Here we have a unique board the originated in the East End of London.
I am always keen to receive articles from darts players, writers and fans and am happy to share them with visitors to my website and invite their feedback. This time I am thrilled to be able to publish an article about the legendary ‘Fives’ or ‘East End’ dartboard written by Justin Irwin, ‘The Bachelor of Darts’ and reproduced with his permission.
As 2008 ended and 2009 approached Justin’s thoughts turned to darts, that most traditional and popular of all English pub games.
Whilst two World Darts Championships were fought out over a three-week period, London-based Justin sought out the grandfather of the modern dartboard…
It’s January, so darts is back. The plethora of televised darts in late December/early January once again illustrated the two sides of the sport: BDO or PDC, Sky or BBC, Ally Pally or Lakeside, Ted ‘The Count’ or Phil ‘The Power’. In London there are even two different boards to choose from: the familiar ‘Clock’, with its twenty segments, and the lesser-known ‘Fives’ board.
The Fives dart board is a London speciality. Split into just twelve segments, the numbers 20, 15, 10 and 5 each feature three times. The wider sections ought to give more opportunity to hit a maximum ‘180’, but the extremely narrow trebles, and the frighteningly long oche – the area from which the darts are launched – make it altogether a different challenge. At nine feet, the throwing distance is more than a foot further than that used by the Clock board.
With no number 1, the standard dart game of ‘501 up’ is replaced with contests that begin at 505. The two central ‘bullseye’ rings, worth 25 and 50 points each, and a familiar colour scheme, are the only constants on both boards.
Despite its rarity, the Fives – or, as it is known to the rest of the country, ‘East-End’ – board significantly pre-dates the Clock. Darts is thought to have its beginnings in medieval England and France as an indoor version of archery, which, according to Dr. Patrick Chaplin, Britain’s only darts historian, was soon found to be a little too easy. The values of the archery target were therefore transferred into a segmented format, making the game more difficult. With it, the Fives board was born.
The Clock board did not appear until the 1890s, apparently designed by a fairground showman, Brian Gamlin, from Bury, Lancashire. With lower numbers flanking each of the highest (1 and 5 surrounding the 20; 3 and 7 by 19), the new scoring system added a different dimension of skill – and dartboards have ever since remained as integral to fairgrounds as dodgems and helter-skelters.
The new board was well-timed. Within a few years mass-production had begun, and, once brewery-driven pub leagues began to flourish, consistent rules, regulations and equipment had to be agreed. The Clock took a toe-hold in the game, and was chosen for the inaugural and influential News of the World tournament in London in 1927-28. It never looked back.
Regional variations of dart boards were consigned to remaining exactly that. The ‘Log-End’ board – soaked in water overnight to prevent it drying out – retains a presence in Manchester, and the Lincolnshire, Ipswich, Yorkshire, and Kent boards are amongst those which can still be spotted in the occasional local pub.
Those pubs in East London that have retained the local board for the last century show no signs of changing now. But, with darts pubs in the capital disappearing faster than the banshee-like Sid Waddell can scream another ‘one-hundred-and-eighty’, the Fives board is now fighting a different battle to stay in existence.
Finding a board is not getting any easier – this may be just the moment to invest in some tungsten time. If the recent performances of The Machine, The Matador, Silverback and Barney have made you think that darts looks easy, then East London is the place to head. With that longer distance to throw and those narrower doubles, a game on the Fives board is the perfect way to find out if you have a little bit of the Crafty Cockney in you.
Fancy a game of darts on a Fives board? All of the following pubs have an ‘East-End’ board, although with several playing in leagues on both the Fives and the Clock, at some you may have to ask the bar staff to swap boards. Most are involved in darts leagues on several weeknights. All are full of character and characters for an old-fashioned London experience, but, be warned, none are gastropubs. (I have also shown the nearest Docklands Light Railway (DLR) or tube station.)
- Aberfeldy, 6-32 Aberfeldy Street E14; All Saints DLR
- Boleyn Tavern, 1 Barking Rd, E6; Upton Park tube
- Britannia, 185 Bow Common Lane, E3; Mile End tube
- Cubitt Arms, 262 Manchester Road E14 Island Gardens DLR
- Duke of Cumberland, 101, Cumberland Road E13 Plaistow tube
- Ferry House, 26 Ferry Street, E14; Island Gardens DLR
- Lord Cardigan, Cardigan Road E3; Mile End tube
- Palm Tree, Haverfield Road, E3; Mile End tube
- Queens Head, 8 Flamborough Street, E14 Limehouse DLR
- Streeties, 15 Shirley Street E16; Canning Town tube/DLR
- Turners Old Star, 14 Watts Street, E1W; Wapping tube
- Waterman’s Arms, 1 Glenaffric Avenue, E14; IslandGardens DLR
Justin’s book Murder on the Darts Board, about his year as a professional darts player, published in London in 2008 by Portico Books is available from all good bookshops or via www.amazon.co.uk. For Patrick’s review of Murder click here. For more information about Justin visit www.justinirwin.com
© 2008 Justin Irwin
Additional material © 2009 Patrick Chaplin (Updated 2012)
EXCLUSIVE for this website Justin has provided his full list of where the Fives board is played (or where he has been told it is played) in the capital. If any visitor to this website knows of any other hostelries where they still play on the Fives board (or if you have any recorded sightings of the Fives board anywhere else in the country) please e-mail me via my Contact page.
OK, over to Justin:
Where I saw the board in January 2009
- Aberfeldy,26-32 Aberfeldy Street, E14 0NU
- BoleynTavern, 1 Barking Rd, E6 1PW
- Britannia,185 Bow Common Lane, E3 4JJ
- Cubitt Arms, 262 Manchester Road, E14 3HW
- Duke of Cumberland, 101, Cumberland Road, E13 8LS
- Ferry House, 26 Ferry Street, E14 3DT
- Foresters Arms, Abbey Street, E13 8DT
- Lord Cardigan, 112 Anglo Road, E3 5HD
- Palm Tree, Haverfield Road, E3 5BH
- Queens Head, 8 Flamborough Street, E14 7LS
- Streeties, 15 Shirley Street, E16 1HU
- Tooke Arms, 165 West Ferry Road, E14 8NH
- Turners Old Star, 14 Watts Street, E1W 2QS
- Waterman’s Arms, 1 Glenaffric Avenue, E14 3BW
Additional pubs where I was told there is a fives board in January 2009
- Bow Bells,116 Bow Road E3 3AA
- Bubbles Bar (Golden Lion) 343 Barking Road, E13 8EE
- Crown, 667 Commercial Road, E14 7LW
- Eleanor Arms, 460 Old Ford Road, E3 5JP
- Greyhound and Hare, 174 Balaam Street, E13 8RD
- Hammers, 80 High Street South, E6 6ET
- Henley Arms, Albert Road, E16 2JB
- Red House,99 Barking Road, E13 8EQ
- Ruskin Arms, 386, High Street South, E6 6ET
- Short Blue, Bastable Ave, Barking, IG11 0QG
- Thomas Neale, 39 Watney Market, Commercial Road E1 2PP
- Victoria Tavern, 28 High Street, E13 0AJ