Patrick Chaplin: Darts History

The Facts In The Case of 'Bigfoot' Annakin

At the turn of the twentieth century in England darts was in its infancy. (Yes despite wild guesses to the contrary, darts did not start the process of evolution into its present form until the middle to late nineteenth century).

Cribbage board (Crib) and cards Dominoes

However, the attractions of the public house or beerhouse was not merely to play darts, crib or dominoes. Drunkenness was a curse of the working class and men came to the pub not only to imbibe but to gamble away the few pennies they had. Pub games were inextricably linked with gaming – playing for money or money’s worth – and as a result were looked upon by the local authorities, the police and licensing justices as encouraging ‘ne’er do wellism’. To this end the Gaming Acts were clear and records reveal the many hundred of licensees who were brought before the courts to answer charges of allowing gaming on their premises.

In the more enlightened authorities, the playing of games of skill was allowable, provided it was not directly linked with gaming. Darts became more popular during the early Edwardian period and spread from its origins in the south to the Midlands and the North. There some justices found difficulty in determining whether or not darts was a game of chance – and therefore illegal – or a game of skill. Magistrates in Leeds, Yorkshire took up the cudgel. The man credited with taking on the law of the land and winning was William ‘Bigfoot’ Annakin. Standard versions of the Annakin ‘trial’ go something like this:

One day in 1908 William ‘Bigfoot’ Annakin, a Leeds publican, stood before Leeds Magistrates’ Court to answer a charge of allowing a game of chance, namely darts, to be played in his establishment. Annakin duly turned up at Court clutching a Yorkshire Board and needing little encouragement from the officials, set about proving that darts was in fact a game of skill.

He did this by first landing three darts in the single 20 segment. The Magistrate then asked the Clerk of the Court to throw three darts, only one of which actually hit and stayed in the dartboard. Annakin then strode up and thudded three darts out of three into double top. The Magistrate was duly impressed and announced without further evidence that “This is no game of chance. Case dismissed!”

Indeed the facts in the case of William Annakin are never consistent and in fact it would seem that every darts writer who has ever put pen to paper about this important legal case has added a little embellishment of his own.

Here are the facts as revealed by my research.

The man in question, William ‘Bigfoot’ Annakin was not a publican at all. He worked in a forge in the Kirkstall Road, Leeds. Annakin was in fact the best darts and dominoes player in the Adelphi Inn, a beerhouse near to his place of work. When the landlord of the Adelphi, Jim Garside, was summoned to Leeds Magistrates’ Court to answer the charge of allowing a game of chance to be played on his premises, what better tactic than to take along the best darter you know?

Annakin’s grandson revealed to me in 1986 that there was, in fact, little drama in the courtroom. He told me, “My grandfather was not a publican but the best darts player around at the time and the landlord of the Adelphi got him to go to court to prove darts was a game of skill. The J.P’s [Justices of the Peace] asked him to place the darts in selected numbers and he duly obliged, proving it was a game of skill.

One printed version of the court ‘drama’ tells of ‘Bigfoot’ shooting three treble twenties to impress the bench. That indeed would have been impressive as the dartboard Garside would have taken with him was a Yorkshire Board which bore no trebles. (Indeed trebles would not appear on a dartboard until well after the Great War.)

So ‘Bigfoot’ Annakin left his mark on the history of darts. Unfortunately, apart from his grandson’s oral testimony, I am unable to prove that the court case ever took place. There are no newspaper reports of the case in any of the local newspapers published in 1908 and surprisingly the actual records of the Leeds Magistrates Court for the period January 1908 to December 1911 were, unaccountably, lost.

© Patrick Chaplin 2007