Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

World Conker Championships

It seems that the children’s game of conkers, played with the seeds of horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), is restricted to the British Isles, where it has been known for ‘little more than 160 years’ [1]. Basically the game consists of two players each with a conker suspended from a string taking turns to take swipes at each other’s conker until one, the winner, causes the other contestant’s conker to break to pieces.
Since 1965 an event described as the World Conker Championships has been held on the second Sunday of October each year near Oundle in Northamptonshire. It is said that a group of anglers frustrated by the cancellation of a fishing trip took consolation in playing conkers. A small prize was awarded to the winner and a collection made for charity. This became an annual event raising money, mainly for charities for the visually handicapped. Between 1965 and 2010 over £400,000 had been raised. The event has attracted players from many parts of the world, with R. Ramirez of Mexico becoming the first overseas winner in 1976.
The men’s competition is limited to 256 contestants, and there are smaller competitions for children, started in 1986, and women, started in 1988. Conkers are supplied by the organizers and contestants are carefully watched to ensure that the Conker Club’s rules are followed: ‘There will be three stewards in charge of each section and their decision will be final.’ For many years the contest was held on the Green at Ashton, but in recent years it has moved to New Lodge Fields, where the 2011 Championships will take place on 9 October.

1. S. Roud, The Lore of the Playground, 2010, p.225.

For further information see:
R. Vickery,A Dictionary of Plant-lore, 1995, pp.189-94.

Image: Front cover of the 1998 ‘official programme’.