Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1806, was born William Webb Ellis.

Webb Ellis was a schoolboy at Rugby School, who, bored with the slow pace of a football game, picked up the ball and ran with it, thus creating the game of rugby.

Web Ellis was born in Salford on November 24th 1806, the son of an army officer who fell at the battle of Albuera, 1812, while serving under the Duke of Wellington. William’s mother decided to move to Rugby, Warwickshire in order to give her sons an education at Rugby public school.

Webb Ellis attended Rugby School from 1816 to 1825, during which time, he was noted as a good scholar and a fine cricketer. The incident where Webb Ellis picked up and ran with the ball in his hands occurred in 1823 and is commemorated by a plaque at the Rugby School [Rugby, Warwickshire, CV22 5DS].

Whether the incident actually took place or not, has been hotly disputed. It was first reported, four years after Webb Ellis died, by Matthew Bloxham, a historian, who tried to refute the idea that game of rugby had been played for centuries. Thomas Hughes, author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, who had attended the school from 1834 to 1842, stated that running with the ball was unknown during his time. What is certain is Rugby School developed its own special rules of football which led to the creation of the modern sport of rugger. The Rugby Union authorities certainly believe the story, as the current Rugby World Cup trophy is named the ‘William Webb Ellis Cup’.

After leaving Rugby School, Webb Ellis went to Oxford where he represented Brazenose College at cricket. Later he became a clergyman and was noted for his outspoken views on a variety of subjects, in particular the conduct of the Crimean War.

Webb Ellis died in the south of France on 24th January 1872 and is buried in the town of Menton. [Cimetiere du Vieux Chateau a Menton. Plot number 957]

Recommended reading.

Richards, Huw. A Game for Hooligans: The History of Rugby Union.

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