Some darts enthusiasts claim the game originated with archers throwing shortened arrows at the bottom of a barrel, or a disc cut from a tree trunk. The tree section, with its growth rings and splits, mimics the shape of the modern dartboard.
Plausible though it sounds, the evidence to support this theory is sparse. It’s worth remembering that throwing-darts were a well-established item in the medieval arsenal, particularly for training and jousting tournaments, where knights occasionally competed to hit a target, whether from a moving horse or on foot. So whenever working-class men first threw sharpened objects at a board, it wasn’t a completely original idea.
The most important innovation of the pub game was the division of the board into different sections offering different scores. Simply throwing at an archery-style bull’s-eye target would soon get tedious.
The modern game of darts didn’t emerge until the late 19th century, and there was a huge range of regional variations in rules and board design. A few of these still persist, eg the ‘London Fives’ board or the Manchester Log-End board.
Darts really took off after the First World War, when working men had more leisure time, and greater mobility made it possible for pubs and breweries to organise leagues and contests.