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Fives still alive in darts

PUBLISHED: 15:50 24 July 2008 | UPDATED: 13:28 05 October 2010

WITH the dart boards of east London disappearing faster than you can say one-hundred-and-eighty , a handful of local pubs are bucking the trend and clinging to history by retaining a local oddity – the Fives dart board. The standard board, known as the

WITH the dart boards of east London disappearing faster than you can say 'one-hundred-and-eighty', a handful of local pubs are bucking the trend and clinging to history by retaining a local oddity - the 'Fives' dart board.

The standard board, known as the 'Clock', contains 20 segments each worth a value between one and 20. A cursory glance at the board on entering the Palm Tree pub by the canal in Mile End Park, however, reveals something surprising.

With ashtrays still on tables, and a cash till which 'kerrchings', this is no standard pub. Fittingly, it contains no ordinary dart board.

The colours are similar and the doubles and trebles look familiar, but, known to the rest of the country as the 'East-End' board, the Fives board contains only 12 main sections, with the numbers 20, 15, 10 and 5 each repeated thrice.

With three wide 20 sections, there would be three times the chance of hitting a celebrated maximum '180', if only the trebles weren't so narrow and the oche-the point from which the darts are thrown-so distant.

At nine feet, the throwing distance is more than a foot further than for the Clock board. And with no number 1, the standard dart match of '501 up' is replaced with games that begin at 505 points. It is only the two central 'bullseye' rings, worth 25 and 50 points each, which are replicated on both boards.

As with much relating to the history of darts, there is no absolute certainty about the origin of this local board.

The game itself has been around for centuries - with its beginnings in medieval England and France. It is generally accepted that it originated as an indoor version of archery - and the belief that Anne Boleyn presented her husband-to-be Henry VIII with a set of ornate darts, suggests the game had royal patronage as early as the sixteenth-century.

Patrick Chaplin, Britain's only darts historian, believes that a small indoor archery target would have been easy to hit and deadly dull to play on after a few throws - so the values of a circular archery target (5, 10, 15 and so on) were transferred to a more complicated segmented format, with the bullseye retained for good measure.

The Fives board therefore significantly pre-dates its cousin the Clock, which first appeared in the 1890s.

Again, the history of that board is not certain, but it is generally believed to have been designed by a fairground showman from Lancashire. With lower numbers flanking each of the highest, the new scoring system added a different dimension of skill still used in fairground games today.

Considering that the game had existed for centuries, the speed with which the Clock board took over was remarkable.

Boards had traditionally been made out of wood by local tradesmen - ensuring the continued existence of numerous regional variations.

But with the first mass-produced plasticine boards appearing in East London in 1923, and the National Darts Association founded the following year, brewery-driven pub leagues began to flourish, and consistent rules, regulations and equipment had to be agreed.

By the time the first bristle boards were produced in 1935, the Clock board had been chosen for major competitive matches, including the influential News of the World tournament, which first took place in London in 1927-28 (and was won by a gentleman from the new South West Ham Club called Sammy Stone).

Regional variations of dart boards were consigned to remaining exactly that. The 'Log-End' board - soaked in water overnight to prevent it drying out - retains a presence in Manchester and along with the East London Fives board, the Lincolnshire, Ipswich, Yorkshire, and Kent boards are amongst those which can still be spotted in the occasional local pub.

With a longer distance to throw and narrower doubles, those who play on the Fives board claim that it requires increased skill.

The best way to find out? A trip to the Palm Tree, ashtrays and all, for a game of '505 up', and an opportunity to make your own sporting history.

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