Before the advent of the National Health Service after the Second World War hospitals existed primarily for the poor and were supported financially by philanthropists or those with money and a social conscience.
The problem was that, by the end of the nineteenth century, there were so many hospitals competing for benefactors that the institutions themselves had to be extremely imaginative in the schemes they employed to attract financial aid. Most hospitals paid a fund-raiser and often established an Appeals Committee striving to raise money to meet ever-increasing costs. During the years between the two world wars demand for hospital treatment increased, medical costs were escalating and many hospitals had run into financial difficulties. The ideas coming from an hospital’s Appeals Committee had to be something special and no less so than in the case of the London Fever Hospital.
Basing its concept on the current ‘craze’ of darts, in March 1938, the Committee launched ‘The £oyal Society of Dartsmen’. For the princely sum of one shilling (that’s 5p to the those born post-1971) subscribers gained membership to the £.s.d.; the initials of the Society were drawn from the English currency of the time – Pounds (£), shillings (s.) and pence (d)’. All members received a ‘Dartsport’ (a humorous rule book in the shape of a passport) and a society badge. The motto, ‘Alms for the Love of Arrow’ might not be politically correct today but in 1938 people didn’t seem to be so concerned about such things and anyway the motto reflected exactly the society’s purpose – to raise funds from darts.
Inside the ‘dartsport’ was a declaration which read
‘We, The Darter King at Alms, member of the Supreme Dart Board, member of the Public Bar and Principal Secretary of Darts Affairs, give notice that the bearer of this Dartsport having paid all dues, fees, taxes, tolls, grafts, subs, bribes, contributions and other assessments (to wit 1/- plus ….. for visas) has this day been admitted a member of the £oyal Society of Dartsmen.
We, therefore, require, command, request and urge all whom it may or may not concern to, permit, assist and even encourage the said bearer to pass freely into all bars, saloons, dives, clubs, etc., etc., whithersoever he or she may repair for the purpose of cameraderie, darterie and refreshmentarie – or all three.’
This declaration was signed by ‘The Great Harpoon’. Note also the progressive, forward-thinking ‘he or she’ in this declaration. Female members were called Dartsmaids.
There were a number of officer ranks in the £.s.d. Any dartsmen enrolling 25 members was at once promoted to ‘Dosser’ (an early word for a bullseye). If you enrolled 50 new members you instantly became a ‘Bunghole’, for 100 a ‘Tonner’ and for 500 that member ‘will be decorated for gallantry and raised to the astonishing rank of Spear of the Realm and Member of the Beerage’. Dartsmaids achieving any of these targets would then bear the rank of ‘Feather’ (25), ‘Flight’ (50), ‘Perfect Miss’ (100) or ‘Spearess of the Realm’ (500).
The constitution of the £.s.d. was crystal clear, it being ‘a non-political and entirely irrelevant body, founded to promote good dartsmanship, and to maintain the purity, quality and strength of beer as well as members’, the sort of result you might imagine of amalgamating CAMRA with the British Darts Organisation! In the £.s.d. absolute control vested in the Supreme Darts Board.
The SDB was in fact the Appeals Committee of the London Fever Hospital which included in its number His Grace The Duke of Atholl, the Right Hon. The Earl of Lytton, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes, variety star Leslie Henson (who later wrote ‘The Dart Song’ as the theme song for the News of the World Championships) and a very good friend and supporter of pubs and pub games – his favourite being skittles – A. P. Herbert, M.P.
The Duke of Kent, the £.s.d.’s 100,000th member’
(Photo reproduced by permission of the Royal Free Archive Centre)
The £.s.d. was all very tongue-in-cheek but before the end of 1938 over 110,000 members had joined, raising over £3,000 for voluntary hospitals. His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent was enrolled as the 100,000th member earlier that year. Another well-known £.s.d. Dartsman was the Lord Mayor of London’s cat ‘Whittington’ who was invested at a ceremony at the Mansion House in April 1938. However, according to The Times, the cat ‘displayed little interest in the proceedings, preferring to look out of the window of the Old Ball Room’.
The Society also published a hard-back book Darts With the Lid Off, a light-hearted and most irreverent guide to the game written by Alan and Geoffrey D’Egville (London: Cassell 1938). It described the game of darts as ‘threatening the security of billiards and dominoes’ and included chapters such as ‘Etiquette and General Deportment’ (“Sex should never be allowed to rear its ugly head during a game of darts.”) ‘Stance and Throw’ (including ‘The Panther or Crouch’) and one being an historical survey of the game – it all began with ‘Stone Age Stone Hurlers’.
On Thursday 8 August 1940 an announcement in The Times confirmed that, after giving more than £4,000 to British hospitals, the £oyal Society of Dartsmen was to close down. However, thousands upon thousands of pub men and women had entered into the spirit, raised cash for the voluntary hospitals and done enough to earn themselves a mention in the Encyclopaedia Britannica Year Book for 1939.
© Patrick Chaplin 2007
Updated August 2019