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Rugby School occupies two, parallel worlds; a centuries’ old, venerated English public school, and also, the acknowledged birthplace of rugby football.
To accommodate the beginning of the sport on the grounds, the school has provided modest, yet informative, buildings, plaques, and other items to commemorate its rugby past.
Statue of William Webb Ellis: Outside the confines is a statue of William Webb Ellis who is alleged to have “disregarded the rules and picked up the ball.”
Plaques: Two plaques – one wall, one pavement – also acknowledge Ellis’s contribution. These face the Main Pitch. (Photos)
Main Pitch: The widest pitch in England. As beautifully manicured as the greens of any championship golf course. Occupying the same grounds as the Old Bigside, one of the school's grassy areas (in addition to the Close) where the boys gathered in the early 19th century to throw and catch a ball in an impromptu, keep-away free for all.
School Rugby Museum: A small treasure trove of historic items. Inside, are artifacts from the past, including illustrations of the game, original oval balls made from pigs’ bladders by William Gilbert nearby, and caps. The first ever red cap (Photo) was made to celebrate the visit of Queen Adelaide who was the wife of King William, (Queen Victoria’s uncle) and for whom, Adelaide is named in Australia. Of interest is the first writing of the rules (Photo), establishing guidelines for play, and allowing the sport to be transported to other schools and clubs. Importantly, ten of the twenty English players that traveled to play Scotland in 1871 (The first international match) came from Rugby School. It is also asserted that the white uniforms of Rugby School became the white color of the England XV with the addition of the red rose.
To arrange a tour for a large group, send an email to [email protected]. Drop by tours operate at 2 p.m. Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Cost is £6.95 (around $11.50) for adults and £4.95 ($8.15) for students. For booked tours, visitors will be accompanied by Rusty MacLean, the school’s official archivist and historian, who delivers an informative narration, and affably answers all questions.
Rugby at Rugby: There are thirteen pitches where House and school matches are contested. England’s oldest school rivalry is between Rugby and Cheltenham annually, which dates back to 1844. But there’s another opportunity on the grounds, visiting ruggers are invited to train and practice. Head of Sport, Simon Brown (former Harlequin) said, “Let us know when you’re coming, and how many, and we’ll arrange a session for you.” Contact him at [email protected].
Getting There: Train is convenient from London but expensive if you opt for the “fast” train in the newly decentralized, private rail service. On the local train, it will take about one-hour, forty-minutes. A short taxi ride will take you to the school. Bus is suggested for large groups.
Final note: The worldwide game. The school from which it came. Both called Rugby. Yet, the final impression from a visit is that Rugby School continues to achieve what it was chartered to do; provide superior education and scholarship for its students.
(Many thanks to teacher Jonathan Smith for his assistance.)