If irony could be beautiful and fascinating in equal measure, then the history of the Ashes trophy will qualify as one.

It was actually a defeat that gave birth to the ‘Ashes’. It was at the Oval on 29th August, 1882 that England lost to Australia for the first time on English soil. The one-off Test at Oval was one of the most fascinating matches of all times, which ended with a seven-run defeat of England. The shocking defeat inspired a young journalist Reginald Shirley Brook to write a mock obituary of English cricket in a London newspaper The Sporting Times.

The seven-run defeat of England at the Oval in 1882 inspired a young journalist Reginald Shirley Brook of The Sporting Times to write this mock obituary on the death of English cricket.
“In affectionate remembrance of English cricket which died at The Oval, 29th August, 1882. Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances, RIP. NB — The body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia,” he wrote.

Three weeks after the famous defeat Hon. Ivo Bligh, afterwards Lord Darnley, led the English team to Australia with a mission to reclaim the Ashes.He promised that he would regain "the ashes" on the tour to Australia in 1882–83.Though England lost the first Test by nine wickets, they went on to win the next two of the three-Test series.

It is generally believed that a group of Victorian ladies, including Florence Morphy (who later married Ivo Bligh), gave a small terracotta urn as a present to Ivo Bligh after a private cricket match was played over Christmas in 1882. The English team were guests of Sir William Clarke at his property “Rupertswood”, in Sunbury, Victoria. This was before the three Test matches were played.

During the tour of Australia in 2006/7, the MCC official accompanying the urn confirmed that the urn contains the ashes of a cricket bail. The terracotta urn is about six inches tall and originally could have been a perfume jar.

The famous Ashes urn is made of terracotta and is about six inches in height. It was presented to England captain Hon. Ivo Bligh by a group of Victorian ladies after a friendly match over Christmas in 1882.
Florence, widow of Ivo Bligh, gave the urn to MCC after his death in 1927. The historic urn can be seen in the cricket museum at Lord's along with the scorecard of the 1882 match at the Oval.

The text on the urn is as follows:-

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.

However, the Ashes — the most famous traditional rivalry in cricket — is a concept that actually dates back from 1903, when English captain Pelham Warner led a team to Australia with the promise that he would regain “the ashes”, in a manner similar to Hon. Ivo Bligh back in 1882.

Warner’s promise caught the imagination of Australian media, which latched onto the term, and, this time it stuck. However, the term “The Ashes” first found mention in the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack only in 1905, while the Wisden's first account of it was included only in the 1922 edition.

So far, 316 Tests have been played between the two nations out of which Australia have won 131. England have registered 97 victories, while 88 Tests have ended in a draw.

(Uptill 2009 Ashes series in England)