It was on Ashton village green, surrounded by horse chestnut trees, that the World Conker Championships were conceived in 1965. While the event itself has now moved away from Ashton, a brief history of the Championships is presented here.
Things started in a small way when a group of regulars at the local pub were thwarted by bad weather in their attempt to organise a fishing expedition. The suggestion that they play conkers was made and taken up. A small prize was awarded to the winner and a collection was made for charity by someone who had a blind relative. This then became an annual event with entrants increasing in number and any resulting money being donated to the Royal National Institute for the Blind for 'Talking Books'.
It became a truly international event when a sprinkling of people from other countries started to participate and over the years there have been entries from all over the world. In 1976 the title went overseas for the first time when it went to Mexico. In 1998 there were nearly fifty overseas players and the Men's title went to Germany’s Helmut Kern. In 2000 the Ladies’ title went to Austria’s Selma Becker. In the early years many of the winners were local, some individuals taking the title on more than one occasion.
With the growing popularity, the event has expanded to accommodate more players, a Ladies' event has been introduced and very popular team competitions run in conjunction with the individual events. Junior competitions now have three sections and attract schools from neighbouring counties. All of this has resulted in more publicity, sponsorship, celebrities, craft stalls and entertainment leading to more spectators and more funds for the visually handicapped. To date, around £359,000 has been raised.
In 2009 the event moved to a new much larger venue to accommodate ever more players, spectators, stalls and side shows. And so the Championships continue to grow from strength to strength!
The first recorded game of conkers is believed to have taken place in the Isle of Wight in 1848. The World Conker Championships started in Ashton in 1965.