Conkers are the hard fruit of the Horse Chestnut tree. These are collected in autumn (we used to throw sticks up the trees to knock down the Horse Chestnuts), removed from their spiky casing and left to mature.
A hole is then drilled in the conker (we used to use the tool on the pen knife that was allegedly designed to remove a stone from a horse’s hoof – has anyone actually used it for that purpose by the way?), and a string threaded through.
The full rules of genuine competition were always too complex but the game as played by schoolchildren was mainly about two lads trying to smash the #*%@ out of the opposing lads conker.
One boy dangled his conker (oo-er missus!) by the string, holding it steady, while his opponent swung their conker and attempted to strike the hanging conker. The players took it in turns to do this until one conker shattered, or was so damaged that it was dislodged from its string.
The winner was obviously the player with the intact conker. Winning conkers then became a ‘one-er’, then hopefully a ‘two-er’ etc. The victorious conker added all the winnings of the defeated conker to its score, plus one . . . so a ‘tenner’ which beat a ‘fiver’ became a ‘sixteener’.
Naturally, the stronger and harder the conker, the more chance of success. Many tips and tricks for alleged conker-toughening can be employed, amongst them; Soak your conker in vinegar; Bake your conker in the oven; Use an old conker from previous years.
Every conkerer will disagree with every other on how best to produce an invincible nut. As such disputes are an essential part of the sport, we leave the question open to the totally contradictory answers you will always receive.
The first recorded game of conkers was on the Isle of Wight in 1848 and was modelled on a 15th century game played with hazelnuts, also known as cobnuts.
To avoid damage to horse chestnut trees, the Guinness Book of Records will not publish any category for the largest collection of conkers.