Exploring a local historical institution where sporting history was made - The Rugby Observer

Exploring a local historical institution where sporting history was made

Rugby Editorial 8th Sep, 2023   0

With the Rugby World Cup starting today (Friday September 8) in the sport’s bicentenary year, Karl Quinney explores a local historical educational institution – and in particular, the scene where sporting history was made.

Whether you are a fan, player or follower of the sport or not, it cannot have escaped your attention that this is something of a big year in the world of rugby.

‘Stunning’ – Butterfield’s Chapel.

The 2023 Rugby World Cup, which gets underway in France on Friday (September 8), promises to be the biggest tournament yet. Closer to home, 2023 also marks the 200th anniversary of the game of rugby football – two centuries since William Webb Ellis, while playing a game of football on The Close, caused outcry and infamy by taking the ball in his arms and running with it.

Yet to walk past the School and The Close, you would find it hard to believe such a momentous act or event took place.




So being a Rugbiean born and bred, I decided it was long overdue that I find out more about the history of Rugby School and this famous setting as part of one of their guided tours.

The School Shop arranges the tours and is the meeting point for what is a fascinating two hour visit and history lesson. With a party of 20 including tourists from the USA and Egypt ready to go, our guide for the afternoon Julie gets us underway with a look at the School’s Museum.


The Museum features some fascinating displays and artefacts, including a Death Cart from Victorian times which from its high vantage point hanging from the rafters looks as gruesome as it sounds.

From here we move out and pass ‘The Island’, the scene of the Great Rebellion which, according to Julie, many a pupil today takes for granted as simply being a mound or a hill. They are soon made aware of its significance, as are we.

Our next stop is the Queen’s Gates and the opportunity many a rugby fanatic is waiting for – the chance to step onto the hallowed turf of The Close, the place where the worldwide sport began. For many it really is sacred ground and the quintessential photo opportunity with the School and the distinctive Butterfield’s Chapel as a backdrop.

Then the tour moves on to viewing several of the School’s key historical buildings. Stepping foot into the aforementioned Butterfield’s Chapel produced a real wow factor moment. Designed by the gothic revival architect William Butterfield in 1875, the interior remains as it was constructed and it is quite simply stunning.

Old meets new – the former study of one of the school’s most famous headmasters,
Thomas Arnold.

Next we head through to the smaller Memorial Chapel which is linked to the main Chapel. Built as a memorial to those from the Rugby School community who lost their lives in the First World War and subsequent conflicts, it may not command the grandeur of the its neighbour but it is every bit as poignant as you would expect.

Our final stop of the Tour sees us head through the Quad and back to class as it were, in this case up a narrow staircase leading to the former study of one of the School’s most famous headmasters, Thomas Arnold.

With that old school smell of wooden desks and a vast collection of books squeezed into bookcases and shelves like something from a Harry Potter movie, it all harks back to a bygone era. Yet modern day blends in seamlessly in a historic setting, the sight of a laptop and electronic whiteboard bringing us back to the present.

Before heading home, the School Shop is worth a look as it stocks all official Rugby School memorabilia including books, stationary, keyrings, shirts, ties and replica footballs. There is even chance to own your own part of The Close, with limited edition glass paperweights available to buy containing the turf from when the historical rugby pitch was re-laid last year.

Visit www.rugbyschoolenterprises.com/tours for more information on tours of Rugby School.

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