Dudley Council
Dudley Skyline

Champion Spring Jumper of the World

  • Joe Darby belts and memorabilia in case and poster on the wall
  • Joe Darby belt with image of Dudley Castle
A modest man to the last.

Early life

Joe Darby was born in Windmill End on 6 August 1861. His father, Abraham Darby, was a horse shoe maker, and at a very early age, Joe took up the trade.  It was speedily recognised by his employer that he was an outstanding man, and at the age of 19 he was generally considered to be the fastest and finest workman in the district.  He was open to wager all-comers up to any amount at feats of nail making.  He would take his ordinary nail rod, cold, from the bundle, cut a length from it and take it straight to the block without placing it near a fire.  He would then make a nail from the cold rod, but before it was completed, he could, by his miraculous speed and dexterity with his hammer and oliver, cut the nail white hot, which when cool, would be blue in colour.  This was a feat no other man breathing has been successful in achieving. 

From his earliest childhood he had been an outstanding jumper, and at school had easily beaten not only his school fellows, but also his teachers, and he had gone on to make a name for himself in the district.

Trick jumps

Joe was the forerunner of the modern stuntman. 

He could jump onto the surface of water in a tank and out again, simply wetting the soles of his shoes. That this feat involved a double spring is proved by the fact that he would jump up to the water a distance of 5 feet and then clear the tank landing 6 feet beyond it. he would jump onto a crate of eggs, touch them and spring off without breaking a single shell. 

One death defying feat involved him jumping over the back of a chair onto the face of his daughter, lying on the ground, and springing off again without hurting her, but leaving the marks of whitening from the soles of his shoes, on her cheeks. 

Joe's fantastic abilities reached the ears of King Edward who was apparently as baffled as everyone else as to how he did it. In fact the King was so intrigued a command performance was arranged at London's Covent Garden for the publican's abilities to be tested. The King was so bowled over by Joseph's jumping that he sent him a cheque for £25.

Joe performed before most of the crown heads of Europe who would see him presenting one of his favourite freak jumps - leaping over a handsome cab. As his fame spread, he was beset with challenges from all parts of Europe.

In fact the more he jumped the more daring his feats became. The stunt man was so at home in the air that he eventually became known as "the man bird", a name which greeted him everywhere he went from New York to Vienna, Warsaw to Paris and Berlin to Brussels.

The man bird's more picturesque feats were: clearing a full sized English billiard table lengthways, jumping over a chair placed on top of a table with his ankles tied together , springing from a brick, stood on end, over seven chairs without causing the brick to move, and leaping over ten chairs placed together in one jump.

World Champion

During the time he was a blacksmith he commenced going further a field to participate in jumping matches and it was in Yorkshire at the Queen’s Grounds, Barnsley, that his first really important match took place.  This was against W Fillingham of Wigan, and was for £100 a side.  Fillingham’s supporters and admirers came from all parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire to watch the contest, and he was escorted to the grounds by a band proudly playing “See the Conquering Hero Comes”.  But as a contemporary newspaper stated “It was playing for the wrong man”.

The match was ten standing jumps with weights.  Quite undaunted by taunts of the crowd the redoubtable Joe Darby, without so much as removing his cloths, knocked the music out of the bank and emptied the shekels out the pockets of his adversary by beating him by 8 feet 10 inches. 

In his matches he performed real athletic feats, beat all-comers and smashed every existing record. He attracted huge crowds all across the Black Country where he became an idol among the sporting fraternity. He set record after record with backward spring jumps, high jumps with ankles tied together, leaping billiard tables, and a number of spring jumps of different kinds.

He held the world jumping championship from 1882-1893.

The oldest licensee

For many years in later life, Joe Darby – the greatest jumper the world has ever known – kept the Albion Hotel, Stone Street, Dudley.

He had left the tumultuous applause of the crowd surrounding the arena of Circus and Hippodrome, and settled down to a quite life. His quiet easy-going manner – devoid of any ‘swank’ endeared him to all. He was a man of great modesty and charm, and his generosity is shown in the fact that he presented to Dudley Town the two extremely valuable belts which had been presented to him by the Manchester Sporting Chronicle. 

At the age of 75, the once champion jumper died. He had been a licensee in Dudley for nearly half a century. When he passed on, he had achieved another record - the oldest licensee in town.