History of Darts

History of the Sport of Darts


The History of Dart Forerunner

For those who may have read some of my other dart websites, I realise I have kept the history of the sport concise and only provided the basic framework of the sport with over a hundred of history.

Unfortunately, those seeking information that read 'the history' of darts from many websites tend to find unfounded and blatant mistruths, as many dart website owners and republished details found on the internet haven't been researched. Therefore, because some of the information is so widespread, it must be true, right? Well, no!

Outreach marketers are the biggest cuprite. Outreach marketers write articles for inclusion on websites, usually containing a backlink to one of their client's websites. However, as any true dart fan will know, darts isn't a mainstream sport. Hence, finding good writers in this field can be difficult. Many Outreach Marketers search the internet for source material and use what they find unquestioningly. Some publishers, not knowing better, will publish the articles, thinking this may help their websites when they add to poor editorial content.


Darts History that is NOT History

As mentioned above, there are many unfounded and blatant mistruths about darts. This may be because man has thrown objects ever since they have been able. But here we are talking about a game that later became a recognised sport.

It is said darts date back to the medieval ages. Well, there is no written evidence to confirm it did! Unsubstantiated assumptions have been made within this era, but nothing indicating a game stems from this period to date.

Soldiers/Bowmen used short arrows to throw into a barrel, the barrel cork being the first bullseye! Again, this could be plausible as it fits nicely, but I believe this is an 'old wife's tale'. i.e., nothing to back up the statement exists; therefore, we can not say this is true.

In 1530, Anne Boleyn gave Henry VIII a set of "darts of Biscayan fashion, richly ornamented! These are not darts, as you may know them today. These were weapons thrown from horseback to maim or kill wild boar. It has absolutely nothing to do with the sport of darts.

The detail of Anne Boleyn's gift to Henry VIII has been taken from historical documentation. The darts, approximately 3ft in length, were never intended to be used and never intended for a game that didn't exist at the time.

Henry VIII's darts (thrown spear) may form part of a collection housed at Hampton Court Palace.
Although it is plausible that arrows or crossbow arrows may have been used to throw into a target of some kind, no records of a game exist.

They played darts on the medieval ship Mary Rose, again not darts as a game.

If you want to go back further, soldiers used heavy dart bolts to throw from castle battlements onto their enemy in China. Again, darts, bolts, and arrows have existed for hundreds of years, but used in a game? No records as yet say they were.

It is easy for assumptions to be made and some more plausible than others, but the game of darts, as we know it, stems from a French game called Fléchettes



Darts, known in France as 'Fléchettes' (meaning 'small arrow'), consisted of a short dart thrown into a target with concentric rings. The original darts were made from wood. They had a metal point, and the flights were made from bird feathers, mainly turkey feathers. The concentric ring boards were in the region of 10" round and reflected an arrow target (bow and arrow), but didn't necessarily use the same colour segments that we see on a modern arrow target.

Fléchettes is the first recorded game that we can call darts. However, Dart's historian, Patrick Chaplin, said good evidence supports the English game of darts originated at the fairground. His research says that darts are not unique as other pub games such as Skittles and Aunt Sally also have historical links to the old English fairs (Fayres). It seems these games were popular, and as the fair left town, some of the games or a version of them remained.

The fairground style dartboards were designed to make the game look easier than it actually was to win a prize, so the likelihood that the segment section of the dartboard stems from these early fairground boards in the mid-19th century.


Dr Patrick Chaplin

Dart's history has been studied by many, but only one person is referred to as the 'historian' of the sport. I had the pleasure of knowing Patrick for over twenty years, and I helped publish an earlier version of his website for several years.

Patrick is also referred to as 'Dr Darts', a phrase coined by Bobby George, a darts player and pundit, but later on, Patrick could call himself Dr Darts as he is the only scholar to obtain a PhD for his work on the sport's history. His PhD thesis was later turned into a book: Darts in England 1900-39. Although the book doesn't cover all about darts, it fills in gaps many may not have realised about the sport.
Patrick has also been the writer of a few dart players' autobiographies and books about the game. Although Patrick plays the sport at the pub level, he isn't the man who has played the sport at any higher competitive level. Still, his knowledge is well thought of, and he is the go-to person for any competent media question.

Patrick has a comprehensive website on the sport and regularly produces a newsletter for darts fans. Originally called 'Dr Darts Newsletter, it is now known as 'Darts History'. As Patrick said, the name change was mainly due to the newsletter content. Many write about the modern game and the latest match, but he produces something different.

Patrick, in my view, is keeping the history alive, history that may otherwise be lost.


UK Darts History

It is fair to conclude that darts in the UK came from the fairground. Indeed, the first segmented broads featured on fairground amusements. Before these, the Fléchettes target board with the concentric rings were the only boards known.

Fairground boards varied, making it difficult for punters to win. Variations of these boards found their way into public houses, hence the wide range of boards that featured across the country at the time.
A common question is, who invented the modern numbering system used on dartboards today?

It is true to say the number ring used on the 'standard' dartboard was used well before the treble ring was introduced, and it is a feature on several UK regional dartboards, but not all.


Truth or Myth

One of the UK tabloid Newspapers (The Mirror) asked this question: Who invented the dartboard numbering system? A reply from an expat living in Germany stated that 'Brian Gamlin' from Bury was the person who inverted the order of the numbers we see today. Unfortunately, no evidence was submitted to back up this claim. Hence, Brian Gamlin has always been associated with the dartboard numbering system since then. But who was Brian Gamlin? Did he ever exist, and what was his involvement in the game, if any?

I was born in London but moved to Bury, Lancashire, over thirty years ago. For twenty-plus years, I have delved into darts history, and Brian Gamlin, a name associated with the area, was undoubtedly one of the top questions to investigate.

Research does require some evidence. However, no records of Brian Gamlin could be found. I also requested a local newspaper, 'The Bury Times,' to publish an article to see if anyone knew or was a distant relative of Brain. However, nothing came back. Indeed nothing in the births, marriages and death records can be found. So, does this squash Brian Gamlin as the inverter of the numbering system? Well, maybe not!

Patrick Chaplin theorises that Brian Gambling could have been a traveller and may have been part of one of the fairground stall holders that featured darts. But this is just a theory. Patrick also believes that Thomas William Buckle, a wire and dartboard maker, maybe the more plausible answer to the question.

Thomas William Buckle is recorded as a wire and dartboard maker. He was based in Yorkshire and would have made the Yorkshire dartboard a forerunner of the 'standard' or 'London Clock Dartboard', which most people recognise and play on today. Since there is clear evidence of William and not Brian, it makes this a plausible analogy, but the truth is we don't know the answer to the question.

UK Regional Dartboards

I have graphically reproduced a selection of the UK regional dartboards here. A few are still made and played upon in regions around the UK today. Further details can be found below.
If you are interested in reading the history of the game and later the sport of darts, a copy of Patrick's book covers the early years 1900-39, and Patrick's website covers a lot more from the 1940s to 2000 and beyond



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