WHILST carrying out research recently on Plymouth darts, I was intrigued to be reminded of how strong the ladies’ darts scene once was in the city.
In the early 1980s, league matches would be contested by teams of nine, which would be followed by two reserves playing for the “Half Crown”, the main leagues being Courage Ladies League, Ladies’ Independent, Devonport and District Social Clubs League and the Halls Ladies’ League.
In their heyday, those four leagues boasted a total of 188 teams, equating to over 2,000 players competing on a Thursday evening across the pubs and clubs of Plymouth.
One player who had the distinction of competing in the Ladies’ Courage League from its inauguration through to its demise in 2010 was Elsie Davies – a career on the dartboards of Plymouth that spanned more than 60 years.
CONSECUTIVE: Former Courage Brewery Area Manager Richard Barraclough, presenting Elsie Davies with one of their league championship title awards which they won for 16 consecutive seasons.
She began way back in the season of 1949-50 playing for the Warne Hotel.
Husband Danny played for the men’s side at the Warne and Elsie stepped in one night when the ladies’ team were a player short and Thursday evenings were never to be the same again.
She impressed so much that she kept her place in the team and remained at the Warne for the next nine seasons.
During this time the team won the Plymouth Brewery League title on six occasions and the team that finished top of the league would always play an annual challenge match against the champions of Torquay.
This challenge match was an all-expenses paid day out by the brewery and one year, Elsie stepped up to the oche with the score at 4-4 and clinched the decider for her Plymouth team mates.
Elsie’s most notable successes on the dartboard were achieved at the Terminus, over a 30-year span from 1959 to 1989.
The league had a change of name in the sixties after Plymouth Breweries were taken over by Courage and Elsie was captain of this very successful side that won the division A title of the Ladies’ Courage League 16 years in succession, a record that will probably never be achieved again.
To mark the occasion, the brewery presented The Terminus with a special trophy in recognition of their tremendous achievement.
During her long association at The Terminus, Elsie won the Courage Ladies’ captain’s title on nine occasions, and claimed nine doubles titles with Marjorie Williams.
Marjorie was the landlady for the last six years and after she retired, Elsie and three of the original Terminus team, moved to the Elburton Hotel in 2003 until the end of the 2013-14 season.
The other original members from the Terminus were Jenny Foley, Trish Matlock and Yvonne Godfrey, two years later, Marjorie Williams, who was by now Marjorie Hursthouse, joined her former team-mates and the success story began again.
Here they played under the tenancy of Sheila Pengelly, Elaine Worth and Christine Colmer and more success came their way.
The successful side carried on winning the league title until a young team from the Trot Inn, Torpoint, halted their unique run, but even then, they still finished in second place.
In 2004, The Elburton switched leagues and for the first time in more than 50 years, Elsie played in the Ladies’ Independent League.
They went through their inaugural season undefeated and won their divisional title and
knockout cup and Elsie won her last Captain’s title when in the Independent League, only a few years short of her 80th birthday.
Elsie also competed in the Wednesday Mixed Darts League at the Lord Beresford from 1986 to 1992 and at the Revenue from 1992 to 2000.
A big turnaround in ladies’ darts in the city came in 2010-11 when the Ladies’ Independent League and the Ladies’ Courage League amalgamated to form the Plymouth Ladies’ Darts League.
In its inaugural season, Elsie captained The Elburton to runners-up in division one and they were also runners-up in the Gill Whitaker Knockout Cup.
That following season, the team were league runners-up once again but also won the trebles, doubles and had the individual winner in Karen Dixon.
But the following year, the team dispersed and that was the last occasion that Elsie Davies threw a competitive dart.
NEW ERA: The team from The Elburton playing in a new era but with Elsie still at the helm along with the other original team members Trish Matlock (first left), Yvonne Godfrey (second left) Marjorie Hursthouse (third right) and Jenny Foley (second right).
In more than 60 years, Elsie remained at the forefront of ladies’ darts and always led from the front as team captain and she told me that: “If I was still in good health, I could still bring together a new darts team” knowing that she still would have players who would dearly play under her captaincy.
Even now, approaching her 90th birthday, she still looks forward to her evening at the pub, and enjoys nothing better than a game of euchre on a Wednesday evening with Danny, her husband of 72 years.
Lesley Woolcocks, a former Plymouth licensee, and secretary of the Courage Ladies’ League has been, for over 40 years, a close friend of Elsie’s both as a rival darts player and fellow team mate and best sums up the Octogenarian as “one remarkable lady”.