It was a chance conversation that my wife had with a colleague at work back in 1988 which revealed the story of Charles ‘Charlie’ Bowley and his victory in the 1930 News of the World individual darts tournament.
It was around that time I was collecting material for the Darts Heritage Room at the ill-fated DART & CUE Exhibition at the G-Mex Centre, Manchester which was to be held on May Bank Holiday Monday 1989.
Maureen was passing time of day with a gentleman named Frank Bowley (the car park attendant where my wife worked) telling him how, in my spare time, I collected facts and memorabilia about the game of darts.
“My grandfather won that championship in 1930” said Frank in a very proud, yet nonchalant sort of way.
“Did he now!” was my immediate reply.
In the mid-1920s representatives of the major breweries in London, licensees and the trade press met in the capital with the view to finding a way to promote darts in their pubs through organised leagues. In 1925 the National Darts Association (NDA) was formed and introduced the first proper rules of the game. During that same year the NDA was called upon by the News of the World (a very popular Sunday newspaper here in the UK) to help organise and run a darts competition; the newspaper having supported other workingmen’s pastimes such as pigeon-racing and fishing.
By the beginning of the 1927/28 season the NDA and the News of the World had worked hard and launched their first individual darts competition specifically, in the first instance, for players in the London Metropolitan area. The entries totaled 1,010 and the winner was a Boer War veteran and father on nine, Sammy Stone representing the New South-West Ham Club. (Image of Sammy (below) (c) News of the World. Used with permission. For more about Sammy see elsewhere on this website.)
Charles Bowley was born circa 1883, his family came from Italian stock. When they arrived in England, as was common practice, the family changed their surname from Donatantonis to Bowley. They settled in Finsbury, London E.C.1. where they lived for many years.
Charlie showed an early affinity to darts and showed ‘crushing leadership form’ in the mid-to-late 1920s. In 1925 and 1926 he captained the Three Crowns darts team to victory in the Finsbury Darts Cup and then on to win the NDA, also in 1926. Charlie also captained The Fox darts club, winning the Whitbread League title three years in succession, 1926-28.
With this type of experience, it was no wonder that Charlie, an asphalter by trade, entered for the News of the World Individual Championship. Undoubtedly, although not proven, he surely would have entered the competition from the outset. Whatever the case, Charlie made the Grand Finals in 1930, representing neither the Three Crowns nor The Fox but the Shakespeare’s Head, at 1, Arlington Way, Finsbury.
The quarter finals (then called ‘The Last Preliminary Round’), semi-finals and the final were all held on one night at the New Merlin’s Cave, Clerkenwell on Saturday 10th May 1930. A reporter for the News of the World, who attended the event, wrote of his hesitancy, his ‘mixed feelings’ about being there. He wrote
‘To be candid, we did not expect any particular skill to be displayed at this apparently simple game, nor did we expect enthusiasm to run high. In both cases we were wrong.’
Skill was indeed evident and, as far as the supporters were concerned, the reporter stated that ‘partisanship ran a bit high at times…but who cares?’ The reporter also surmised that
‘If the Merlin’s Cave had been capable of accommodating four times as many people there would have been no difficulty in filling the hall.’
Those appearing in the last eight with Charlie Bowley were William ‘Bill’ Hayward, a former Tottenham Hotspur centre-half, from Clapton, F. Toulouse (Chiswick), W. Gentry (St. Pancras), a left-hander, Sid Howes from Islington (who would later become well known as a member of Joe Hitchcock’s St. Dunstan Four after the Second World War), J. Jeeves (Putney), E. E. Eaton (Peckham) and W. Ling (Notting Hill).
The News of the World reporter was certainly impressed with the never-ending display of skill; the players locating their targets ‘with an accuracy that was really surprising’ and, when the scorer called out “Player wants twelve”, the dart ‘goes into the double six as if guided by electricity.’
The report of the match was as follows
C. Bowley, the ultimate winner, played wonderfully throughout, and made top score for two darts – two treble 20’s – and had his third dart “on top” [This is assumed to mean he ‘Robin Hooded’ that third dart, that is a following dart stuck into one of the first two thrown thus scoring nothing.) robbing him of a highest possible – 180…W. Hayward had the satisfaction of scoring the highest number of points with three darts – 141, as well as another 137. In his match with F. Toulouse, 100 or over was registered on eight occasions. One of the veterans – affectionately styled “Mary Pickford” – played well against J. Jeeves who scored most points for two darts in a “finishing leg” recording a treble 18 and a “bull’s-eye” (104). W. H. Gentry who was runner-up, is a left-hander, and played well throughout.
The reporter added
Promotors and officials desire to thank the spectators for their orderly conduct and help under trying circumstances, and promise that overcrowding will be obviated in future tournaments.
A larger venue was clearly needed.
The results of each round were as follows:
Last Preliminary Round (aka quarter-finals)
W. Hayward beat F. Toulouse 2-1
W. H. Gentry beat Sid Howes 2-0
J. Jeeves beat E. E. Eaton 2-1
C. Bowley beat W. Ling 2-0
W. H. Gentry beat Jeeves 2-1
C. Bowley beat W. Hayward 2-1
C. Bowley beat W. H. Gentry 2-0
The photograph featured at the head of this article shows Charlie Bowley (on the right) outside of the Shakespeare’s Head with the then perpetual News of the World trophy (next to Charlie), which would be kept and displayed in the pub for a year then returned to the newspaper offices for passing to the next year’s winner. (Image © The Bowley family. Used with permission.)
The smaller beribboned trophy on the left-hand side of the table was Charlie’s to keep and in the centre of the photograph is the framed certificate that Charlie received from the sponsors acclaiming him the winner for 1930. Other medals, probably associated with the earlier rounds of the tournament are also on display.
The gentleman on the left of the photograph would be the proud licensee of the Shakespeare’s Head probably William Harry Witts. The names of the two cheeky faces looking out of the window in the photo have, sadly, been lost to history.
The cartoon (above) is an extract taken from the celebratory cartoon featured in the News of the World on Sunday 11th May 1930, the day after Charlie Bowley’s victory. (Cartoon © News of the World. Used with permission.)
And so, another year was over for the News of the World individual darts ‘test’ (as it was called back then). The tournament would remain London-only until the 1935/36 season when it was expanded to London and the Home Counties.
A Wales division was established in 1936/37 and a Lancashire division in 1937/38. The latter was extended to Lancashire and Cheshire in the 1938/39 season and that year Yorkshire, North of England and Midland Counties were also added making six Divisions in total.
The Second World War then intervened scotching the News of the World organisers plans to make it a national (England and Wales) tournament. However, this was achieved when the competition resumed at the beginning of the 1947/48 season.
Special thanks to Frank Bowley for information and the image of Charlie at the Shakespeare’s Head and to David King (darts501.com) for ‘repairing’ the photograph.
© 2020 Patrick Chaplin