Although I have been researching the social and cultural history of darts for over 25 years one of the questions the answer to which eluded me for years was “Who was responsible for the bizarre and irritating order of the numbering of segments on what is recognised today as a ‘standard’ dartboard?”
When beginning my general research in the early 1980s the answer to the question appeared to almost certainly be Brian Gamlin, a 44-year-old journeyman carpenter allegedly from Bury, Lancashire, who, according to Dave Lanning in Leighton Rees – On Darts (1979), invented the numbering in 1896 ‘with the help of three other people’ but died in 1903 ‘before he could patent the idea.’ From then on the story became embellished by author after author and so, like many others, I began to believe it, so I set out on a serious search for Gamlin. The result? By the early 1990s I had found no contemporary mention of him anywhere. Newspapers were bereft of any primary data and even Dave Lanning admitted that his source had been the ‘Old Codgers’ column in a 70s issue of the Daily Mirror. Eventually I wrote the whole thing off as a carefully constructed figment of someone’s imagination. But if Gamlin wasn’t responsible then who was?
The answer lay not in Lancashire but in Yorkshire.
Thomas William Buckle of Dewsbury (pictured), a one-time craftsman, fireman and steeplejack, was also a hobbyist who, during the early years of the twentieth century, made dominoes in his spare time, selling sets to local pubs and clubs in and around the Dewsbury area. By 1910 Buckle had transformed the cellar of his home in Dewsbury into a workshop and it was there, according to his son Thomas Edward, that he converted a London Fives Board (a dartboard with twelve segments all multiples of five and numbered 20, 15, 10, 5, 20, 15, 10, 5, 20, 15, 10, 5) into a more complex twenty-segment dartboard with the numbering (from the top) 20, 1, 18, 4, 13, 6, 10, 15, 2, 17, 3, 19, 7, 16, 8, 11, 14, 9, 12, 5. Buckle’s dartboard included a ring on the outside of the scoring area which had a value of twice the segment and a single bull’s-eye scoring 50 points. Buckle’s invention very soon became popularised in local pubs and spread across the county not surprisingly becoming known as the ‘Yorkshire Board.’
Between 1913 and 1916 Buckle moved from Dewsbury into a workshop in Crown Court, Leeds. He is listed as a ‘wire worker’ in the local Robinson’s trade directory for 1916. By 1938 Robinson’s shows Buckle as a ‘Dartboard Maker.’ The process of construction of the board described to me during an interview with Buckle’s son back in 1992 at his home in Tilbury, Essex, was as follows:
‘A local timber merchant supplied the Dutch Elm boards in ‘raw’ form, 14 ins, 16 ins and 18 ins diameter and 1½ ins thick. All of the wiring, numbering and colouring were undertaken by hand using basic tools. The colours were compiled from powder-based materials, mainly red, yellow and blue, and were water repellent. The numbers themselves were hand-made from 18g wire using pliers adapted to suit the purpose. The wiring of the dartboards [was] also by hand, 20g wire being used for quadrants and 18g for the doubles. Staples were used to fix the wire to the boards.’
In London after the Great War the fives board remained for a short while the dartboard of choice especially in East End pubs (where it can still be occasionally found today) until the Yorkshire Board was imported to the south-east, initially via the coal fields of Kent. Here Buckle’s board was adopted and then it began to move into the capital. (It is still played on today in some areas of Kent but is known as the Kent Doubles board and often coloured black.)
At some time between 1918 and 1924 someone (and, sadly, I have yet to determine who) added the outer bull’s-eye (scoring 25 points) and the treble ring. This ‘Trebles’ or ‘London’ board quickly became popular in pubs in the capital and the Home Counties, so much so that when the National Darts Association (NDA) was formed in London in 1925 they set down the first-ever formal rules and regulations for the game of darts and chose the trebles board as ‘standard’.
So Buckle senior not only gave us the numbering of the dartboard which is now globally accepted as standard but also, unknowingly, gave us the board that (once it had been messed about with by a bunch of southerners) became not only the board most commonly seen in UK public houses but also the national and then the world standard, a format upon which the today’s game and the modern darts industry is based.
Many regional dartboards fell by the wayside as a result of the introduction of the ‘London’ dartboard but the Yorkshire Board held firm well into the 1970s until a goodly number of leagues adopted the ‘London’ board. The main reason for this was because by then it was the dartboard of choice not only of the newly-established British Darts Organisation (BDO) but also of all major darts competitions including the News of the World Individual Darts Championship.
However, whilst other regional boards (such as the Burton board and the Tonbridge Board) are now extinct, Buckle’s Yorkshire Board can still be found in specific areas of Yorkshire. For example, back in the 1970s Timothy Finn in his book Pub Games (1975) ‘reported sightings’ of the Yorkshire Board at The Tempest,Elsack, The Village Inn, Hawnby and The Thorold Arms, Harmstone. Can the board still be found at these pubs? Do these pubs still exist? There must have been many more surely. So what of today? Where are they?
This is where I hope PHS colleagues and visitors to our website come in. I am keen to log the locations of the Yorkshire Board where it is played on as in an organised league or simply as a facility available to all in a local pub. A similar appeal in the Tyke Taverner (the CAMRA magazine for the Bradford area) has already produced some locations where the board is still retained including the Bradford Invitation League whose organiser, Alice Chapman, told me that “no one of our teams would want to play on the trebles board.” The Yorkshire board is also played on in the Dales Darts League in North Yorkshire, participating pubs including the Wellington Inn, Darley, the Drovers Inn, Dallowgill and the Royal Oak, Pateley Bridge.
So, can you help me by telling me of other locations? Please send you responses to me via the PHS Contact page. I look forward to hearing from you.
Dr. Patrick Chaplin
Text ©2012 & 2014 Patrick Chaplin
Dartboard images © Nodor International and reproduced by permission
Image of Buckle © Patrick Chaplin Archive
The original version of this article was published in the PHS Newsletter Winter 2012
What we're doing and when we're doing it. You might even find a date or two for your diary from other like-minded groups. More details can be found by following the link below.
Not sure if you want to be a full member yet? Why not sign up for our occasional newsletter, no obligation, no pressure! More details can be found by following the link below.
Becoming a member of the Pub History Society is a great idea. You'll have access to all of our back issues of our newsletter and even a downloadable bibliography should you need it. More details can be found by following the link below.
The Pub History Society, 15 Hawthorn Rd, Peterborough, PE1 4PA