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. In 2019 the ninth Rugby World Cup was held in Japan, the first time the competition had taken place outside of the traditional heartland of the sport. Today, the game is an International Global Sport with almost 8 million participants, across over 120 countries.
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 in Warwickshire holds a unique position as the `birthplace of the game`.
For anyone who plays the game, has played the game or loves to watch the game, for home or international tourists, a visit to Rugby 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, boot and shoe makers have been manufacturing hand stitched rugby footballs for over 180 years. You can, on occasions, still watch a leather craftsman stitching a rugby ball today!
There is a wealth of rugby memorabilia displayed in the four themed areas, including its origins, the players, the game and the ball. International caps, press cuttings, photographs, pennants and badges from all over the world. There really is a great deal to see. I learnt all about the traditional manufacture of the rugby ball from its origin as a pig’s bladder to the highly technical production of today. A fascinating museum of all things to to do with the beautiful game of Rugby.
Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum, 5 St. Matthew’s Street, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV21 3BY: Telephone: 01788 567777
A short walk 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 in the town, with full support from 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 it is today.
I read about the variations of the sport and discovered how the game went from being an amateur sport to professionalism, its inclusion as an Olympic sport and consider 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.
World Rugby Hall of Fame, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, Little Elborow Street, Rugby, CV21 3BZ Telephone: (01788) 533217
To conclude my tour of Rugby, I finished where it all started at Rugby School. If you have the time or are staying over, a tour of Rugby School and its museum is to be recommended. The school is steeped in history and is filled with old world charm, but for devotees of the sport, a visit to The Close, to view the sacred turf where the game began, is a must. Sporting memorabilia on show also includes ancient rugby balls, an original ‘death cart’ used to trundle away injured players, and the very first ‘caps’ from the game’s beginnings.On the day I was there, a Rugby match was also taking place. the icing on the cake!
I sopped to look at a marble tablet on The Close wall, commemorating the day William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it, into the history books. Time for a selfie!
Rugby School Tours: Barby Road, Rugby, Warwicks Tel: 01788 556169
Although the game has changed beyond 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 – the chance to discover the heart of the game.
Not to be missed!
Rugby is an interesting historic town in it own right, apart from the game. From Sir Frank Whittle`s jet engine to Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter, Rugby’s influence on the world stretches far beyond the sport which bears its name. Rugby was also the birthplace of Rupert Brooke, the famous First World War poet.
It’ has provided the inspiration for literary classics and the foundations for pioneering work in science and engineering, Rugby has given the world more than a game. Tours can be arranged by Rugby Town Guides from the Visitor Centre in the foyer of Rugby Art Gallery and Museum.
Should you visit any of these attractions in Rugby as a result of reading this review, please mention The Travel Locker.