With two clubs in Warwickshire and Northamptonshire playing Premier League & European Rugby Union, Wasps and Northampton Saints, plus dozens of amateur and semi – professional clubs, the game of Rugby Football is an integral part in the lives of many men, women and young people across our counties.
When in 1823 Rugby School boy William Webb Ellis is reputed to have shown `a fine disregard for the rules of football, as played in his time, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it`, to the writing of the first formal set of rules at Rugby School, the town of Rugby, holds a unique position as the `birthplace of the game`.
For anyone who loves the game, a visit to the town has become a `must do! It’s the reason why thousands of rugby fans flock to the town of Rugby every year to make the pilgrimage to the proud home and birthplace of the game. Which is exactly what I decided to do!
My first stop was the Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum, a small `free` museum located less than 100 yards from the iconic William Webb Ellis statue outside Rugby School. The museum is situated at the rear of the shop where William and then James Gilbert, originally boot and shoe cobblers, have been manufacturing hand stitched rugby footballs for over 180 years. If you are lucky, there may be a leather craftsman stitching a rugby ball, on the day of your visit!
There is a wealth of rugby memorabilia displayed in the four themed areas, including history about the games origins, the famous players, the development of game and the ball. I learnt about the traditional manufacture of the rugby ball from its origin as a pig’s bladder to the highly technical production of today.
A short walk later and I was outside the state-of-the-art World Rugby Hall of Fame, which is located on the first floor of the striking Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, which has a distinctive glass front to all three storeys. In 2016 Rugby town was honoured to be chosen as the home for this brand-new visitor attraction, with the full support of World Rugby.
Here I was able to experience rugby’s great players and the moments that defined the sport. I was taken on a stimulating journey through time using the latest HD touch-screen technology. It is a journey that takes the visitor from the game’s humble origins at Rugby School to the huge global sport that it is today.
I read about the changes the game has undertaken, how the game went from being an amateur sport to professionalism, its inclusion as an Olympic sport and I considered the social values that unites the sport from community to elite level. The Hall of Fame also celebrates the 137 players and places that have contributed to the game, with new inductees every year. If you fancy a walk around town after viewing the museum, you could follow the Pathway of Fame, a trail of bronze pavement plaques which celebrates the icons of the game.
To conclude my tour, I finished where it all started, at Rugby School. A tour of the school and its museum is recommended. The school is steeped in history and is full of old world charm, but for the devotees of the sport, a visit to The Close, to view the sacred turf where the game began, is a must. Sporting memorabilia to be seen includes ancient rugby balls, an original ‘death cart’ used to trundle away injured players, and the very first ‘caps’ from the game’s beginnings.
Make sure you get a selfie with the bronze plaque on the wall, commemorating the day William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it, into the history books.
Although the game has changed beyond all recognition since William Webb Ellis created history in 1823, its heart remains in the town of Rugby. For rugby fans, a visit to Rugby offers the unique opportunity to visit the place where it all began, a chance to discover the heart of the game.
Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum, 5 St. Matthew’s Street, Rugby
World Rugby Hall of Fame, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, Little Elborow Street, Rugby
Rugby School: Barby Road, Rugby
The Travel Locker
Jim Davis is a retired Northamptonshire secondary school teacher. Having worked as a freelance journalist for many years, he now writes a travel blog.He is available to write blog reviews for attractions, hotels and restaurants across the Midlands. Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org