Edmonton City Dart League Association: History of darts

Darts have been around for a long time. It is one of the oldest established English pub games. It has been around since the 1970s and it has stuck around since then. The simplicity and thrill it brings to players made it one of the most popular sports in the world. But, have you ever wondered how it started? Where did it all begin? 

If you’ve asked yourself the same question then be prepared to have all your queries answered here at Edmonton City Dart League Association. We are an organization dedicated to broadening people’s knowledge of dart and spreading appreciation for this lovely sport. 

Come and join us as we expose everything there is to know about darts. This time, we are going to talk about its history and what occurrence inspired the game.

Did it start as a practice game?

Although darts is a game of accuracy and precision, its history is anything but that. There is a lot of wild and crazy theory about the origin of darts, and some of it isn’t exactly true. As an organization that dedicates our best efforts in darts, we sorted out through the rumours and stories and emerged with the truth. 

If you are as invested in the history of darts as us, then you have just hit the bullseye! Let’s get right on the story behind one of the world’s most popular games and dig in its humble beginnings before it became a hit in the pubs.

It all started in England sometime during the 1500s. The game of darts sprung into the world in the reign of King Henry VIII, and the creation of it isn’t for the same purpose as you are thinking now. It was a complete accident on the part of the king. 

During this period, King Henry believed that the archers in his kingdom would lose their touch without regular practice. Even when there is no threat to the kingdom, he wanted his army to be sharp and ready for anything. To aid his worries, he ordered his archers to practice shooting all year long.

Although archery is a fun and exciting activity, doing it all the time took fun in it for the soldiers, especially since they are aware that there are no enemies to use their skills on. Their attention on practice soon waned and got replaced with the excessive need to quench their boredom. 

From practice, they turned into drinking and hang out sessions. Eventually, a new game was created by the soldiers. 

The popular drinks back then are beer, ale, and wine. All of these alcoholic beverages are stored in wooden barrels that are often stacked together horizontally. For this reason, the barrels present a large circular target on each end. To a bunch of tipsy soldiers who are ordered by their king to practice, this sight made tempting targets. 

The game started with archers throwing the arrow into the barrels using their hands instead of the bow. Soon enough, they realized that the game isn’t just some game of luck, it is a test of skills and strategy as well as accuracy. They then decided that it is a good enough and entertaining practice, so they each developed and refined their techniques. To make it more exciting, they compete with each other on who can streak a hit closest to the centre of the circle. 

But of course, their merriment didn’t last long, a challenge arose in the form of England’s bizarre weather conditions. The days and nights became unbearably cold and wet, playing the game became increasingly unappealing for the men. Since it isn’t as dangerous in their hands as it is with their bows, they decided to move the game in everyone’s favourite meeting place, the pubs. 

Evolving into an indoor sensation

With the weather out of their backs, the soldiers now had to adjust to the narrower and significantly smaller spaces of pubs compared to the training grounds. The regular arrow is too long to use inside a pub, so they decided to cut and shorten it. 

The smaller size improved the accuracy and made it much easier to throw. Moreover, it is safer to use for everyone in the pub compared to standard-sized arrows. The renovation didn’t stop there, the dartboard also went through a radical re-design. From large and bulky barrels, they turned it into flat circular wooden targets. 

Its uniqueness and the thrill it brings made it known throughout the kingdom. The growing popularity of the game began to develop their boards from trees. Something is interesting in making boards from trees. You see, when a tree is cut down, the insides of it has visible rings. These rings became the basis of the original point system in darts!

From being a clever way to practice, it evolved into a game of skills. The players started experimenting and making their own shortened arrows using different designs and forms. They bring these custom-designed arrows to pubs and challenge each other in darts. 

The upper class heard and they want in!

The strange practice grew in popularity and expanded well beyond the soldiers in training. It didn’t take long for the upper class to join in on the fun. Of course, they still have their positions to withhold and so, instead of visiting pubs like everyone, the aristocrats played at home using custom made darts and boards. 

The darts game reached its pinnacle of popularity in 1530 when Anne Boleyn gave an ornate dart set to her husband to be, King Henry VIII. 

It wasn’t just a gift of love from the lady in waiting. It was a calculated and clever gift from an to gain the king’s favour. Who would’ve thought that one dart set could change the course of history forever!

Darts popularity didn’t stop in England, it spread around the world most likely due to the many travellers in England at that time. Most historians believe that the game reached the American shore all aboard the Mayflower in the 1620s. The pilgrims at that time played the game to help pass the time during their long and arduous voyage at sea. 

Keeping scores: How modern dart scoring started

Even though the natural rings in trees provided a good foundation for the scoring system, dart didn’t have a stable scoring until the 1900s. Since the 1800s to 1900s, the rules and regulations in darts are all over the place. It varies from player to player and this often led to fights because of unjust scoring. 

To amend this, an English carpenter named Brian Gamlin from Lancashire invented the dart scoring system that is now used even up to this day. The number 20 is at the very top, then clockwise we have 1, 18, etc. The entire system created by him was designed to penalize inaccurate throws. 

Unfortunately, Gamlin died in 1903 so he didn’t get the chance to patent his idea. However, it still stands as the best numbering system for perfect randomness. 

This fact, however, is not agreed upon by many historians. It isn’t surprising since the guy died in 1903 and there aren’t a lot of records that provide evidence to his existence. Instead of giving Gamlin his due credit, historians pointed out that it was Thomas William Buckle who invented the scoring system of the modern dart game. 

During that time the highest achievement is the bullseye, triples and doubles was later added on to the list. 

From wine barrels to modern dart 

Although Gamlin made a significant change in the game of darts, he wasn’t the only one who got credit for its evolution. There had been other changes in the wine barrel shooting game of the English soldiers. 

During Gamlin’s time, the darts were 4 inches long and it is called a “barrel”. Each barrel has a metal point and feathers on the other side to aid in their flight and replicate arrows. This design, however, was changed by an American in 1898. 

The paper folded dart was invented during that time. It was cheaper and much easier to obtain than feathers. Shortly after its invention, an Englishman patented the first metal barrel. No, each dart in a set can be easily made uniform, which helped in making an accurate shot and a consistent play. 

Dart facts!

Now that we know of its origin, let us indulge you with even more surprising knowledge about darts. Here are some of the things that might interest you: 

  • There was another version of darts called “Puff and dart” It works the same as darts but the barrel is fired using a straw-like shooter. The popularity of this game, however, is short-lived. The reason being an Englishman accidentally swallowed a dart while trying to blow towards the board. 

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