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24 September 2014

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Discovering more about Webb-Ellis

Museum visitors
Visitors from 'down under' at the museum
Was he a cheat or a rebel? We went to the Rugby Football Museum to find out about the player that started the game of rugby.

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Report by Faye Claridge, web producer

Going through the unassuming shop front of the Rugby Football Museum I felt like Alice In Wonderland falling into another world.

 Stitching balls
Hand-stitching balls in the traditional wat at the Rugby Football Museum
Its small period rooms are stuffed full from floor to ceiling with memorabilia of every kind.

This isn’t a sterile, catalogued museum – this is an atmospheric horde collected out of a passion for the game and for local history.

Old photographs jumble side by side next to printed club rules, shirts, merchandise and anything and everything that ever had a connection to rugby.

Virtual visit
Click the images button below to launch a gallery showing some of the exhibits to get a feel for visiting the musuem.

images button

Vital stop for rugby fans
 Museum exhibit
Some of the memorabilia on display
The museum is quite bewildering but full of character.

Talking of characters, the best surprise of my visit was meeting John Batchellor, a self-confessed “rugby nut” that hand-stitches rugby balls there in the traditional way.

Just as he was telling me the museum attracts hundreds of visitors from the Southern Hemisphere, a family from New Zealand came in. They were fascinated by the museum and saw it as a vital stop for rugby fans.

The Webb Ellis story
 Museum view
The Webb Ellis statue anmd Rugby School seen from the museum window
Of course all this passion is here for a reason. It was in Rugby in 1823 that, during a game of rowdy football, William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it.

Rules were a lot less fixed then than they are now, but this still caused a controversy. Some called him a cheat, others praised him as a rebel.

The Old Rugberian Committee eventually filed a report on the incident in 1895, stating “the innovation was of doubtful legality” but eventually praising the player for “a fine disregard for the rules of football”.

Of course, as we now know, Webb-Ellis' rebellion saw the invention of the game of rugby - now one of the biggest sports in the world.

It’s a fascinating story and is told well in the museum, with a display that traces football right back to Roman times.

Statue of the community
 The Webb Ellis statue
The Webb Ellis statue
In September 1997 a statue was erected to commemorate the rebel who started a whole new game, sited appropriately between Rugby School and the museum.

Seen from the museum window, it is a fitting tribute, as well as a site of pilgrimage.

It has been climbed and kissed by a number of weighty rugby players, but so far is bearing the load very well!

Making a visit
 Rugby Museum
The Rugby Museum
The Rugby Museum, previously called the James Gilbert Museum, is housed where William Gilbert first turned his shoe-making skills to making rugby footballs.

Handy for tourists, it is just a few doors down from the visitor centre and opposite the main site of Rugby School.

It is open Monday - Saturday 9am - 5pm. Hand-stitching can be seen usually on Mondays to Wednesdays.

Call ahead for bank holiday deatils or other information, on 01788 540 795.

Entrance is free.

Rugby School
To continue your pilgrimage, see our virtual tour of Rugby School.

The 360 views allow you to see into the heart of the school that has nurtured 63 pupils that have gone on to play international rugby.

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