One of the earliest recorded darts teams hailed from Grimsby on the North East Lincolnshire coast of England.
During the 1940s the News of the World published a photograph sent in by a reader which featured ‘The Dogger Bank No. 1 Darts Team’ and reference in the piece was made to men who were playing darts on a segmented dartboard as long ago as 1890. Beneath the photograph, which showed the Team of seven smartly turned out and wearing their best bowler hats, was the legend ‘Winners of 2 Silver Cups and Several other Prizes’.
More interesting than the turnout of these Victorian darters is the dartboard they used. It bore no trebles – but that was not in itself unusual. Its uniqueness lay in the fact that its highest scoring segment was Double 28! And, presumably to add to its entertainment value, the game of hoopla can be seen near the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions of the Grimsby Board.
The Dogger Bank was a beerhouse, a one room, men only pub, in Freeman Street in the fishing town of Grimsby, and was situated just around the corner from the famous Grimsby Fish Docks. The landlord at the time the photograph was taken was Francis Dolan, a man in his late twenties who had taken on The Dogger Bank in the late 1880s. There being no dartboard industry as such in those days, landlords relied on the local cottage industry of dartboard makers, men who fashioned boards out of elm or poplar in their garden sheds for beer money. Dolan made dartboards to his own design and specification and it is therefore possible that the Grimsby ‘double 28’ dartboard was unique to the Dogger Bank pub. It must have played havoc with visiting players – a real home advantage – but led to confusion in return for the Dogger Bank team when they played away.
Even more curious than this Grimsby Board is the legend that still exists today in Grimsby that on one occasion Francis Dolan designed and built what must have been the largest functional dartboard ever. With no less than one thousand segments this huge wooden dartboard covered almost the entire surface of one wall of the pub. Before the advent of the bristle dartboard in the 1930s all wooden boards had to be soaked overnight in order to maintain playability but this giant board needed to be constantly ‘in soak’. To effect this, running water was piped to the top of the board by a special device and the water drained away via a zinc tray at the bottom which lead out of the pub door and on to the pavement outside. Certainly the zinc drainage system has been evidenced in use inside the pub for the ‘standard’ Grimsby board but a board with 1,000 segments? That’s surely beyond imagination.
The Dolan family ran the Dogger Bank from the late 1880s to 1953. Shortly after the pub was demolished and with it any evidence of the Dogger Bank No. 1 Team, of Francis Dolan and his amazing dartboards. One rumour remains that, following the closure of the Dogger Bank, some of the silver cups and ‘several other prizes’ found their way to another Grimsby pub. So where are those treasures now?
Original research © 2000 Patrick Chaplin (Minor corrections 2012 & 2019)