Joe Darby was born in Windmill End, Netherton, on August 6, 1861 and became a legend in his own lifetime! His story is no old-timer's yarn suitably exaggerated to impress the present day generation but a "facts and figures" record of a truly phenomenal athlete and a great Black Countryman!
Joe's record is reproduced below but he was no mere breaker of records. The Netherton athlete was a great showman who knew how to put on a show which rarely failed to astound his audience, whether gathered in some Black Country pub or the greatest theatres and arenas in the land.
He was known far and wide as "Joesy The Jumper." Such was his fame during the 1880's and 1890's that he was summoned to a command performance, before the late King Edward VII (then Prince of Wales) and other members of the Royal Family at London's National Sporting Club.
Like Bill Perry, "The Tipton Slasher," a few decades before, Joe Darby put the Black Country squarely on the national sporting map and drew acclaim from "peer and peasant" alike during his fantastic career.
As early as 1880 he was astounding his workmates by "jumping the cut" near Hingley's Ironworks at Netherton - appearing to take off for a second leap from the surface of the water and proving that contact had indeed been made by displaying the wet sole of one of his shoes.
This magical ability was something which he developed to even finer limits in later years when he would leap from the taproom counter of "The Albion Inn" at Dudley, onto his baby daughter's face, and off again onto a high stool at the other end of the room. He varied this routine by jumping on and off eggs without ever breaking one.
In 1889 he was acknowledged champion of the world and received a belt, similar in design to boxing's Lonsdale Belts - it was inscribed...
"Presented to Joe Darby - Champion Jumper, of the World - Dudley Castle Fetes, June 12th 1899, on behalf of his numerous friends and supporters, by Ald. W.E. Walker, JP, Deputy Mayor."
This added to the belt, already in Joe's possession, which was a remarkable trophy with seven enamelled plaques, the larger and central one containing the inscription "Champion Jumper of The World," and the others depicting various leaping postures. These, together with his many other trophies were presented to the Dudley Museum and Art Gallery, on his death in 1937, for public display.
At the height of his fame, in 1892, Joe appeared at Rolands Circus, Wolverhampton. A prominent sporting personality had expressed some doubt as to the Netherton man's ability and a wager was made, in the sum of £100, that he could not jump the length of a billiards table.
The event created such a wide interest that the editor of "The Sporting Life" and "The Sporting Chronicle," Mr Edward Pike was appointed referee.
A full-sized English billiards table was set up in the ring and Joe Darby succeeded in clearing it comfortably and also cleared 6ft 51/2 ins in the high-jump after only two spring jumps. Later in the year, he cleared exactly 6 feet in a standing-jump, with ankles tied, at Netherton Cricket Ground in a special high-jump event - a really astounding feat when it is considered that it was accomplished without the momentum of a running approach to the bar.
In addition to his official records, Joe made stupendous leaps in many Black Country towns, particularly in public houses where the sporting men gathered. At Blackheath, it is remembered that Joe Darby jumped over a large table on which a bowl of water was placed, taking a second leap from the surface of the liquid onto the five foot high bar across the room.
At a Cradley fete he persuaded an onlooker to lie down on the running track, where his nose was liberally covered with chalk. Joe, then took a short series of spring jumps, making his final take-off from the recumbent man's nose and then cleared a dozen chairs set in a row. The spectator's nasal organ was undamaged but Joe proved that he had, indeed, alighted upon it by pointing to a smudge of chalk on one of his shoes.
During many of his feats, Joe carried an 8lb dumbell in each hand to add impetus to his jumping, releasing them at the apex of his leap. These, with his collection of trophies, can be seen at the Dudley Museum and Art Gallery.
His death, in 1937, was widely mourned but his records and the many achievements of his lifetime will live wherever men talk of the greats of The Black Country's sporting history, and the name, "Joesy The Jumper," will always be an honoured one in such company.
Joe Darby's Records
3 Forward Spring Jumps, 41ft 7in (November 5, 1888)
10 Forward Spring Jumps, 137ft 7in (August 19, 1889)
5 Forward Spring Jumps, 76ft 3in (June 28, 1890)
2 Forward Spring Jumps, 28ft (September 19, 1980)
1 Forward Spring Jump, 14ft 9in (September 19, 1890)
1 Backward Spring Jump, 12ft 11in (September 14, 1891)
High Jump after 2 jumps, 6ft 51/2in (February 5, 1892)
Standing High Jump, 6ft (June 14, 1892)