History of rugby football comes to life at new bicentenary exhibitions - The Rugby Observer

History of rugby football comes to life at new bicentenary exhibitions

THE HISTORY of rugby football is being brought to life at two new exhibitions at Rugby School, to mark this year’s bicentenary of the game.

‘The Game in the School’ and ‘He Ran With It…’ will give the public the chance to see previously unseen items and documents, such as a scrapbook and carte-de-visite album created by the 1871 English international player and fifth Rugby Union President, A G Guillemard.

‘The Game in the School’ features a timeline of events since the founding of the School in 1567 which had an impact on how the game has been played on The Close, the ground where rugby football was invented.

It includes the foundation of the school and its early years in the town; the story of William Webb Ellis; the development of The Close, the rules and the school; changes to kit and how the school has celebrated the history of the game. It also highlights how girls could have been playing rugby football on The Close as early as the 1870s with the founding of The Laurels School in 1872.




Several items from the school’s archive collection are on display including Stanley and Kilbracken House jerseys, which haven’t been seen since the 1930s; a trophy that commemorates Rugby League played on The Close in 2000; and a report from The Old Rugbeian Society on the ‘Origins of Rugby Football’ which was published in 1897.

‘He Ran With It…’ is an exhibition of art, textiles, objects and records which tell the story of how the town and the school influenced the world-wide development of the game.


It offers the chance to learn about the development of the ball, clubs, rules, the Rugby Union, kit and celebrations of the game, and to see The Harwood painting – thought to be the oldest oil painting of a game of rugby. Items on display include gifts given to the school by clubs and unions from around the world and older versions of rugby balls.

Also included is a scrapbook and carte-de-visite album created by A G Guillemard while at school. Both give an insight into how the game of football was developing at Rugby School in the 1860s before Guillemard helped to form the Rugby Union in 1871.

Visitors are also encouraged to share their own knowledge of rugby clubs around the world by adding their origin stories to a map that shows the geographical history of rugby football.

Jennifer Hunt, Rugby School Archives Manager, who has been responsible for getting the exhibitions together, said: “It is fantastic that we can bring to life two different but connected stories about the history of rugby football while providing greater access to our collections.

“These are the stories of how the actions of William Webb Ellis, his fellow Rugbeians, a school and a town in the Midlands inspired the development of a game which spread worldwide.”

‘The Game in the School’ will run at the School Museum until the end of the year. ‘He Ran With It…’ will be on show in The Lewis Gallery from February 5 to April 7, before moving to Rugby Art Gallery and Museum for display in September and October. It will also be available during events held throughout this year.

Entry to the exhibitions is free, but donations are encouraged. Funds raised will be shared between the Wooden Spoon – the children’s charity of rugby, which has also loaned the original Wooden Spoon, awarded in a Dublin bar to five England supporters in 1983 after England were condemned to the bottom of the Five Nations Tournament Table – and the school’s new 1823 Bursary, which will offer means-tested places at Rugby School to boys or girls who show aptitude for and commitment to rugby football.

Exhibition visits can be booked via the Rugby School Shop via [email protected] or by calling 01788 556169.

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