I have been researching the history and development of darts for many years and had always assumed the progress of the process of manufacture of dart barrels to be from wood to brass to tungsten. However, I never counted on the Perranporth Spring dart.
By the beginning of the 20th century there were darts manufacturers in Britain: dartboards yes but darts, no. Wooden darts, sometimes weighted with lead were imported from France (thus known commonly as ‘French darts’) by fairground showmen from the late Victorian period onwards. Once the game had caught on in pubs and was seen to be an enjoyable and educational game to play at home, toy companies also began to import darts.
As light engineering developed in Britain after the Great War, so did darts and in the 1920s the first brass-barrelled dart with a wooden stem and paper flight was introduced. Brass held dominion over all for many decades until, in the late 1970s, tungsten took over.
In November 2002 a set of darts fell into my possession: darts of a construction I had never seen before. The box bore the legend ‘The Victory Set – Spring Flight Darts’ and ‘Made in Perranporth Cornwall.’ I had never before seen darts made out of springs and decided to investigate.
My first thought as that a company called the Perranporth Spring Company made the darts but, on sending a letter to the local press, respondents from the Perranporth area were able to put me straight. ‘The Victory Set’ – with their patriotic white, red and blue flights (one of each colour) – was manufactured shortly after the Second World War by George Cornish, owner of the Red House Garage, as a sideline under a subsidiary name of ‘Britannic Spring.’ (The provisional Patent no. allocated to Cornish at the time was 10634/44.)
One interviewee recalled that the garage was used during the war to manufacture parts for use ‘in the construction of military armament.’ As a child he and his friends used to wander around the back of the premises and take away the long coil pieces of turned metal from the lathes which had been thrown out as waste. They struggled many times to see inside but never managed to ascertain what was happening and, more often than not, they were seen and chased away, usually by Mr. Cornish himself.
After the war, only two things were produced from those premises – one was spring darts, the other plastic windmills on sticks for children. Darts were quite a novelty at the time – Cornwall traditionally being a hotbed of skittles – and the darts were a little on the heavy side.
The inspiration for the spring dart had come from George Cornish’s Works Manager a man named ‘Arkie’ Hore. Arkie was not only a darts enthusiast but also, according to one correspondent, ‘a genius.’ The process was that the spring was coiled off by hand on a conical mandrel and then into a cone, the point being dropped in and then held in place by the constriction of the coil of the spring. Another contact stated that the darts were made from two springs, the larger spring forming the body of the dart, whilst the smaller spring held the red, white and blue flights in place, that spring being ‘screwed’ into the larger spring to complete the dart.
Another correspondent, a young lady darter at the time, recalls purchasing a set of the Perranporth spring darts in 1944 from a newsagent/gift shop and playing with them in a local club. She believed that the darts were possibly made out of ‘off-cuts of bed springs’ and were supplied to the NAAFI. She added that the individual red, white and blue flights appealed to not only the English dart players but also to the American servicemen stationed nearby and the French. The darts were “Quite good to play with” but they were not on sale very long. Thus the Perranporth Spring Darts were not sold in great numbers and by virtue of that boxed examples are rare.
The importance of the Perranporth Spring Dart is that, as far as is known, it is unique. The general assumption has always been that wooden, brass and then tungsten was the established historical sequence of darts manufacture. The Perranporth Spring Dart has effectively rewritten that element of darts history.
© 2003-2020 Patrick Chaplin
My thanks to my friend Bill Bell for reminding me of this great set of darts and that I should put something on my website about them.
Thanks too to all the newspaper respondents who helped piece together the history of these unique darts.