One of the game’s most well-known figures, author Justin Irwin, recently stated that he believes the last game of darts to be played in a London Pub will take place before the sports 100th birthday. How can this be possible?

The game of darts holds a special place in the hearts and minds of the citizens of London, and it also happens to share hundreds of years of history with the ancient city.

Surprisingly, this would not be the first time the game has come close to disappearing from the London pub scene. We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves though; to fully comprehend where the game of darts currently stands we must start at the beginning. So, who invented darts?

Modern darts was invented by a carpenter from Lancashire named Brian Gamlin in 1896. However the history goes back much farther. Darts began as a military pastime originating in England during the medieval era in the first couple of decades of the fourteenth century.

Early Days Of Darts

Darts started by soldiers throwing daggers at targets.

So how old is the game of darts?

The game of darts is about 700 years old, but it has been around in one form or another for a very long time. There are different versions of the story, but most historians agree on a few facts.

First, the development of darts as a game originated in England during the medieval era in the 1300s.

The second fact on which most historical accounts agree on is that darts began as a military pastime.

The tale goes that between battles, bored soldiers would sit in the trenches and compete by throwing spearheads and other sharp objects at the bottoms of upturned wine casks. As a matter of fact, officials encouraged soldiers to partake since it was an effective way to practice their aim and throwing skills.

Naturally, as the pastime spread amongst the rank and file, soldiers began competing in an attempt to prove their mettle. After a while, soldiers moved on from hitting the bottom of upturned wine casks and started using cross-sectioned tree trunks as targets.

At this point the game begged for a consolidation of a consistent rule set and the tree trunk’s natural structure allowed competitors to further demonstrate their skills by providing different sections on which to test their ability further.

As it turns out, the tree trunks own growth rings, and radial cracks offered the first template for the sections that would eventually appear on the sport’s modern-day dart boards.

Darts would progressively change over hundreds of years until the turn of the nineteenth century when it began to approximate the game we all know and love.

From The Royal Courts To The London Pubs

The outside of a Classic Darts Pub

The game of darts grew in popularity at an astonishing rate. This fact should not come as a surprise to anyone who has ever thrown a dart before. Darts is a pure sport with a simple rule set that belies the hidden tactical and mechanical depths found within.

The setup for playing a game of darts is uncomplicated, and anyone regardless of physical shape and fitness levels can jump right in and play a game. These characteristics helped spread the game across the isle of Britain to the point that even the nobility began partaking in it.

A famous anecdote has King Henry VIII playing avidly with a set of exquisitely decorated set of darts gifted to him by his second wife, Anne Boleyn.

If the King of England was playing darts, you could bet that the rest of the nobles took it up as well. A quick and curious side note: Nobles were fond of using smaller-sized darts than the commoners and the soldiers.

The nineteenth century saw the dissemination of numerous versions of the game. At this point, the game had not yet consolidated nor was it organized in any sense of the word.

Various scoring systems were being used across the nation, and no standard rule set had yet emerged. Nevertheless, during the 1800s the game of darts began to gather momentum and reached levels of popularity it had never before achieved.

With this heightened popularity came a wave of innovation and it was at this time that the first numbering systems began to become developed.

The title of the inventor of the modern numbering system has many claimants, and although it is difficult to assess the veracity of all these claims, the consensus is that it wasn’t until the year 1896 that a carpenter from Lancashire named Brian Gamlin invented the number system we now know so well.

The development of the modern numbering system can be attributed with being one of the most impactful changes to the game of darts, and through it, the game gained even more popularity and eventual recognition as a sport.

The modern numbering arrangement around the circumference of the dartboard (starting at the top) is the following:


Standard Dart Board

Although this particular arrangement might seem spitefully random, it is actually a meticulously picked number order that provides the game with incredible depth and a degree of fairness that has benefited it tremendously.

There is a hidden genius behind this particular arrangement that belies its apparent randomness. Through careful consideration, we can quickly observe that numerically close numbers, for example, 20 and 19, are as far as possible from each other.

This design choice drastically reduces the incidence of probable “lucky shots” and dramatically diminishes the element of chance in the game. Skill and accuracy are needed to attain the best scores. In fact, this arrangement can punish inaccurate throws aggressively.

For example, say that you want to hit the high score of 20 and fire a sloppy shot, there is a substantial chance then that you will hit either a 1 or a 5.

Darts In The Twentieth Century

The twentieth century received the game of darts with controversy. Historical records show that in the year 1908 a pub owner in the town of Leeds was taken to court for allowing his customers to play darts in his establishment.

The argument was that darts is a game of chance, which was illegal at the time. The story goes that the pub owner brought in William ‘Bigfoot’ Annakin with a dartboard in hand.

Mr. Annakin was known as the best darts player in town and before several Leeds’s magistrates proceeded to throw and stick three darts in the single 20 segment. When the court clerk was asked to emulate the feat, only one dart stuck to the board. Needless to say that the case was dismissed and the rest is history.

Hope and Anchor Dart Club

Such was the popularity that the game of darts enjoyed during the first decades of the twentieth century that by 1930 the game was played all over England and in Welsh pubs and breweries. All you needed was some darts and a good dart cabinet and you were set.

The first organized championships had begun in the 1920s. The establishment of the National Darts Association took place in 1924. By the year 1939, almost three hundred thousand participants signed up for the yearly News of the World Championship.

The Second World War saw darts achieve an even higher degree of popularity as it was taken up by the troops as a pastime almost emulating the origins of the sport hundreds of years before.

The Navy, Army, and Air Force were issuing darts in their “sports” pack which saw the game being played by soldiers anywhere and anytime they found some respite from the war.

It was during WWII that American soldiers became enamored with the game of darts and began to adopt and disseminate the game in their home country.

Between the decades of the 1950s and the 1960s, the game saw significant levels of participation in organized play across the country. The National Darts Association of Great Britain, which was founded in 1954, took up the task of setting up and organizing leagues at the local and national levels.

Although the game of darts first appeared on television in 1936, it did so to an extremely limited audience; but in the year 1972, the News of the World Individual Darts Championship was broadcast by the Independent Television Authority to a great reception.

By the time the 80s rolled around the world of darts had superstars enjoying celebrated fame and instant recognition on the streets. Names like Lees, Wilson, and Lazarenko became the topic of dinner conversation.

Modern Darts

Person Playing Darts

The first significant organizational split of the sport occurred in 1992 when the British Darts Organization parted with several high-profile players who were unhappy with the way the national championships were being run.

This split resulted in the foundation of the World Darts Council or the Professional Darts Corporation as it is known today.

Both of these organizational bodies have done tremendous work in an attempt to integrate the game of darts into a functional sport. High-caliber competitions are being played yearly, including a World Championship.

The sport of darts is now enjoying incredible popularity; its most prestigious tournaments are broadcast live around the world with sponsorships running million dollar campaigns.

Find out what darts the pros use!

The British Darts Organization boasts 70 member countries and millions of people are playing darts every day; there is even talk of giving darts Olympic status. Without a doubt, the game of darts has come a very long way from its humble medieval beginnings.