Tag Archives: United Kingdom

Conkers – English Children’s Game

Description of Informant

NV (75) is a retired school teacher born in Abadan, Iran. She went to boarding school in England from 1956-1963, moving to American for college afterward. She always remembers her arrival in the states, as it was the day before Kennedy was assassinated. Currently, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.

Context of Interview

The informant, NV, sits on a loveseat, feet planted on a brightly colored Persian rug. She is opposite the collector, BK, her grandson.


BK: What are some childhood games from your time in either England or Iran?

NV: I know something called Conker. It’s these things that grow out of the trees and we would take it and put a nail in it and tie a string on it. We’d have to borrow the hammer. And then we would have a battle with it and hit it [our Conkers] and try to break them— that you know have it hanging and you go whack! Hit it, and see how many hits would take to break that— like a fruit. It was a hard fruit that grew. You don’t eat it. It’s just something like this *makes a ball with her fist* called Conker, or something. That was in England.

NV: Boys and girls played it. So it wasn’t just for the boys, the girls played it too. It was fun because sometimes it would hit your face or fly all over the place. A lot of the time the nail would fall off and you’d have to start all over making another one.

BK: Were there winners and losers?

NV: Sure! Your Conker would hit the other person’s Conker, to see who’s broke first. And when you won you’d be so excited and crying with laughter, “I got it, I got it!” and all that nonsense.

Collector’s Reflection

The nut used in Conkers is the seed of the horse chestnut tree, native to the UK. Thus, the game was prevalent only in Great Britain and Ireland, as the tree was not common elsewhere in the world. The nickname for these seeds is actually derived from the game, not the other way around. Conkers comes from a dialect term for “knock out,” though there are several possible origins for the name.

There are many rules and scoring procedures for Conkers which vary from region to region, school to school. However, the informant was not able to recall any complicated scoring mechanism. This may be due to memory loss, but it is just as possible that her school played a more rudimentary version of Conkers.


For more information on Conkers, including rules and variations, please see:

“All About Conkers”. worldconkerchampionships.com. Ashton Conker Club. Retrieved 24 April 2021.

LINK: https://web.archive.org/web/20161025235221/http://www.worldconkerchampionships.com/html/conkers_about.html



I conducted this interview over the phone, the subject was born and raised in Scotland before moving to England, Canada, the United States, then to Northern Ireland, and, finally, back to the United States. I knew she continued to practice certain traditions which were heavily present in her childhood and wanted to ask her more about them.



“I’ve learned this from my childhood, from Grandma and Grandpa. It’s this big tradition in Scotland, when you grow there it’s what you know. It is a New Year’s tradition, at midnight, we call it “when the bells ring” on Hogmanay, um you, either go first footing if you’re a young person, or you get a first foot, which means it’s the first person to step inside your house for the new year and they have to have dark hair. Usually they have a gift, nothing big, maybe a drink or something, to bring luck to the house, and they cannot, under any circumstance, have light or blonde hair.”

Interviewer: “Why do you carry this tradition?”

Subject: “Because I’ve been taught to believe that if you don’t do this, or have someone who’s blonde come in, then your year will have bad luck. This is purely Scottish.”



First-footing is a common practice in Scotland and Northern England. Some areas have more elaborate forms of this practice, such as in Worcestershire where you must stop a caroler and bring them inside. Sometimes the ritual must also be accompanied by some entertainment, such as with the caroler, or with a dance. It is considered unlucky to have a female, or a male with female-hair be the first-foot.

A resident of the home is allowed to be the first-foot, so long as they were not inside the home at the stroke of midnight. The gifts the first-food brings also vary, such as coin, bread, salt, alcoholic beverages, etc.