I’m indebted to Alan Milroy for the following article, it was featured in the Northern Echo in 1968. Although I don’t know the author, it was in the ‘John North’ column; here it is, as written then.

‘William Tell’ fired -- and target moved… I was glad when Albert Leonard said he was past it now. Somehow I didn’t see myself having a silver threepeny bit shot off the end of my tongue by a dart at eight paces.

For Albert, who is 72 and retires as landlord of the Kings Head, Cockfield, next month, has been dubbed the William Tell of publand.

Albert has become famous at exhibitions from Newcastle to Middlesbrough for his dexterity with the little arrow.

He could shoot the silver threepeny bit off a mans tongue, his nose, his forehead or even from between the strands of his hair. For a little variation, he has been known to substitute for the threepeny bit, a marrow fat pea or a mint imperial!


I met Albert in the pub he has run for 42 years.

“I’ve been twice to the pictures and once to the Bishop Auckland theatre and they are the only nights off I have had in that time” he told me. “I’ve never slept out of the house for one night.”

His tricks with the darts started by accident. “It was a funny old thing.” said Albert. “I was a good darts player. One night two fellows got drunk in the bar. One of them said ‘I’m William Tell don’t you know!’ He put a matchbox on the other fellows head and picked up a big heavy poker we had in the bar. He started to swing the poker and my father said: ’let’s get out of here. He’s going to kill him!’ Anyway, he finally knocked the matchbox off and I came back in the bar. They talked me into knocking the matchbox off with a dart. I did and that’s how it all got started.”


With a nine penny set of darts with paper flights and a highly courageous miner called Hughie Roberts who volunteered to be shot at, Albert raised ’gasps’ from regulars in pubs in Newcastle, Sunderland, Darlington. Seaham Harbour, Chester -le- Street, Middlesbrough and many more.

Showing me the silver threepeny bit he used to use, with the dart dents still in it, he said: “I always took Hughie with me. He was a strong fellow with nerves of steel. I would never have stood there and let people do a William Tell on me.”

Hughie had no reason to be unafraid either, for of course, there was no guarantee that he would be unharmed.

“I was playing in Middlesbrough one night and I put three darts in the back of his head.” Said Albert. “He never said a word. He just let me pull them out of his head again!”

“At the ‘Walworth Castle’ in Sunderland one night I put a dart through his cheek. Another night there was a busload came to my pub from Sunderland and they wanted me to throw the darts. You used to get tired of it, you know, doing it every night.

Anyway, I told them to go up for Hughie if they wanted him. I wasn’t going up. Well, he’d been out that day digging coals on the fell. I saw he was rather wet and damp when they fetched him in.”


“He’d just nicely got the threepeny bit balanced on his nose, you know. I got prepared to throw. He was a bit starved with cold and just as I threw the dart, he shivered slightly and lifted his head up. The dart went right through his nose. But he never fetched it out; I walked over and pulled it out.”

“He used to like to be hit, because a drop of blood used to make his collection bigger!”

I would have made a fortune today.” Said Albert, who was at his peak between 1937 and 1940. “There’s a lot of money in darts now, giving exhibitions in clubs and so on. They’re better times now than when I’m talking about.”


The depression left a bitter mark on Albert and the miners who were his mates. The sheer despair and wretchedness of those years account in some way for the hard way they made their fun.

“I’ve had men come in here at night with potatoes in their pockets and put them under the fire grate. About 9pm they’d get them out, eat them and go home. That was all the food they’d get.”

“I’ll never forget the things I saw those poor men and women go through. I had a razor blade on the bar to cut cigarettes in two. They were five for two pence.

“I was just as hard up myself. I was just a poor landlord. I could get no dole you know. I played the darts because I had to set out to do something.”

With more than a touch of bitter nostalgia, he showed me an old cigarette tin, which he used as a cash tin for 42 years. He had to put that tin into an oxo tin now because of its battered condition.

Albert and his wife, Linda, come from Staindrop where his father was a joiner and undertaker. His son Rupert died three years ago. One of his twin daughters, Megan, married Joe Liddle, a professional footballer and the other daughter, Mary, married George Hull, of Hull contractors, Evenwood Gate. George died four years ago.

When Albert and Linda, who is nearly 70, retire they will move to ‘Stainfield House’ - only ten yards away from the pub! “It’s been standing there empty for 19 years waiting for our retirement.” Says Albert.

Leaning against the bars outside the pub window and looking a very sprightly little man indeed for 72, Albert said: “When I applied for the licence for this place in 1926, Mr. Fife, the magistrate, said to me, ‘You look very little’. You don’t look as if you’re capable of running a public house’.

“Do you know? I’ve never had to send for the police in the 42 years I’ve been here!”

FOOTNOTE… A truly remarkable man and, I suspect, just one of many from Cockfield. Have you got a family story to tell or even one of a friend or something of interest?

Please e-mail me at nigeldowson@yahoo.co.uk