Back in 1996, Darlington Quoit Club – perhaps the town’s least-known licensed premises – marked its 150th anniversary. Here’s the second paragraph of the resultant column:

“Behind its ever-closed door it has been exclusive, masonic, Dickensian, draconian, admitted men only, blackballed brazenly, referred to the steward by his surname alone, to the cleaner simply as “the woman” and barely tolerated ‘Tatie’ Thompson, captain ten times, the accuracy of whose expectoration was equalled only by that of his quoits.”

Last Tuesday evening we went again. It was informal, agreeable, egalitarian and so greatly dressed down that the chairman wore shorts. “Bilbo Baggins” they called him, insubordinately.

If only they hadn’t also relaxed the rule about guests not being able to buy drinks.

Much of the 1996 piece was based on a club history, gloriously droll and effortlessly iconoclastic, written by retired teacher Gordon Philip.

It recalled that by 1883 “anyone of consequence” was a member – “that was either not true or things have changed considerably,” Gordon wrote – and that in 1949 Miss Doreen Robinson had sung at the annual dinner – a black tie occasion, of course.

“We have degenerated towards barbarism since those days,” he added.

In 1946, the tradition of inviting Darlington’s MP to the annual dinner had been discontinued – “I can only assume that this was because Labour had captured the seat in 1945” – while, four years later, a member was reprimanded for “conduct not in the best interests of the club.” Gordon guessed he’d voted Labour.

A 1930s minute recorded that a member had presented a portrait of himself, an immodest gesture of which the quoits men seemed quite fond. “It is perhaps an example of what Marxists used to call bourgeois ostentation,” Gordon wrote.

“I have toyed with the idea of a large framed photograph of myself dressed in a Coco the Clown outfit but have been persuaded by friends that this would not be seen as an example of good taste.”

The minute book of 1964 recorded that the steward had again been reminded that members must be addressed as Mr. The sesquicentennial author was unimpressed. “The last vestige of feudalism lingered on.”

They’d played on sundry fields and dined in different pubs before moving to the Raby Terrace club premises in the late 1890s – the cost £100 plus ten earthenware spittoons, a pack of cards and a barrel of whisky. Whisky features quite strongly in the club history.

Raby Terrace is just behind the town centre, between Duke Street and Bondgate, the club only identified by a door in an anonymous brick wall. So how do folk perceive it?

“I don’t think they do perceive it,” says Brian Ingils, the greatly welcoming president. “They don’t know we’re here and if they pass this way at all it’s just another door in the wall.”

Inside there’s bar, snooker table, games area where 5s and 3s adds up. Out the back are two quoits pitches with “ends” at either extremity. The little area where the quoit is intended to land is officially the clay but, more colloquially, the clarts.

More familiar with quoting Dickens, Gordon Philip had cited Hamlet: “There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we will.”

On Tuesday they hosted the Darlington branch of the Campaign for Real Ale – even Judith Betts, the branch secretary. Women have been Quoit Club members for at least three of its 173 years.

Another Camra visitor is Bill Dixon, himself once a club member and the former Labour leader of Darlington Borough Council. “In the past they’d have nailed the door down to stop him getting in,” says the president.

Veteran member Dave Watson gives the health and safety spiel – “it’s a terribly dangerous game,” he says, perhaps because a quoit weighs five-and-a-quarter pounds and can be nasty in the wrong hands.

The first game’s between Malcolm Dunston and Dave Till, the first throw decided by the quoit equivalent of what grassroots cricketers call hilly/howly. Dave explains that bouncing quoits – “a Barnes Wallis” he calls it, by way of military history – don’t count.

The police helicopter hangs directly overhead, its crew finally satisfied that there is little risk of decapitation – in which event they’d be dead ringers – before making off again.

Best of 11 stands at 10-10 when someone suggests a super-over. They didn’t understand it at Lord’s, either. Malcolm claims the clincher.

Brian Ingils first visited the club in the 1970s – “dress code jacket and tie as a very minimum” – returned seven years ago. His many jobs have included fitting steel to the doors behind the near end. Things can get a bit errant, he says.

“The club has changed completely. “The best thing about it is the friendship, the fellowship. You’re just accepted for who you are, with no pressure to be who you’re not.”

New members, whether quoit players or no, would greatly be welcomed. Those interested could either email the president at or simply knock on the door on a Monday night, These days they promise to answer.