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A Brief History of Darts


A Brief History of Darts!

 A brief history of the modern game of darts




The brief history of darts!

Darts has had lots of references to the medieval times from archers, crossbowmen and spear throwers shortening their weapons into small darts. References to Henry VIII a Tudor King of England receiving a set of ornamented darts for use for games from Anne Boleyn isn’t exactly true. Yes, Henry did receive such a gift however, these were short throwing spears not used for games.


The Medieval Throwing Dart / Spear / Javelin with a Fletch Feather Flight

The medieval ship the Mary Rose has also had references to darts, however, the darts in question here are more like a javelin that had a large feather fletching. All of these were weapons and not used for the games of darts we see today.  Although some may say they could have been shortened to be used in a game this is extremely unlikely as the point on such a throwing weapon was rather large, too large for the spear, dart to be shortened into a dart to be used within a game. The length of these spears, javelins did however vary and the fletching’s seen on the throwing dart is designed to keep the dart true in flight. Hence, should the dart hit the rigging in flight the deflection still kept the dart in its pointed direction. Many of these throwing darts were recovered from Mary Rose and these would have been thrown from the ship at the enemy forces at the time.

The throwing dart in medieval times could be thrown further using a throwing string. A notch at the rear of the spear/dart could accommodate a short string that would be held at one end by the thrower to launch the spear /dart into the air. This gave the thrower approximately 50% further throwing distance.

Medieval Throwing Dart / Fletched Spear


In Tudors times gifts were exchanged at New Year rather than at Christmas. It is documented New Year 1532 – Anne Boleyn gave Henry VIII “an exotic set of richly decorated Pyrenean boar spears” [1]. These have sometimes been misinterpreted as ‘darts’, ‘dartes’ used for a game which is not true.  

Henry VIII Pyrenean boar spears, are spears that would have been thrown from horseback into wild boar or pigs and not used for a target game. Although these shortened spears could kill directly it is more like to injure or create a wound that would not heal rendering the prey into submission.

Shorter weighted spears / weighted darts were also thrown from battlements onto attacking forces. These again would have been either fully cast-iron metal or a cast iron metal tip with a wooden and feather fletched tail like a shorter bow arrow or crossbow bolt but with a much heavier tipped end.


Medieval Dart Weapons

Medieval Weapons, throwing darts, formed point, soldiers and the throwing string

Direct evidence for hand throwing darts into a target for a game or Practice has been hard to find, although we do know archers used a straw or wooden target that featured concentric circles to help improve their accuracy. The same, but smaller wooden target boards used in early throwing dart games and are still made today. It is assumed that darts as a game may have its origins from these times, with the possibility of beer barrels being made into the target as a social bit of entertainment, with bung or cork being used as the main object to hit. This, however, is conjecture and fits nicely into the development of the sport, and we cannot say for sure this was the case.

Shortened bow arrows or crossbow bolts are the most likely forerunner of the modern dart.  However, as a game, darts were first made from wood with a metal point with a fletched feather flight. In some cases, the wooden dart was given extra weight using a lead insert. This made the dart point end heavy or in some cases, a lead/metal strap was added to the barrelled area of the dart. The colour variation in the earlier darts would have been used as a weight indicator as well as just a decorative addition to the wooden dart.

The earliest reference to darts as a game, however, can be traced to France!



Wooden Target Dartboard with Wooden Darts

Although references are made darts first being used from the medieval time when Bowman would use a shorted arrow to use as a throwing arrow into a wooden target the modern game stems from France.

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.

Darts historian Patrick Chaplin said there is good evidence to support the English game of darts originated at the fairground. His research says that darts is not unique in this as other pub games such as Skittles and Aunt Sally also have historic links to the old English fairs (Fayres). It seems these games were popular and as the fair left town, some of the games remained or a version of the games remained.

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


Dart and Target (Puff Darts)

Although no resemblance to the throwing dart game we see today, Puff and Dart was another forerunner of a target sport involving a dart propelled via a blowpipe. This was not only a parlour game (house game) but also mentioned in ’Lawful Games on Licenced Premises’, 1904. The target was a board would have been concentric circles and not the segmented target area we are more used to seeing today.

The board would have been made from softwood and painted with three or four different coloured circles with a bullseye in the centre.

Puff Darts


England Pub Darts

England’s pubs took to darts in a big way and dartboards and games were devised. Each region would have their own board design, however, most had some form of segmented circle target area. In to increase difficulty, additional scoring areas were added notably the double ring which would normally be situated on the perimeter of the circle ring. However, on the Tunbridge dartboard this area scored triple and a different area was used to score doubles! (See regional dartboards section)

The treble ring as we see it today on a modern dartboard was introduced 1920’s, however, it wasn’t an instant success. The dartboard was known as the ‘London’ or ‘Clock’ dartboard. Strange to call it a clock dartboard when it had twenty segmented areas.  The more common dartboard at the time would have been the Yorkshire dartboard. This dartboard consists of twenty scoring areas, a single bullseye and a doubles ring. Why the London dartboard was an instant success is unclear, however, some may have thought a fluky dart could score a lot more than the opponent may have liked but today this board has become standard.

So, a single, double and treble! Why not have a quad scoring area? Well, this has already been done a maximum of a three-dart score of 240! Meaning a 7 dart 501 could be achieved. The dart and dartboard manufacturer Harrow’s introduced such a dartboard. It was known as the Quad 240, sadly no longer made. It did, however, gain some prestige with TV tournaments and some can still be viewed on YouTube.     

(Pictures show an old fairground dartboard)

Old Fairground Dartboard




Some of the regional dartboards both past and present

Regional Dartboard Collection - Copyright David King -Darts01.com NO REPRODUTION PERMITTED

Please do not copy or reproduce images or text on this website. If you like what you see please add a hyper link to the page. Thank you.

Read more about regional dartboards under the Dartboard section of this website.




Dartboard numbers?

A commonly asked question is why are the numbers on a dartboard arranged as they are and who first thought the number sequence up?

I have a page dedicated to this question because it has been a debate for many years. In short two main people feature Brian Gamlin and Thomas William Buckle. Many references give the accreditation to Brian Gamlin who supposedly was a carpenter who lived in Bury, Lancashire in the 19th century. I have lived in this area for over 25 years and done a bit of digging and cannot find any reference or censors naming this man. I even had the local newspaper involved at one point to try and find descendants to no avail. The man cannot be traced.

Thomas William Buckle on the other hand was a wire maker and dartboard maker. He certainly made the Yorkshire dartboard and with some claims from his son he is the more likely candidate for this accolade.

Read more about the Dartboard numbers and if they are set at the optimum positions here.

Picture Thomas William Buckle - Dr Patrick Chaplin Darts Archive - Used with permission


Dartboard Numbers

Thomas William Buckle - Dartboard Maker

Tomas William Buckle

There are also separate sections on regional dartboards and the games that are played on them.

If you want to learn a bit more about darts and flights then explore the website further and here you will find the development of darts and dart flights from feathers, paper, plastic through to other materials such as nylon and modern plastics.

An additional section is also available on the dartboard development from wooden, to sisal and the soft-tip darts.




David King - Darts501.com

Darts the Professional Sport

A Brief Introduction to Professional Darts

In 2001, the BDO introduced a Ladies World Darts Championship, which England's Trina Gulliver MBE won. Trina has won this event for seven consecutive years and made the final yet again in 2008 and 2009 but only to lose to a new up and coming star Anastasia Dobromyslova from Russia in 2008 and Francis Hoenselaar from Holland in 2009. In 2010 Trina again regained the title, beating Rhian Edwards from Wales 2-0. She then repeated this feat in 2011, again beating Rhain Edwards by the same margin 2-0. In 2016 Trina won the World Darts title, making her the most successful ladies darts player in the World, a record-breaking Ten World Titles. Trina has been awarded the MBE for services to darts and charitable fundraising.

In 2008, Ladies dart player Anastasia Dobromyslova moved away from the BDO to the PDC. Anastasia played in a preliminary qualifying round for the PDC World Darts Championship 2009 but lost to Dutchman Remco van Eijden 5 legs to 3. She also tried to qualify for the 2010 championship but failed. Anastasia moved back to the BDO in late 2010 / early 2011, and in 2012 she won BDO / WDF Ladies Worlds Darts Championship for the second time and then again in January 2013.

In 2007, the PDC introduced the first Youth World Championship. Arron Monk won this event, who beat Michael van Gerwen 6 - 4 in the final. However, until 2015, the BDO followed suit and introduced its own Youth World Championship. It was sixteen-year-old Colin Roelofs from the Netherlands became the first victor beating seventeen-year-old Harry Ward from England 3 - 0. Harry, unfortunately, didn't win a single leg in the final. However, I am sure we will see a lot more from all of these youth players in the future.

Lisa Ashton from Lancashire has since been dominant in the ladies game, winning in 2014, 2015, 2017 and again in 2018. However, in 2019 Lisa was sensationally knocked out in the first round by the Japanese soft-tip star, Mikuru Suzuki. Mikuru went on to win the 2019 Lakeside title beating England’s Lorraine Winstanley. Mikuru followed this up by winning the Dutch Open the following month. Mikura retained her title in 2020, gain beating the tournament favourite, Lisa Ashton.

During the 2019 Lakeside World Championships, calls for a significant review of the ladies' prize fund and short match format were called into question. The winning prize for women was just £12,000 compared to the men's £100,000. The chairman of the BDO at the time said this would be reviewed.

2019 also witnessed a number of the top BDO players move to the more lucrative PDC. With a £14M annual prize fund and the BDO contract restrictions taken off, players flocked to win a PDC tour card.

Glen Durrant, who had just won his third consecutive BDO World title, and former BDO No.1 Mark McGeeney, were among the thirty successful players to win a two-year PDC tour card. They were joined by a few others that featured the BDO World Championship event, thus depleting the BDO's main contenders. With the main BDO stars moving to the PDC, the BDO was left with the old ageing guard to re-establish the once firm grip the BDO held in World Darts.

In 2020, with a new chairman on board, Des Jacklin, the BDO moved their world darts championship away from the Lakeside venue to the O2 Arena. The move was not met with overall approval from the loyal BDO darts fans as they decided to not attend in their thousands. The BDO world championship will go down in history for all the wrong reasons. The change of venue and the recent loss of professional darts referees all added to the BDO misery. The promised prize money was slashed, and the conversation turned away from the players and was directed to the chairman. The poor management left the BDO in debt, and the organisation's future in 2020 looked in doubt. Des Jacklin later resigned as chairman but was reinstated following a narrow county representative vote victory. However, Jacklin could not convince all, and there was a challenge to the BDO dominance in the UK. The BDO had lost its status as it didn’t represent a Country within the World Darts Federation (WDF) and lost its vote. The respective organisation had finally lost its support, and in 2020 several challenges were made to take over the running of the Inter-County Championships. The UK Counties voted for a new organisation UK Darts Association to take over the running of the England and Welsh County Leagues. The 2021 British Inter-County Championships will now be known as the UK National League, Premier League, League One, Two, Three ect. The WDF introduced a World Darts Championship and World Masters, the fisrt World Championships again being staged at the Lakeside Country Club in January 2022. The PDC now firmly run the professional side of darts, with more players competing to join each year.

In 2019, John Lowe, the former three-time World Darts Champion, was awarded an MBE in the UK Queens New Year's honours list. John became the second male dart player to be awarded the MBE. The late Eric Bristow was the first recipient in 1989. The only other player to date to receive such an award is Trina Gulliver, the ladies ten-time World Darts Champion.

Dart fans may question the above because Phil Taylor was to receive an MBE in 2001. However, he didn't receive it. The award medal was annulled because he was found guilty of an indecent assault. Taylor denied the charges but had to pay £2,000 as a result of his conviction.

UK Awards given by the Crown are subject to conditions. One condition is a recipient criminal record. Awards issued to others, not necessarily sports stars, that later have been found guilty of a crime also face losing awards and titles issued

In 2010, Russ Strobel submitted to Darts Australia a new recommended dartboard height for Wheelchair users. The height Russ has come up with is 137cm to the centre Bull. The height is based on the perceived origins of the standard hanging height of the standard clock dartboard. It said the average height of a man in the England UK was 5'8" around the 1920s, the height of the centre bullseye of a standard board. Modern adjustments make that 173cm. Russ took this analogy and worked out the height of a man of 5'8" (173cm) be sitting in a wheelchair. His exact figure came out to be 136.5cm. However, as Russ explained, adding 0.5cm would make the recommended wheelchair dartboard height easy to remember, 137cm (wheelchair) - 173cm (Standard). Darts Australia accepted the concept of the new height for Wheelchair uses, and in 2012 it was also accepted by the World Darts Federation. Read more about Disability Darts can is featured on this website.

On this site, you will find a brief history of this intriguing sport along with all the information you will need to set up the dartboard and organise darting events. You can also learn how boards are constructed using sisal (a material used in rope making) and how dart weights, lengths, shafts and flights can alter the dart's flight.

The site also features traditional games played on today's standard dartboards and UK Regional dartboards, the Yorkshire and the Manchester log-end, to name just two. You can download rules and many games from here as well as those all-important checkouts.

You will also find Practice routines to improve your accuracy and scoring consistency, as well as information about maintaining your dartboard and darts. Many dart-related links are also linked to professional dart organisations, manufacturers, suppliers, and professional dart players. My thanks go to them for their help and support in building this site.

I hope you enjoy the website. Your feedback is always welcome, and if you like the site, please inform others.

Darts501 was established in 2004 and from its humble beginnings and a few makeovers, the website has had over well over 14 million viewers, and the increasing trend continues. In 2019 the website attracted a conservative 1.6 million. However, with more people opting not to have their visit to this website recorded by modern browsers and VPN, this figure is vastly undervalued. Thanks to all that visit, and keep calling back to see regular updates.

Darts501 has received many good references from professional players, commentators and other writers of the sport. It has become a resource website professionals recommend to others.

Further research into the sport continues and includes dartboards used across the UK over the past 100 years. The use of darts in war, including the secrete service in MI9





Would you like to learn more about Darts History?

Although I have a brief history of the sport within the history section of the Darts501.com website, if you want to read more about the past 100 plus years and players from the past then take a look at Dr Patrick Chaplin's website where he shares lots of information. However, his books always cover more so I suggest you subscribe to his FREE monthly Dr. Darts’ Newsletter and I am sure you will be kept informed of his latest and potentially last book on the sport.


Dr Patrick Chaplin (Darts Historian)

Dart fans will also be pleased to know that Darts Historian Dr Patrick Chaplin is writing a new book with the working title The Sport of Pints – The People’s History of Darts. It will cover the history of darts in the Second World War and the post-war years, a period that, to date, has hardly been written about: a period about which very little (if anything) is currently available anywhere.

Where this new book will stop is, as yet, unknown.

Patrick has informed subscribers to his ‘Dr Darts Newsletter’ (DDN) that the new book will also cover dart stars of the past such as Jim Pike and Joe Hitchcock whose life stories have never, until now, been properly recorded.

The book was in the planning stages a few years ago and a publisher secured but Patrick had to abandon the project in 2017 due to what became a series of personal tragedies.

This book has been long-awaited by many dart fans interested in the history of the sport, and it follows on from Patrick academic work Darts in England, 1900-39, A social history, the book based on his PhD, which was published in 2009.

Patrick is also Chairman of the Pub History Society and has written two local history books about Langford (Essex) the village in which he was brought up.

Here is a list of Patrick’s past publications which also includes dart players autobiographies and joint ventures with dart stars:

Sole author:

Darts in England, 1900-1939 – A social history (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009. Paperback edition 2012)

The Official Bar Guide to Darts (New York: Puzzlewright Press, 2010) )

180! – Fascinating Darts Facts (Stroud: The History Press, 2012) )

Darts. Skills. Tactics. Techniques. (Ramsbury: The Crowood Press, 2015) )

With John Lowe:

John Lowe – Old Stoneface: The Autobiography of Britain’s Greatest Darts Player (London: John Blake, 2005. Revised paperback edition 2009) )

The Art of Darts – A Masterclass with 3-time World Darts Champion (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2009) )

With Trina Gulliver:

Golden Girl – The Autobiography of the Greatest Ever Ladies Darts Player (London: John Blake, 2008) )

With Bobby George:

Scoring for Show, Doubles for Dough – Bobby George’s Darts Lingo (Clacton-on-Sea: Apex Publishing Ltd., 2011) )


Source Note

1.The Anne Boleyn Files / The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p148


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