the pins for the balls to pass through without knocking anything down.Pins vary hugely in size from team to team, league to league, but in Bristol skittles all are symmetrical and wider around the middle. Usually in the higher leagues the pins are much narrower and conversely in the lower leagues the pins wider, although not always the case.Cush pinIn Bristol skittles at least if a falling pin hits the side wall and rebounds back into the 'frame' taking down another pin(s) this is called a cush pin. It is left to the alley or home team to decide whether cush pins count towards the total scored or whether the frame needs to be reset, and should be published on the score board prior to play. However if a ball leaves the diamond and bounces back before felling pins the frame must be reset.Front first or All-in?Skittles is played either front first or all-in. I.e., in all-in skittles each and every pin that is felled counts towards the total scored. In front first skittles, the front pin must be felled before any score is recorded. In other words, in a worst case scenario, should one fell all pins except the front pin with one's first two balls (of three), the maximum score that one could record for that 'up' can only be 1 pin.DuckIn front first skittles the dreaded duck comes into play more often than in all-in skittles. This is where the front pin remains standing after one's 'up' despite any other pins being felled. This 'up' is recorded as a 'duck' or zero score towards one's total and is usually marked with a cross or an asterisk. Finishing a game with only ducks recorded is considered a big faux-pas!Old MarketIn Bristol skittles, this is the felling of the front pin, the middle pin and the back pin with one ball and is considered slightly bad luck because the remaining frame of pins offers less chance for a decent frame score with the middle column of pins felled. The term Old Market is thought to refer to the road Old Market Street in central Bristol, where the road is wide and straight and cuts a swathe through the densely-populated buildings.SpareA spare is scored when all pins are felled by the first one or two balls. In such a case the frame is reset and the player continues until all three balls have been rolled. The maximum score in a 9-pin frame is therefore 27, although this is extremely rare if not unheard of. On some alleys a 12-spare is not uncommon. Once the front has been felled the front pin of the reset frame does not need to be hit again.


Worcestershire Rules Variations

The Alley, Pin diamond, Pins and Balls.

As with all variations of skittles the pins are laid out in a diamond and played on an alley, with the pins placed on painted squares known as plates. In the Worcestershire Leagues there is no set measurement for this, instead the size of the diamond should be 'not less than 3 ft 10in and no greater than 4 ft 2in'.[11] The pins and balls are known as the 'Kit' and the balls should be made of Wood, Tufnol or Rubber and 'must not exceed five and a quarter inches in diameter and no less than four and three quarter inches in diameter'.[11] Despite guidelines for the diamond and balls there is no uniform size of pin needing only 'to be uniform size and painted white, one and a half inches around the top.[11]

The Alley itself should be 'clean and well lit, with a bowling line approximately 33 ft to the front pin of the diamond'.[11] However this rule is not strictly enforced with some alleys being shorter than others. The Alley itself can be either Lino or Wood.

The front pin is known as the 'King' and is painted with a white, one and a half inch wide vertical stripe. The two pins to either side are known as the 'Quarter pins' and are marked with either a triangle or the numbers 1 and 2, in order to identify them. Traditionally the 'King' is the heaviest pin, with the 'Quarters' being heavier than the rest of the pins but not heavier than the 'King'. Directly behind the 'King' is the middle pin which is known as the 'Birdie', as the other pins form a 'cage' around it. The back pin sits directly behind the 'Birdie', the 'Back quarters' directly behind the 'Quarter' pins, and the 'Wingers' on the outside of the diamond. The 'Birdie', 'Back Quarters', 'Back Pin' and 'Wingers' are non-specific pins and are not marked so any of the six unmarked pins can be placed on any of the six plates.

Because of the lack of guidelines on pin size, the pins themselves vary in size. this leads to some 'Kits' being higher scoring than others and some alleys being higher scoring than others, due to variations in length and diamond size

Scoring pins

All balls must touch the Alley before the 'Line' to be deemed as legal. However the 'Linesman' (a member of the opposing team who sits and watches the line) must call 'Over' before the ball strikes a pin. If he fails to do this the pins felled will count. In Worcester skittles all pins are live until they land in the pit behind the diamond, or leave the alley on an open side. They can rebound off a side wall back into the diamond taking down other pin(s). In some alleys, such as the Saracens Head in Worcester, the Diamond is flanked by two side walls making the possibility of a spare, achieved by bouncing pins off the wall more of a possibility. It is more than common to hear the cries of 'let it roll' go out in the alleys of the city to stop an over enthusiastic 'sticker up' (a young lad or girl employed to put the pins back up after they have been knocked down) removing a pin from the alley before it has finished knocking down the others. However if a ball hits the cush, or wall or passes through the diamond and bounces back out of the pit before felling pins the frame must be reset.

Spiders and Spares

A Player scoring no pins after bowling three balls in the leg is known as scoring a 'Spider'. A spider is recorded by drawing legs and a face onto the zero on the board and is greeted with delight when the opposing team returns to the alley. A 'Spare' where the pins are reset after being felled with balls to spare is denoted on the board by a circle drawn around the score. This is not greeted so favourably. The maximum score in a 9-pin frame is 27, however this is virtually unheard of, the highest spare in the history of the Worcester and District was thought to be a 24 scored by Gary Sandbrook whilst playing for the Independents Skittle team in the early 1990s. Spares are not uncommon however, and a good score in the Worcester game is 40 plus.

Sorce Wikipedia 2013