The current world record for the largest functional Christmas cracker was pulled at Ley Hill, near Chesham, on December 20, 2001. The record has stood for 20 years and this is the story...

Early history of the World Record

In December 1922 the record for the world’s largest Christmas cracker was set at 35 feet long and 5 feet in diameter. It had taken four men a week to build and was pulled by a team of boys and girls in the ballroom at the Children’s Ball at the Savoy Hotel in London. This record stood for many years. Then in 1986 a team at British Aerospace in Weybridge built a Christmas cracker which was 80 feet, 7½ inches long. It took 9 hours to put together at Elmbridge Leisure Centre, Walton-on-Thames, where it was pulled by Geoff Capes, the world’s strongest man, on May 10, 1986. That record was broken in 1990 when a Christmas cracker which measured 140 feet long was built along Carlton House Terrace in central London. It was pulled by Sir Brian Rix, and Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock and 50 children from a Pimlico School. It exploded in a cascade of balloons and toys. Money raised went to help train helpers for Romanian orphanages.

Record goes to Australia

On November 9, 1991 the record went to Australia, when a cracker that was 150 feet long and 10 feet wide. It was built by international rugby player Ray Price. It was pulled in a car park in Sydney, Australia. He then broke his own record on December 16, 1998 with one which was 181 feet, 11 inches long, and 11 feet, 9 inches in diameter.

Getting the record back to England

Andrew Garnett, who had been involved in the 1990 record in London, moved to Lowndes Avenue in Chesham. He has always been involved in community events and he joined the Ley Hill School Parent’s Association. They were trying to come up with fundraising ideas and he suggested one big event that would capture people’s imagination. He suggested that they try and win the world record, and so bring it back to England. The idea was to give everyone a pre-Christmas boost, raise money for the school, have a fun team-building exercise and establish a world record in the process. The idea was supported by the Parents Association and Paul de Koning, headmaster of Ley Hill School. The planning started in summer 2001.

To qualify for the world record the Christmas cracker had to be a real Christmas cracker, had to look and work like one, had to pulled, had to go bang, had to have at least one present in it, a hat and a joke.

Building the Cracker

The cracker was built during the third week of December by volunteers, mainly local people, most of whom were parents of children at Ley Hill School and Pre-School. The project was sponsored by different people and organisations. The team included local experts such as John Berry, chief engineer, who did the drawings; Graham Hull, process engineer; and Lindsay Faulkner, builder. It was built over 4 days along a stretch of Middle Road on Ley Hill Common next to the cricket ground, where marquees were put up for the construction team. Permission was sought from Bucks County Council to temporarily close the road. A wooden structure was built which was then coloured red. It consisted of half a mile of cardboard, a thousand nails, 1300 bolts, and it all sat on rollers.

Pulling the Cracker

The date of the big pull was set for Thursday, December 20, 2001. The weather was good that day. The cracker was pulled by 44 children from Ley Hill School, with the help of a celebrity and 3 rugby players. The celebrity was Al Hunter Ashton, who used to play the character Raymond “Pitbull” Darby in the television series, London’s Burning. This was a television show on LWT about a fictional station of the London Fire Brigade. It was also pulled by Romain Magellan, Tom Shanklin and James Parker, who were three players from the Saracen’s Rugby Union Football Club. When the cracker was pulled it went off with a bang, thanks to some materials supplied the BBC Special Effects team, and it released 300 balloons, a hat, and a rubbish joke about Santa written by Robin Carr.

Charities benefit

About £8,000 surplus money from the build project, was given to children’s charities. The money was split between the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) Full Stop Campaign and Chatterbox; and the local village schools: Ley Hill Pre-school (nursery), and Ley Hill School (junior and middle).

World Record

The Guinness Book of Records sent an independent adjudicator from London, and it was confirmed as a world record. The world’s longest Christmas cracker now measured 207 feet long (63 metres and 10 centimetres) and was 13 feet (4 metres) in diameter. It beat the previous Australian record by 26 feet.

The event got good media coverage and appeared on television. Moya Winter was interviewed on Australian radio about the attempt and she told the BBC: “Sleepy Ley Hill has claimed a new world record which is fantastic. It was a beautiful day which passed off perfectly and has helped raise a lot of money for charity.” The local newspaper ran the headline “Pull the other one – for a world record”, and the BBC ran the headline “Village’s crack at the record books”.

Twenty years later, the record still stands.

Thanks to Neil Lamond and Andy Garnett for help with this article, and for the photos.