Whatever Happened to the game of Conkers?

Conkers – Playing conkers, brothers, Rhys (left) aged 7 and Huw Pockett, aged 8, pictured at their home at Peny-lan Place, Penylan, Cardiff. 28th November 1984. (Photo by Alan Grist/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

The Greatest Health & Safety Myth of All

When I was a child I couldn’t walk past a horse chestnut tree without throwing a stick at it. The game of conkers has lost it’s appeal – though it’s not down to Health & Safety.

Some over-reactions have passed into health and safety folklore, and it’s worth putting the “Conkers banned by Health and Safety” to bed right now. In 2007 it was reported that a well-meaning head teacher had decided that his pupils should wear goggles to play conkers. This spread to other schools, where the wearing of padded gloves was also suggested!

In 2009, the head teacher at the centre of the myth, Shaun Halfpenny, revealed all to The Guardian. He said most of his pupils had little interest in playing conkers and had never touched a horse chestnut in their lives. However, on a school outing some kids collected some horse chestnuts, and one kid asked if he could wear goggles. The teacher, who seemed to take health and safety seriously, but who considered writing risk assessments tedious, mischievously alerted the media, who justifiably had a field day talking about health & safety gone mad. The wearing of goggles was even made mandatory for participants at the World Junior Conker Championships on the Isle of Wight the following year.

Neither the HSE or any self-respecting health and safety adviser would ever suggest such controls for children playing conkers. The HSE had no reports of conker-related injuries; although several people claimed to have suffered eye damage, or even loss. I have a mischievous sense of humour myself and I like the cut of your jib, Mr Halfpenny. And I salute the kid who started it all by requesting goggles.

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