Chestnut Street

Conkers anyone?

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s chair, made from the horsechestnut that shaded the village smithy. Source: public domain.

Chestnut Street is another in the group of Stratford streets named after native Canadian trees. Chestnut Street may have been named for the only species of chestnut which is native to Canada. Unfortunately, it is a rare tree now, because most of the growing examples were destroyed by a blight, believed to have come to North America on stock imported from Asia towards the end of the last century. Chestnut Street may also have been named for the horse chestnut which is not related to the native chestnut, but is sometimes mistaken for it.

The horse-chestnut was much planted as an ornamental shade tree by Canadians a century ago. Hence Under the spreading chestnut Tree by William Wordsworth Longfellow. The horse chestnut is so named because of the markings similar to a horseshoe which are left on the branch after the leaf stem falls away. The fruit is a large inedible nut which is the chestnut familiar to most schoolboys. By Stanford Dingman

Conkers is a British word for a game using horse chestnuts. It was a popular game in Stratford. A hole is drilled into a large, hard chestnut and a piece of string (often a shoelace is used), about eight inches long, is threaded through the hole. A large knot at one or both ends of the string secures the conker. The game is played between two people, each with a conker. They take turns hitting each other's conker using their own. One player lets the conker dangle on the full length of the string while the other player swings their conker and tries to hit it. They hit each other's conker until one breaks. The conker that breaks is the loser. In Stratford the many chestnut trees made it easy to find good conkers. Great pains were taken in trying to harden the nuts by boiling them in vinegar, or painting them with varnish, or letting them age for a year. However, that was considered cheating. Cobourg, Nile and Water streets had the best horse chestnut trees. By Paul Wilker. Addendum: Agreed, except for Water Street. Gord Conroy

* Click below to hear Underneath the Chestnut Tree