The Ashes urn is a symbolic trophy that changes hands according to the winner of the test cricket matches between England and Australia. It represents the "death of English cricket" after Australia's victory in 1882. The actual urn resides in a museum, but a crystal trophy goes to the winner of the series.
After Australia's victory in 1882, a newspaper ran a humorous obituary remarking on the death of English cricket. It suggested a cremation, with the ashes being shipped to Australia. Australian cricket personalities picked up on this imagery and the following year spoke of returning to England to bring home "the Ashes."
In 1882, the losers of a friendly cricket match in Australia gave the winning team a terracotta urn containing Ashes, and it was brought back to England. For some time, it remained in private hands, but eventually it was donated to the Marylebone Cricket Club. Once put on display, it came to represent the spirit of the Ashes and served as a symbol of the international sporting rivalry.
No one is sure what the ashes in the urn originally were. The most common theory is that the urn contains the ashes of a cricket ball, but another theory suggests it is the remains of a wooden bail used in a cricket match.