A Conversation for Conkers

War-time Use of Conkers

Post 1

BigAl Keeper of the Glowing Pickle and Monobrows

I thought this article would be worthy of a full update, including Maxin's information about treatment of conkers to make them tougher (see thread 'Bonkers about Conkers')

Ref the Sentence, "Except of course he didn't because the horse chestnut tree was only introduced into Britain in the 1600s and the first recorded instance of a game of conkers being played wasn't until 1848". My information is that conkers arrived in Europe from Constantinople in the 16th Century. The first Horse Chestnut came to England about 1600.
Surprisingly, children in Britain played the game that we know today as 'conkers' long before H/C's were introduced here. For this they originally used snail shells. It is the word 'conncha', which is Latin for 'shell' that supplies the interesting link between shells and conkers.

During WW1 Horse Chestnuts were needed as a raw material for the Weizmann Process for the production of acetone (propanone); which in turn was needed for the manufacture of explosives (cordite). Maize was originally used as the substrate, but a grain shortage created pressure to find other sources of carbohydrates, which would not interfere with the already restricted food supplies. By May, 1917 experiments were being carried out with H/C's , at the suggestion of Britain's Ministry of Munitions. Children throughout Britain were asked to collect conkers to supply this effort. Reference: Chemistry in Britain, Vol 23 No. 4. April, 1987.

Why the name 'Horse Chestnuts'? At the time the H/C was introduced to Europe, there were reports that conkers were being fed to sick horses in Turkey. According to Gerard, in his 'erball' of 1597, "people of East countries do with the fruit thereof cure their horses of the cough".

Another explanation is that the name 'horse' has nothing to do with horses, but means "coarse" or "inferior", the hard brown nut being inferior to the fruit of the sweet chestnut.


War-time Use of Conkers

Post 2

grandWANDERER

I was always told that they were called HORSE chestnuts because, if you remove one of the big compound leaf stalks at the point where it naturally pulls off the twig and look at the end of the leaf stalk, you will see a horseshoe shaped crescent complete with the nail holes.
Try it and see!
Whether that's a coincidence or the true reason I don't know. The sweet chestnut has similar compound palmate leaves - so calling the other chestnut a horse chestnut because of this horseshoe feature seems like a reasonable explanation of the name.
I guess we need to look at the similar sweet chestnut leaves to see if they have a different attachment pattern. (I believe the sweet chestnut was introduced to Britain in Roman times so preceded the horse chestnut)


War-time Use of Conkers

Post 3

BigAl Keeper of the Glowing Pickle and Monobrows

Hmm, I hadn't heard of that one.

smiley - biggrin


War-time Use of Conkers

Post 4

BigAl Keeper of the Glowing Pickle and Monobrows

Also, ways to harden conkers:


http://www.newscientist.com/lastword/article.jsp?id=lw451

smiley - biggrin


War-time Use of Conkers

Post 5

grandWANDERER

Actually my suggestion is not new! I've just found the parallel reference in h2g2 for horse chestnut trees that mentions it as a possibility!!
Lesson one - look in the obvious place first! smiley - biggrin
Etymology is a minefield for the unwary and I suspect that in most cases, as in this, there's no definite answer!

smiley - cheers


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