In 2013 Dr. Karen Francis of Cardiff contacted me. Karen was researching her family tree and had discovered that, at the turn of the twentieth century, members of her family had lived in Bath, Somerset.
Her great-grandfather Henry Ollis was shown to have kept a pub in the city at that time, the Walcot Wine Vaults which used to stand at 114-116 Walcot Street.
Karen had managed to secure a photograph of her great-grandfather (seated centre) and his darts team gathered outside the pub in 1906. (See photo). In front of Henry can be seen a most unusual dartboard. Karen wondered if I knew anything about it: if I had ever seen such a dartboard before.
What confused me was that, up until I saw what we dubbed ‘The Bath Dartboard’, I had believed that skittles was the more popular game in the area and that darts would have been a more recent addition but clearly this was not the case. My previous research had always indicated that darts did not reach that part of the West Country until at least the 1930s so this discovery turned my current thinking about the development of darts in that region upside down! Subsequent research of local newspapers by Karen shows only occasional reports of darts matches; the great majority relating to skittles.
Subsequent research by Karen at the British Newspaper Library revealed that, like the photograph dated at 1906, darts was definitely played in the city of Bath in the very early part of the twentieth century. The Bath Chronicle & Weekly Gazette dated Thursday 17th December 1908 very briefly reports on a match between Bath and Trowbridge (Wiltshire) (at Trowbridge) the match ‘ending in a win for the visitors by two games.’
To me the Bath Dartboard had features I had seen before namely the inner triangles of the Tonbridge (Kent) dartboard (yet the Bath dartboard has no outer, usually the doubles, ring) and the circles of the ‘board without the distinction of a special name’ encountered by Rupert Croft-Cooke and recorded in his books Darts in 1936.
The order of the numbers on the Bath board are unique, having numbers within the main surface of the board.
But how did you play on the Bath Dartboard?
One can only guess and here’s mine.
I cannot tell what games were played on the Bath Dartboard but let’s assume it is either 301 (or 501 or 1001), that is, a game recognisable to us today. If we assume that the triangles near the outer rim represent double the number on the outer rim then, as in the normal, modern game, no double scores over 50. Similarly if the circles within those kite-shaped segments represent trebles then none of the numbers contained and defined by those segments exceeds 50. Thus the designer(s) of the Bath Dartboard have ensured that, whatever game is played on it, the highest scoring point and the highest finish is the bullseye.
This is a most unusual dartboard and the photograph is, except for the famous Grimsby dartboard, one of the earliest images of a regional, or possibly more accurately, a local dartboard I have ever seen.
Text © 2013 & 2019 Patrick Chaplin. Research © 2013-2018 Dr. Karen Francis