The ultimate prize in cricket once attracted barely a second glance where it sat on the mantelpiece of a stately home in Cobham.

At just 15cm tall, The Ashes urn started out as a joke between the owner of Cobham Hall and his Australian lover and future wife.

Ivo Bligh, owner of the Tudor mansion and later to become the 8th Lord Darnley, was captain when England were vanquished at the Oval by the Antipodean invaders in August 1882.

A satirical obituary in The Sporting Times lamented the "death of English cricket", adding "the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia".

Peter Pyemont, 74, will pick up the story of what happened next in a special talk to be given at Cobham Hall School later this month.

The former captain of Eastbourne Cricket Club will explain how Florence Morphy had the trophy made for Bligh after falling for him on the boat to Australia carrying the England team on their revenge mission.

The former headmaster of St Bede’s School in Sussex told News Shopper: "Two weeks after the Oval England went out vowing to get the Ashes back.


News Shopper: Critic fanatics Peter Pyemont (right) and his brother Christopher.

Critic fanatics Peter Pyemont (right) and his brother Christopher. 

"The urn was then produced but it wasn’t seen for another 40 years or so.

"When Bligh died it was presented to the MCC by his wife."

The legend goes the Countess of Darnley, as she became, had the ashes of a cricket bail put into the urn to tease her future husband after the humiliating defeat, and later passed it to the Marylebone Cricket Club on his death in 1927.

On March 28 Mr Pyemont and his brother Christopher, 65, who won a cricket blue at Cambridge, will be giving a talk on the history of the game at a place which has made an enduring contribution to its greatest contest.

Mr Pyemont said: "We have been all over the country with our talk but to actually do it at Cobham Hall will be something quite special.

"I suppose The Ashes mean one of the great contests in sporting history - they just do."

The real terracotta urn is kept permanently at Lord’s but according to one Cobham Hall tale, it may no longer contain quite what it’s supposed to.

News Shopper:

The magnificent house became a girls' school in 1962. 

Mr Pyemont said: "The story goes it was being dusted by a maid and it fell off.

"The maid saw some ashes in there and cleaned them out.

"When that was discovered they had to hurriedly burn something and put some other ashes in."

After the latest fiercely contested - but sadly one-sided - series shows, The Ashes battle still burns as brightly as that first bail more than 130 years ago.

Tickets to the talk from 7pm on March 28 at Cobham Hall are £10. Call school secretary Julie Webster on 01474 823371 or e-mail

The independent girls’ senior school is holding an open day for prospective parents this Saturday. Visit

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