NEXT year, the world’s oldest quoits club celebrates its 175th anniversary.

Its existence may be one of the world’s best kept secrets: it is located in a haven of clay and beer behind a door marked enigmatically with a Q and a date: 1846.

Pandemic-willing, a year of events is being planned for 2021 to raise the profile of the Darlington Quoits Club, and as part of that, its members are trying to trace any descendants of the 47 founders whose fading signatures appear on the parchment of their constitution.

These men must have been present in the Dun Cow Inn on Post House Wynd on September 19, 1846, when Thomas Blyth, a house and sign painter, was elected the first president.

The first members were, like Mr Blyth, attracted from the town’s commercial classes. They ran their own businesses or owned their shops, and were saddlers, haberdashers, ironmongers and tobacco-merchants.

They began the club’s annual tournament for the silver quoit, and the first winner’s name – John Harrison – was engraved on the first link of the chain which is still presented to the winner.

The winner becomes club captain for a year, and the names right back to Mr Harrison are displayed on boards in the clubhouse.

The first matches were played behind the Central Hall in Houndgate. There the club’s first photograph, showing 12 bearded gentlemen, was taken in 1860.

The club changed grounds quite regularly in those early days. For instance, in 1863, there was a complaint about the “disgraceful proceedings at Polam Hall on the occasion of the match against Richmond”, and the club never played there again, although in the minute book, a note has been added that “Richmond players to blame”.

By 1880, the club had established itself in Raby Terrace at the rear of Skinnergate, where in 1896, club president, captain and town mayor George Marshall, who was also a builder, started to construct a clubhouse.

Complete with ten earthenware spittoons, it was ready for 1898, and mayor Marshall performed his own opening ceremony – he is one of 16 quoits players to have served as Darlington mayor.

We told the club’s history more fully in Memories 280 in April 2016, and will doubtless look behind the enigmatic door in Raby Terrace over the course of the anniversary year.

In the meantime, are you related to any of the founders or any of the men in the 1860 photo? The minutes suggest that 49 people were present at the inaugural meeting, but only 47 signed the constitution and some of those, like the chap who just wrote “George”, may not be easily identifiable. But if you have any of these names in your family tree, or can tell us anything about these people, please either email or contact vice-president Tom Beaumont on 07855-240177 or email

The founding fathers of 1846

Thomas Blyth (house and sign painter), Robert Charge (saddler), John Lear (ironmonger), George Robinson (tailor), John Harrison (coach builder), William Child (master fellmonger & tanner), Benjamin Walton (coach builder and grocer), James Alexander Stewart (draper), Benjamin F Cooper (accountant), GR Bennison, T Humble, David Patterson (haberdasher), William Graham (tea dealer), George Walters (brick and tile manufacturer), William Emmett, William Bennison (painter and innkeeper), William Grey, William Dixon, William Dobbing, W Stevenson, Thomas Bean, Joshua March (butcher), Edward Pease Elgee (banker’s clerk), Thomas Dobson (wine and spirit merchant), Archibald Nevison (tailor and draper), Francis or John Furby (tailor and draper), George Harrison (innkeeper), Christopher Oxendale, William Booth (master blacksmith), Randolph Fearnley (manager of worsted mill), William Hobson (iron merchant), John Wrightson, Richard Benson (auctioneer and accountant), John Hunter Mowbray (druggist and grocer), John Dixon (railway engineer), Henry Rymer (hosier), John Tweddle, John Swinbank, PE Cowper, WJ Taylor, M Waterhouse, J Harrison Senior and Junior, plus men who simply signed themselves George, Parsons, James and Smith.