Some time during the 19th century the chalk and dartboard replaced the cribbage board as the standard method of scoring a game of darts. Since the early ‘boom’ days of darts in the 1920s inventors have tried all manner of ways of making the job cleaner, faster and more efficient.
From an article first published in Dart World Magazine
Like many a publican, Oliver Hilson was a devotee of darts. As licensee of the City of Hereford public house in Upper St. James’s Street, Kemp Town, Brighton, during the 1920’s and 1930’s, Oliver was very much involved with the game, organising regular matches and arranging darts leagues in the town.
No mean player himself, he was presented with a silver cup by the members of his darts club to commemorate their winning the Section ‘A’ Cup and the Championship Cup in the 1934/35 season of the Tamplins Brighton Dart League.
Born in Brighton on 19 January 1906, Oliver Hilson was more than a popular licensee and more than a good pub darts player. He was also an inventor.
On 3 February 1931 he submitted a patent application for the country’s first automatic scoring machine for darts called ‘The Lightning Scorer’. The patent was accepted on 31 March 1932 and improvements made and patented in February 1935 and September l938.
The scorer was housed in a bakelite case, 14 inches square, and the front panel was divided into two compartments, one for each player. Each compartment had three telephone dials, one for the units, one for the tens and the other for the hundreds. Each also had a window to show the score remaining. The machine was simply set up to show the total target score in each window and after each turn the player dialled his score and that was automatically deducted from the total.
In the mid-1930’s Oliver Hilson and his family moved from Brighton to Hounslow and he began producing the ‘Lightning Scorer’ under the name ”Lightning Automatic Scorer Company”, the machines being manufactured using workshops in both Hounslow and Chiswick..
The scorer was exhibited at the Brewers’ Exhibition in 1938 and on 14th December the Morning Advertiser described the product as ‘popular’, ‘successful’ and ‘foolproof’.
The machine also had the approval of the National Darts Association who declared: ‘The scoreboard as submitted by you was pronounced the most perfect, neatest and easiest to work and understand, that the Executive Council of the National Darts Association have ever viewed. It has the approval and approbation of the said N.D.A. who think it will be a great asset to the game of darts and they compliment the inventor upon his achievement.’
The Darts and Sports Review of 3 December 1938 was as equally enthusiastic about the product stating:
‘We confidently recommend this scorer to licensees, club secretaries and all enthusiasts who are looking for a really practicable, handsome and lasting automatic darts scorer.’
The ‘Lightning Darts Scorer’ sold for fifty shillings each (£2.50) or seventy shillings (£3.50) for the deluxe edition.
The machines were popular and were manufactured by Oliver up to 1939. However, the company was operating at a slight loss and more funding was required for its success so in May 1939 the company was sold and a limited company formed called “Lightning Scorers Limited”. Oliver remained as one of its three directors being personally responsible for ‘manufacture and invention’. He held 240 of the 600 shares issued.
The company accounts for the period 13 February 1939 to 31 May 1940 show that 2,150 scorers had been sold but the company continued to run at a loss. Because of the war it was extremely difficult to obtain the necessary parts for the manufacture of the scorers and this was a major problem for the company.
At the beginning of the war Oliver had volunteered for service and was a member of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, but he wanted to do more than that. He tried to support the Daily Mirror’s ‘Darts Boards for the Troops Fund’ and drafted this advertisement which was headlined ‘OUR HELP THE TROOPS OFFER’.
‘By arrangement with the Daily Mirror Dart Boards for the Troops Fund we will subscribe for one of these dartboards, attached with the name and address of any club or licensed house, who purchase one of our famous “Lightning Automatic Darts Scorers at 55/-…
Here is a chance to help the troops and help yourself. It has been definitely proved that the installation of a Lightning Automatic Darts Scorer will bring you increased business…
Why not purchase a new machine and let us have your old machine for the troops?….’
Helping the troops and helping promote the business. In February 1940 further applications were made for letters patent and this time the machine had only two dials for each player, one for the units and the other a combined dial for the tens and hundreds operated through concentric wheels. It is not known if this revised version was ever manufactured but it is thought unlikely as Oliver died soon after the application was made and the business collapsed.
Owing to the heavy bombing of the Hounslow area Oliver had evacuated his wife and children to the Reading area, two incendiary bombs having previously fallen on their home and caused some damage. Oliver had taken to sleeping regularly in a cupboard under the stairs in order to take shelter from the air raids. Gas from a fractured main (undoubtedly caused by the bombing) leaked into the cupboard and Oliver died in his sleep of carbon monoxide poisoning in October 1940.
The pub that Oliver ran, The City of Hereford, in Brighton, is now long-gone. It was demolished in 1971, after a long battle by customers, whose 380 signature petition failed to sway the planners’ decision. The site was then developed as multi-storey flats.
I am indebted to Oliver Hilson’s son, Professor Barry Hilson, for the information contained in this article and for the illustrations.
© Patrick Chaplin 2007