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by Mandy Barrow

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British life and culture - England, Scotland and Wales
A Favourite Children's Game

During the months of September and October, a favourite playground game is conkers. It is a game which has been played every autumn for generations but nowadays fewer children are playing it. We hope to revive this British custom by telling you more about it.

Playing conkers
Children playing the game of conkers

Roald Dahl was a big conker fan. He tells us in his book, 'Roald Dahl, My Year' that,
'...a great conker is one that has been stored in a dry place for at least a year. This matures it and makes it rock hard and therefore formidable.'

Did you know? ......

On finding your first conker of the season, you should say:

" Oddly oddly onker my first conker". This ensures good fortune and few tangles throughout the coming season.

The game of conkers is known as 'Kingers' in some parts of the world.
Find out more...

iconWhat is a conker?

A conker is the seed of the horse chestnut tree (not the sweet chestnut tree where we get edible chestnuts from).


It is a hard brown nut which is found in a prickly casing.

Conker growing on horse chestnut tree
Conkers, not yet ready, on a horse chestnut tree

The green outer casing of the seed will turn brown and crack open revealing the conkers inside.

Conkers inside their pod
Seed pod split revealing conkers inside

They fall from the tree when they are ripe during the autumn months.


Each seed pod can house many conkers.

inside a pod showing four conkers

Conkers is also the name given to a game played between two people at a time.

conker on a stringiconHow to prepare your conker for playing.

The best conkers to play with are uncracked, firm and symmetrical. Make a hole through the middle of of your chosen conker. Thread a strong piece of string about 25cm long, through the hole and tie a knot at one end, so that it doesn't pull through.

iconHow to play conkers?

Each player has a conker hanging on its string. Players take turns at hitting their opponent's conker. text taken from and copyright of

Playing conkers

If you are the one whose conker is to be hit first, let it hang down from the string which is wrapped round your hand. The conker is held at the height your opponent chooses and is held perfectly still.

conker hanging on string

Your opponent, the striker, wraps his conker string round his hand just like yours. He then takes his conker in the other hand and draws it back for the strike.

Aiming to hit

Releasing the conker he swings it down by the string held in the other hand and tries to hit his opponents conker (yours) with it.

If a player misses hitting his/her opponents conker they are allowed up to two further goes.

If the strings tangle, the first player to call "strings" gets an extra shot.

If a player hits his/her opponents conker in such a way that it completes a whole circle after being hit - known as ‘round the world’ – the player gets another go.

If a player drops his conker, or it is knocked out of his hand the other player can shout 'stamps' and jump on it; but should its owner first cry 'no stamps' then the conker, hopefully, remains intact.

The game goes on in turns until one or other of the two conkers is completely destroyed.

iconScoring (by Steve, a visitor to our website)

A victorious conker assumes the score of all its victim's precedent foes.

Thus, in a contest between two fresh conkers, the winner would then have a score of 1 (known as a 'one-er'). If it then beat another three one-ers, it would become a four-er.

However, if the same conker then beat a conker which had previously conquered (no pun intended) 5 fresh opponents (and thus was a 'five-er'), our steadfast nut would then become a ten-er (its own four, plus its latest victim (1) *plus* its victim's previous count of 5).

You won't find this rule for a world championship as it doesn't make sense for a one-day event. But it certainly does at school, where a good conker could go for several seasons or even be passed on to a younger sibling.

I remember there being sixty-ers around in my youth but, sadly, have no recollection of ever beating one...

Best wishes from Switzerland,

iconHow to choose a good conker.

Ever wondered why some conkers float in water but most sink? When placed in water, all the conkers that have damage inside them will, due to their lack of density, float to the surface.

For children who wish for 'killer' Conkers. you simply discard the floaters and concentrate on the much harder ones at the bottom of the bucket.

iconHints on how to make your conkers harder.

You could try one of the following, although it is considered cheating:

  • Soak your conker in vinegar.
  • Bake your conker in the oven.
  • Use an old conker from previous years.

iconWorld Conker Championships

This event is held every year on the second Sunday in October on the Village Green at Ashton in Northamptonshire. Contestants are not allowed to use their own conkers. Nuts are supplied for each game after being gathered and strung by the organisers. Each game lasts five minutes. If neither conker has broken a shoot out takes place. Each player has three sets of three hits and the one who lands most clean hits is the winner.

Visit the official World Conker Championship website for more details.

iconInteresting facts about Conkers

Britain is believed to be the only country in the world where the game of conkers is traditionally played with horse chestnuts in the autumn.

Horse chestnut trees were first introduced to England in the late 16th century from Eastern Europe.

Horse chestnut conkers, unlike many other kinds of chestnut seed, are unfit for human consumption.

Conkers are edible by deer, cattle and not surprisingly, horses.

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.

The origin of the name 'conker' is unclear, but one popular explanation is that it stems from the French word cogner, meaning to "hit" or "biff".

Extracts from horse chestnuts have been used to treat malaria, varicose veins, diarrhoea, frostbite and ringworm, as well as being a component of sunscreen products.

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All the materials on these pages are free for homework and classroom use only. You may not redistribute, sell or place the content of this page on any other website or blog without written permission from the Mandy Barrow.

© Copyright Mandy Barrow 2014

Mandy is the creator of the Woodlands Resources section of the Woodlands Junior website. 
The two websites and are the new homes for the Woodlands Resources.

Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consultant.
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.

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