• Photographs Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography
      Discover the history of Rugby Football at the Webb Ellis Museum, Ann Evans reports
      Pic Statue of William Webb Ellis outside Rugby School

      Pic Statue of William Webb Ellis outside Rugby School

      If you are enjoying the International Rugby coverage on TV and looking forward to the start
      of the Rugby World Cup next month, why not look back at the history of the game with a
      visit to the Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum, located where else but in the town where the
      game was invented – Rugby in Warwickshire.
      You’ll find it in the town centre, directly opposite the famous Rugby School, where in 1823,
      16-year-old William Webb Ellis broke all the unwritten rules of football at the time, picked
      up the ball and ran with it. The building housing the museum in St Matthews Street is where
      in 1842, boot and shoemaker, William Gilbert (1799-1877) began making rugby footballs,
      which are now famous the world over.
      Pic The only known portrait of William Webb Ellis in later years as a member of the Clergy

      The only known portrait of William Webb Ellis in later years as a member of the Clergy

      Here you’ll find a wonderful collection of artefacts associated with the William Gilbert
      company, the game of rugby and its players. Since the museum opened in 1980, tens of
      thousands of visitors from all around the world have paid homage to the game and its
      pioneers.
      Pic An early Gilbert ball with an Indian rubber bladder and pump

      An early Gilbert ball with an Indian rubber bladder and pump

      As you explore, you’ll find an amazing collection of photographs, balls, tooling, shirts, caps,
      artefacts, trophies and documents that tell this incredible journey, which have been collected
      over the last 180 years. The collection has grown also through visiting teams, donating signed
      shirts, balls, ties, photographs, programmes and other memorable iconic items that all go to
      make this a fascinating museum to visit.
      Pic William Gilbert boot and shoe maker

      Pic William Gilbert boot and shoe maker

      Since the start of the game, and the expansion of its popularity with schools and universities
      taking it up throughout England, Scotland and Wales – often through former Rugby School
      teachers and pupils moving on to new careers, so there were arguments and disagreements
      over the finer points regarding the rules. Rugby School was the first to print rule books for
      the sport, even before rule books for football had been laid down. You’ll find copies of these
      early little rule books which players could slip into their back pockets. Look closely and
      you’ll see that some of the early terminology such as knock on, in touch, off side and try, have
      all lived on.
    • Pic Richard Lindon inventor of the rubber bladder

      Richard Lindon inventor of the rubber bladder

      Rugby was also first in producing caps. Today, caps are awarded to players playing for their
      country. Back in the late 1800s caps were given to the schoolboys who were good players so
      that they could be identified by those watching the game. Today, the caps are known as
      International Sporting Caps, but back in those early games they were called Following Up
      Caps.
      Pic 6

      Pic William Gilbert inventor of the rugby football

      William Gilbert inventor of the rugby football

      It’s poignant to see the caps, documents and photographs of young men prior to World War I,
      knowing that they would then have most likely gone off to war. Also, the trophies and the
      photographs of players and world-famous international teams on visits to the museum.
      There’s also the exhibit Gilberts displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851 at Crystal Palace,
      plus original pig bladder balls, early leather balls and the visual history of how the game
      developed. So much to see that will fascinate rugby enthusiasts young and old.
      Pic Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum

      Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum

      The Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum is supported and assisted by a partnership with
      Rugby Borough Council. It’s free to enter and visits are self-led.
      Open Mondays-Saturdays, 9.30am-5pm, and some Bank Holidays (ring to check). Closed
      Sundays.
      Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum,
      5-6 St Matthews Street,
      Rugby,
      Warwickshire
      CV21 3BY
      Tel: 01788 567777