What does it say on The Ashes urn?

Jake Nichol December 7, 2021
What does it say on The Ashes urn?
Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

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England and Australia are set to renew their rivalry on the cricket field as the 2021/22 Ashes series begins but what does it actually say on The Ashes urn? What are the ashes the teams play for?

There are some unique trophies in sport.

The winner of The Masters gets a green jacket. NASCAR race winners get a lobster in New Hampshire and a grandfather clock at Martinsville.

Some trophies are big – such as the huge Davis Cup in tennis – while some trophies are easier to hoist aloft like football’s World Cup or Champions League.

But there are few trophies in world sport as tiny as The Ashes. It may be little more than 4in high, yet England and Australia have fought tooth and claw for the urn for more than 100 years.

But what does it actually say on The Ashes urn? And what actually are the ashes in the first place?

Photo credit should read SHAUN CURRY/AFP via Getty Images

Ashes urn history

The first time England played Australia in Test cricket, in 1882, there was no such thing as The Ashes.

Such was the surprise of Australia’s victory in that first contest, Sporting Times journalist Reginald Shirley Brooks joked the “body (of English cricket) will be burned and the ashes taken to Australia”.

It was on the 1882/83 tour Down Under that the moniker ‘The Ashes’ was adopted, as England captain Ivo Bligh pledged to return with the ashes. His team did, too. England won the series 2-1 and Bligh (below) was presented with the 4in urn.

Photo by Elliott & Fry/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Reportedly, the ashes of a burnt cricket bail lie within the Ashes urn, a Victorian perfume bottle.

The battle for The Ashes remains one of sport’s great rivalries. Even as Test cricket struggles to find an audience these days, every day of an Ashes series remains a sell-out.

What does it actually say on the urn?

There are two labels stuck to the urn.

The top one simply states ‘The Ashes’.

The larger text below takes the form of a poem and refers to members of Bligh’s touring party of 1882:

When Ivo goes back with the urn, the urn;
Studds, Steel, Read and Tylecote return, return;
The welkin will ring loud,
The great crowd will feel proud,

Seeing Barlow and Bates with the urn, the urn;
And the rest coming home with the urn.

The original urn presented to Bligh is housed at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. Owing to its fragility, the urn rarely leaves England, with players lifting a replica in celebrations.

Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

How many times has it been played?

Since Bligh took his team to Australia in 1882, 71 Ashes series have been played. The forthcoming series will be the 72nd overall and 36th Down Under.

Australia have won 33 series to England’s 32 with six draws. During the last Ashes in Australia in 2017/18, the hosts won 4-0.

England last claimed victory in 2015, 3-0 on home soil, and last brought the Ashes urn home again after the famous 2010/11 tour.

Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images for Surrey CCC

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Jake can usually be found writing about or watching anything to do with motorsport – from Formula 1 to NASCAR to British Truck Racing. His work as a motorsport journalist has been published by the likes of Autosport, Motorsport.com and Motorsport News – all highly respected names. Away from racing he is a keen amateur astronomer, podcast listener and enjoys long walks in the park with his three dogs.