FOR anyone who thought health and safety officialdom was a modern invention, the story of a Huddersfield darts league proves otherwise.
Slaithwaite Winter Darts League celebrates its 70th anniversary this year.
But its creation would not have been possible if the town’s justices had continued to enforce a ban on the sport that was in place for much of the 1930s.
Darts historian Patrick Chaplin, from Maldon in Essex, completed a PhD on darts in England between 1900 and 1939.
It was during his research that he discovered Huddersfield was a darts-free zone in the years before the Second World War.
He said: “Huddersfield was one of a number of towns and cities where licensing justices actively discouraged darts on the grounds that it encouraged drunkenness and gaming or was deemed dangerous.
“Despite the outcome of the Royal Commission on Licensing, which stated that recreations in pubs distracted customers from the mere business of drinking, some licensing justices continued to hold the contrary view about darts and, indeed, any other pub games.”
Under the 1871 Public Health Act, licensed premises had to have a licence for ‘public dancing, music or other public entertainment of the like kind, billiards, bowls, skittles, or other game.’
Dr Chaplin added: “The Huddersfield justices banned darts as an ‘other game’ and maintained their ban on the grounds that someone was once hurt by a dart thrown in a public house.”
One enterprising licensee, Frank Johnson, landlord of the Wellington Hotel in Newsome, circumvented the ban by patenting ‘box darts.’
The game involved throwing darts with a rubber nose over the point through holes in a wooden target.
But it failed to catch on and keen darts players crossed authority boundaries to play in outlying pubs where the ban did not apply.
As the popularity of darts increased, publicans started to revolt, installing proper dartboards.
In March 1939 Johnson received the first darts licence in Huddersfield for many years.
Seventy-one years later, the Slaithwaite league is still going strong, with the number of teams entering each year averaging from 18 to 23.
“We’re getting teams coming from further and further afield,” said secretary Neil Sykes.
“We’ve been here a long time and we’ve always had a good number of teams wanting to play.
“At the end of the day, darts is a game of skill. Being able to pick up a dart and throw it at something as small as a bullseye is a talent.”
This year’s winners of the league were Milnsbridge pub The Royal.
For more about the history of darts visit www.patrickchaplin.com