How Tom Shufflebotham charmed 511 worms
SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia
The World Worm Charming
Championship in progress
at Willaston, near Nantwich, Cheshire (UK).
The winners, Geoff and Davina Sandberg,
are at right foreground. Photo © Geoff Sandberg
Of all the world's weird
and wondrous sporting events and pastimes, the gentle art of worm-charming
surely takes the cake as the most bizarre.
I've often seen fishermen dragging hessian bags containing putrid offal or
long-dead fish over mangrove swamps, to attract giant beach worms to the surface
(I did it myself as a teenager). As soon as a worm pokes its head above the mud,
the fisherman grabs it, and drags the wriggler (which may be 2.5 metres long)
from its lair, to use as choice bait. But there's nothing charming about that.
They catch earthworms differently in Britain. Best results seem to be
achieved by vibrating the tynes of a garden fork driven 15cm. into the turf, a
method they call twanging. Some stamp on the ground, while others, emulating
Indian snake charmers, play music to the worms (perhaps the 1966 pop song
"On Saturday 5th July 1980
local Willaston farmer's son, Tom Shufflebotham amazed a disbelieving world by
charming a total of 511 worms out of the ground in half an hour," says an
article on a British website.
"True, there had been rather dubious unsubstantiated reports of a similar
activity in Florida, USA some 10 years previous, but this was the first time a
true competition with strict rules had been held. The village of Willaston, near
Nantwich, Cheshire has been the venue for the annual World Championships ever
"A regulatory body of control was formed to compile and enforce a total of 18
rules governing all aspects of Worm Charming. The International Federation of
Charming Worms and Allied Pastimes (IFCWAP) not only exists for Worm Charming,
but will look after the interests of other zaney sports such as indoor hand
gliding, underwater Ludo and ice tiddly-winks (similar to curling but the
tiddles go further).
"The International Committee of IFCWAP is formed by Mike Forster, Chief
Wormer, and Mr Gordon Farr, Former Headmaster of Willaston School, who now
enjoys life long Presidency and meets only once a year and at other times of
"For example, when the New Zealand flat worm was discovered a number of years
ago in some parts of the country, the threat to the common earthworm was of
great public interest in Willaston and volunteers from the village still
regularly patrol the site of the Worm Arena for at least 8 weeks prior to the
event leaving no stone unturned, for that is where this hideous creature preyed
on Willy Worm."
Two years ago, according to a report in the Chester Chronicle, Tim
Holmes flew from Sydney, Australia, to take part with his friend Phil Morris, of
"Their unique method of didgeridoo-playing, coupled with a samba drum-beat,
yielded only three worms," the newspaper reported. It quoted Tim as saying, "We
did appallingly. It was only when a neighbouring charmer came to help us with a
pitchfork that we managed to get into double figures. It was still worth the
trip though. I had a great afternoon."
Voice of a sceptic
SO... the so-called "Tom Shufflebotham" <cough> "charmed" 511 worms in
half an hour? <cough> I've tried this several times on a nice damp loamy
lawn and blanked, apart from one scrawny worm I'm convinced it's all a
long-running April fool's prank.
-- GlennB, in a UK forum,
Anglers' Net. April 10, 2006.
The 2006 championship was won by Geoff Sandberg and his daughter Davina , who
captured 127 worms.
We emailed Geoff, congratulating him on his success, and asking him to
describe his methods and background.. He kindly sent us the photo shown above,
I won the competition this year with my daughter Davina, at (for me) the
I just use the very ordinary twanging method to charm worms. You need a
bit of luck with a good plot to work in as well, because the distribution of
the worms seems to be entirely random.
I saw some very sceptical stuff from worm charming unbelievers. The
competition is real, and the world record of 511 is in the Guinness Book of
Records. A few years ago the winner got 487, so you can see that such a high
total is not a complete fluke.
I am 57, half Dutch (hence the surname) and I live in Willaston with my
wife Susan and currently also my eldest daughter who returned home last year
to study to become a primary school teacher. Davina is my youngest daughter,
aged 23 (yes I know she only looks about 16 in the photo) and lives in
Leeds. I have another daughter who lives in Italy.
I took early retirement last year from a long career in various parts of
Britain's railways; latterly working for Richards Branson's Virgin Trains
company. I write rail timetables and deal with a lot of the rolling stock
planning for them (the two are inextricably linked). At the moment I am back
with Virgin ... As you can see, worm charming is a top qualification which
probably helped me to get the job.
All that sounds a bit dry and boring, but I have got a sense of humour,
essential in that kind of work. But all the same, I can look at a timetable
and appreciate its structure in the same way that an engineer will love the
way a machine has been designed and built.
Some Australian friends sent me photos they took of me and Davina in
action and with the "Golden Worm" trophy afterwards. I think they were
totally bemused that people in England spend their time doing such crazy
things when they could have been in the pub.
GORDON RAMEL KNOWS ALL ABOUT WORMS
We wondered how Tom Shufflebotham and the other contestants had managed to
charm those English worms. We found the technique described by a British poet
and environmentalist, Dr. Gordon J.L. Ramel, who obviously has a deep affection
for worms. He wrote:
One of the strangest ways that humans relate to Annelids is in the hobby
of 'Worm Charming'. This involves enticing earthworms from their holes
(catching them), originally it was a means of acquiring worms for bait, but
now-a-days it is a sport.
The world record as far as I know is held by Tom Shufflebotham who
charmed 511 worms from their underground hideouts from an area of 3 square
metres in only 30 minutes during the 1980 Annual Worm Charming Championships
held in Cheshire UK.
The rules specify that the worms must be brought to the surface without
using refreshment, stimulation, drugs or digging. Tom used a method called
twanging which involves sticking a 4-pronged pitchfork into the ground and
Annelids range in size from the Giant Earthworms, of which Michrochaetus
rappi (Michrochaetus michrochaetus) is the largest, this magnificent animal
has an average length of 1.36 m (54 ins) and a record breaking specimen has
been recorded that measured 6.7 metres (22 ft) in length, it was 2cm (0.8
ins) in diameter. Larger worms have been reported but not scientifically
proven. The smallest Annelid known to science is Chaetogaster annandalai
which is full grown at 0.5 mm (0.02 ins)
Gordon J.L. Ramel, who lives in North Tawton, Devon (UK) is a
well-published poet who also holds a Master's Degree in Ecology from the
University of Exeter. A dedicated environmentalist, he has written marvellous parodies of Wordsworth's
Daffodils and Blake's
* This story forms part of a longer article posted by
OhmyNewsInternational, the citizen reporters' newszine in
Seoul, South Korea. A story about worm gruntin' in the US will be posted in
the September edition of this e-book.
Story first posted
Copyright © 2006