THE TONBRIDGE DARTBOARD

Rupert Croft-Cooke was an itinerant author who it seems could, and did, write about anything and everything. He was the very first person to write a book exclusively about darts. Ingeniously titled Darts,Croft-Cooke’s book was published in London by Geoffrey Bles in December 1936.

The Tonbridge Board

On pages 14 and 15 of Darts,Croft-Cooke, having described the standard dartboard, turns to the more unusual boards he had played on in his travels. He wrote:

Passing though Kent one evening, and itching (as we followers of the game do itch) for darts, you are once again faced with the unfamiliar. This plan of doubles and trebles is known as the Tonbridge game…How Tonbridge came to foster a special rule of darts is a mystery, but then the whole history of the game is clouded with enigma. On these boards the outer scores treble, the little triangle behind it is the double, and this gives rise to some almost fantastic possibilities.

Over four decades later, Keith Turner in his book Darts – The Complete Book of the Game (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1980) wrote of the Tonbridge Board

Used in the Tonbridge-Sevenoaks area of Kent, this board’s other name of the Trebles board denotes its special peculiarity: what would be the doubles ring on a London board is used as the trebles ring. The numbering of the segments and general dimensions are the same as the London board but there is no outer bull and no ‘conventional’ trebles ring. The doubles on this board consist of triangular beds inside the trebles which calls for some fine throwing indeed!

AKA ‘THE HAMPSHIRE/BASINGSTOKE DARTBOARD’

I originally spoke to a gentleman named Bob Flew back in late December 2013 who had contacted me about a letter he planned to send to Bobby George about what he called ‘The Hampshire/Basingstoke Dartboard’.

Bob told me

“The dartboard was the same size as the present one, wires, etc., but with no treble ring or outer bull’s-eye. The outer doubles ring was, on the Basingstoke Board, the treble ring and the triangle shapes adjoining that ring (about one inch to one a quarter of an inch) counted as double. The games were double in, double out and thus players had to hit one of these triangular segments to both start and finish a game.”

Bob checked this detail with his brother-in-law who lived in Ringwood (then aged 98) who confirmed that Bob’s description was correct.

Bob’s description is very much like the ‘Tonbridge Board’ as described by Croft-Cooke.

CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER – ANOTHER SIGHTING BUT WITH A TWIST

Following the publication of a letter I wrote to the Kent & Sussex Courier in 1995 I received a letter from a gentleman named Derek Andrews from Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Derek told me that my letter, about the Tonbridge Board, “reminded me that I had such a board.” It was Derek’s plan to restore the board (shown here) and have it displayed at the Red Dog pub at High Halstow, near Rochester, Kent, which was being run by his son-in-law’s brother.

The Basinstoke/Tonbridge Board

The board is clearly a Tonbridge Board of sorts. Derek described the then current condition of the board as follows:

[T]he doubles and trebles segments have been coloured alternatively blue and white. In addition, and somewhat amateurishly, a “standard treble” had later been added with wire and metal staples and with alternative matching blue and white colouring. It would seem logical to assume that the blue and white colouring was not original but added when the crude “standard” treble was created. The added wire and staples have now been carefully removed…As to how it came into my possession I cannot be sure…

If you imagine the colouring and the trebles ring removed then Derek’s board would resemble a genuine Tonbridge Board. It appears likely that the treble ring from a standard board was then added, perhaps to bring the Tonbridge board up to date. But then why was no attempt made to add an outer bull?

Presumably, if playing it as a standard board, the outer ring (valued as treble on a Tonbridge Board) would become doubles and the inner triangles (usually scoring double) would have to be ignored. But that doesn’t explain the absence of the outer bull.

How strange.

AND SO TO READING, BERKSHIRE

As this articles continues, and having travelled through Kent (Tonbridge, Sevenoaks and Chiddingstone Causeway) and Hampshire (Basingstoke) we now move into Berkshire to consider the Reading Dartboard which is of exactly the same design as those already considered.

Shocking news was recorded in Darts Weekly News in the late summer of 1937 relating to the Simond’s brewery darts league from the start of the new season which commenced on Tuesday 5th October. DWN reported

An important change this year will be that all games will be played on the N.D.A. board instead of the Reading type.

I discovered this news snippet during research at the British Newspaper Library in 2005. This led me to write to the Reading Local Studies Library and – WOW! – were they helpful!

I could write a whole chapter on how H & G Simonds’ Brewery but suffice to say that the brewery was a great supporter of darts during the 1930s and the company’s house magazine The Hop Leaf Gazette regularly featured reports of matches all played on the ‘Reading Dartboard’.

I need not describe the Reading Board as the details are the same as already stated BUT a 76-year-old respondent to my letter to the Reading Chronicle in August 2005 remembered an ‘eight foot throw’ and that ‘you started and finished on a treble’.  Another told me that the outer ring was much larger than you would find on a standard dartboard.

Yet another recalled that a local darts player named Chelsea Butler was renowned for his darting skills and was one of the only men to regularly score 300; the maximum on the dartboard (where the bullseye was worth 100 points) at his ‘local’ The Bell in Oxford Road, Reading. The pub was later renamed The Restoration.

One of the most interesting photographs of the Reading dartboard was discovered in the March 1936 issue of The Hop Leaf Gazette is utilised at the top of this article. The actual story is brief. Headlined ‘TWO FRIENDS MEET AGAIN AFTER THIRTY YEARS, AT THE HORNCASTLE, BATH ROAD’ the text merely states

William and Bob – March 1936 with that Board

Two old friends that had not met for 30 years played a darts match at The Horncastle. Bob Henwood won both games.

Clearly a best of three very friendly match.

The caption to the photograph read

(Left) William Abery, aged 74, of Blossom End, Theale, and (Right) Bob Henwood, aged 76, of Calcot Mill, Reading.

ANOTHER LOCATION

News was published in January 2010 of a local man from Chiddingstone Causeway, Kent who had unearthed ‘a piece of darts history’ earlier in the year at a fête.

According to www.thisiskent.co.uk/news Mark Hinchcliffe had ‘hit the bullseye when he discovered the 1920s board which he believes was originally used in the Leicester Arms, in Penshurst.’ The 44-year-old Royal Mail worker, had played darts as a hobby for twenty-five years, playing in local pubs including the Greyhound in Charcott which his family used to own and run.

Mark told the press

Author and Darts Historian Patrick Chaplin…recognised what is was, a Tonbridge and Sevenoaks trebles board. It just looks old. I haven’t played with it. It needs soaking and I am worried about cracking it. I think it is probably the rarest dartboard in the world. It is made out of elm. They used to make them out of this years ago. Someone in the village will have cut a bit of elm off and flogged it to the local pub.

Mark Hinchcliffe with the Tonbridge Board

Although I personally doubt the board was ninety years old, it was of some age. I sincerely hope that Mark didn’t soak it.  As to being ‘the rarest dartboard in the world’ again, I have my doubts. However, having said that Mark H. had spoken to ‘other collectors’ and told reporters that his ’90-year-old antique’ had attracted some attention from fellow enthusiasts.  Indeed, interest came ‘from collectors as far and wide as Holland and Germany’. Mark was also surprised to find that one man in America was willing to pay $200 for it (about £125 sterling).

However, the good news at the time was that Mark was hanging on to the board and was continuing to research the history of the item which he believes was used in several pubs locally. He told Kent Life “It is an original piece. It’s a lovely dartboard.”

Indeed it is/was Mark…and an absolute bargain at 50p.

So the ‘Tonbridge’ (Kent) dartboard has been played in at least three counties (and probably more) but, I have to assume, it is now extinct.

© 2019 Patrick Chaplin  

With special thanks to Gwilym Games, Librarian at the Reading Local Studies Library and with acknowledgements to www.thisiskent.news.
Colour photograph © 1995 Derek G. Andrews.

The original version of this article was published in Dr. Darts’ Newsletter #116, November 2019. 

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