The Birth of Rugby

According to legend, the sport of Rugby was born in 1823 when a schoolboy at Rugby School named William Webb Ellis picked up the ball during a football game and started running with it. But according to an interesting piece in the 'Questions Answered' section of the London Times, this legend is probably a hoax. Unfortunately I can't link to the piece, so I've cut and pasted the relevant paragraph:

There is very little evidence to support the assertion that William Webb Ellis was the first person to pick up the ball and run with it. In 1876 Martin Bloxam, who had left Rugby in 1820, wrote an account for the school magazine based on hearsay. This was immediately contested by a peer of Webb Ellis from his schooldays. In 1895 the Old Rugbeians of the RFU set up a committee to try to keep the game in their control. They accepted the hearsay rather than a contemporary account. The journalist J. L. Manning investigated the investigators and concluded that the story was a perfect hoax and that the Old Rugbeians had falsified the history of rugby. By this time Webb Ellis himself was dead and unable to confirm or deny the story. Several witnesses, including Thomas Hughes, of Tom Brown's Schooldays fame, contested the Webb Ellis story but their account was left out of the report. The committee completed the hoax by having the commemorative stone cut and placed in the headmaster's garden.


Posted on Thu Nov 13, 2003


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