With an incredible 28 darts teams calling it ‘home’, John Honeyman, landlord of the Swiss Chalet pub at Gorse Hill in Swindon thinks it’s now the biggest darts pub in the South West of England.
Visit The Swiss Chalet any weeknight and teams from far and wide will be clustered around one of five dart boards all hosting two darts teams battling for a win. “It makes for a fantastic atmosphere,” says John, “But the logistics can be a bit of a nightmare if I get it wrong.”
It all started a few years ago when the word got around about how well John treated his home darts team. “It’s such a sociable game and everyone gets on well,” he said. “I wanted to thank them for coming to the pub so instead of offering the teams the usual after-game snacks of curly sandwiches, we decided to cook curries and casseroles after their games, and our secret got out.”
As the number of teams grew, John had to go out and buy more dart boards to cater for them, and now spends a good few hours each week working out which teams are playing when, and most importantly where. “I don’t want to run out of curry,” he laughs. “They might all go elsewhere.”
George Arkell at pub owners Arkell’s Brewery praised John on spotting an opportunity.
“Darts have taken over from live music to a great extent at The Swiss Chalet,” he said. “This pub has succeeded in adapting to what the locals want – and in John’s case it’s a friendly venue for the great traditional pub game of darts.
“It’s good for business too, as darts teams offer regular custom and if they’re looked after as well as John looks after them, they’ll turn out every week.”
The only problem is that the landlord isn’t very good at darts himself. John said: “I’m pretty rubbish at the game, even though I play every week – but I am very good at the social side of it.”
A bit of darts history
Dr Patrick Chaplin is a Research Fellow in History at the Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge who writes and lectures on darts, pub games and pubs. He has written a dissertation on the social history of Darts from 1900 – 1938.
His website, www.patrickchaplin.com, is hugely information on all things darts-related and under its history section, it offers the following information:
“Up until the early part of the 20th century, darts existed in disparate forms across parts of England, the only matches taking place being either ‘in-house’ or friendly matches between pubs which were close to each other. (The cost of transport was prohibitive at that time.) However, after World War 1, the first brewery leagues appeared and grew to such an extent that, by 1924, the seeds had been sown for the establishment of a national darts association. The News of the World competition was established in London in the 1927/28 season and by the end of the 1930s had expanded to cover, by region, most of England. The total entrants in the competition in 1938/39 were in excess of 280,000.
Such was the take up of darts by the brewers and the dart-playing public that, by the 1930s, it had become a popular national recreation in England and parts of Wales, played by all classes, often ousting existing pubs games such as skittle and rings (indoor quoits). The development of darts found some resistance in places like parts of Manchester where the smaller Manchester/ Log-End board still holds sway.
Darts playing boosted morale in the forces during the Second World War being played in the Officers’ Mess and PoW camps alike. Darts was standard issue in the NAAFI sports pack. American soldiers visiting our shores took darts home with them and generated substantial interest in this ‘olde Englishe’ game in the US which up until then was little played in that country.
His website also offers the following trivia:
· 1901 was the first recorded reference to the game that we know.
· The average speed of a dart hitting a board is around 64kph (40mph).
· There are more pubs with dartboards in the centre of New York than there are in the centre of London.
· Flights made of real turkey feathers are becoming harder to get because of unsatisfactory feathers due to an increasing demand for smaller turkeys.