Darts has been one of the most popular pastimes in the UK since Victorian times, and it was during the reign of Henry VIII that a primitive form of darts was established. In Tudor times instead of the streamlined objects we know today, the darts then were simply arrows thrown at a target.
The game of darts was also originally played outdoors, but then gravitated towards taverns. The target for the game in these early stages of its development was the base of a beer/wine barrel. Later, tree trunk slices were used. In fact, the design of the modern dartboard was inspired by tree rings, which were used as areas to throw at. Though arrows were still used to throw at the target, they became shorter so as to aid accuracy. Henry VIII himself became hooked on darts, and his doomed future wife Anne Boleyn even tried to impress him by buying him an expensive set of darts. The expansion of darts around the world was also aided by Britain's thirst for colonisation from the 1600s onwards.
During the 19th Century, though darts was still popular there were a number of variations of the game. One such variation was puff and dart, which began in the middle of the 19th Century. A dart and board were both used in this game, but instead of throwing a dart at the target a blowpipe was used. Unfortunately, the game was soon outlawed after one participant made the literally fatal error of sucking rather than blowing.
Like other games and sports that had been played for centuries, i.e. football, darts didn't really resemble the game we know today until Victorian times. Things really snowballed after Lancashire carpenter Brian Gamlin created the modern dartboard in Lancashire in 1896. Incredibly, Gamlin's dartboard was never patented by him, and he died less than a decade after his dartboard had been created. Others, though, were quick to see the potential of darts at a commercial level. Shortly after Gamlin's dartboard, a dart flight made out of folded paper was created, then, in 1906, a metal barrel was created. Both inventions were patented.
Despite the evolution of darts just over a hundred years ago, it was now a game not liked by the Establishment. So much so that it was illegal to play darts in a pub in the UK in the first decade of the 20th Century. One man, however, did change the perception of darts, and his name was Foot Anakin. Darts had been sneered at as being a game of chance, and this led to its pub ban. But Anakin, a Leeds pub owner, proved in court that darts certainly wasn't a game of chance. After being taken to court, for letting people play darts on his premises, the judge was impressed enough by Anakin's own ability at darts to see that the charges against him were dropped.
Only 16 years after the Anakin case darts really got serious, and in 1924 the National Darts Association (NDA) was established. In 1927/28 the growth of darts was emphasised by an Individual Darts Championship, with the News of the World putting up the prizes. This tournament was only for players in the London area, but in 1930 it had grown to become a national English championship. The growth of the tournament was stunning, and more than 280,000 took part in the 1938/39 event, which dwarfed the thousand entrants for the first tournament little more than a decade earlier. The crowd for the final of 14,534 was also the highest for a darts tournament at that time. Another British newspaper, The People, then sponsored a new event in 1939 - The National Team Championships.
After World War Two darts suffered a setback when the NDA folded. In its stead in 1954 came the National Darts Association of Great Britain (NDAGB). Under the NDAGB's stewardship darts flourished, with several million competing in the the NODOR Fours competition. Interest in darts was such that from 1962 TV companies starting showing events, and a World Darts Championship was established in 1978. On the back of TV coverage over the years, the likes of Phil Taylor, Eric Bristow and John Lowe became among the most famous sports personalities in the UK.
In recent years darts has seen a split, with two different organisations, the British Darts Organization (BDO) and the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), holding separate world championships. A third governing body is the World Darts Federation (WDF). Currently around 70 different nations have links with the BDO.