Rugby School was founded in 1567 by Lawrence Sheriff, purveyor of spices to Queen Elizabeth I, as a Free Grammar School for the boys of Rugby and Brownsover. Today it is one of the most prestigious private schools in the country, steeped in history and famous for being the birthplace of the game of rugby .
William Webb Ellis (24 November 1806 – 24 January 1872) was an English Anglican clergyman who, by tradition, has been credited as the inventor of rugby football while a pupil at Rugby School. According to legend, Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it during a school football match in 1823, thus creating the "rugby" style of play. The story has become firmly entrenched in the sport's folklore.
2023 marks the 200th anniversary of the game of rugby football. Prior to this date the sport, known as football, was played much like Australian rules football is today.
Throughout 2023, Rugby School, along with the rugby world, will be celebrating this anniversary and will be welcoming teams from a range of backgrounds and abilities to play on The Close. As well as this, they will be hosting dinners, evenings and their annual festival on this famous historic Close, which for 2023 will be named “With a Fine Disregard”, in honour of Webb Ellis.
Webb Ellis pitch
Last week, I was invited to Rugby School to see some final preparations on the Close, which last year had a major overhaul to ensure all the sports pitches on it were able to cope with the heavy demand now expected of this iconic ground. Under the guidance of James Mead, head grounds manager now since retired, and Jimmy Cavanagh who took over from James, the school employed the services of Agripower a sports pitch contractor who took on the job of installing a complete new drainage scheme and fully automatic irrigation system to both rugby pitches. At the same time they also extended the irrigation to the first team cricket pitch outfield on the Close.
James Mead, retired HG, and Jimmy Cavanah, current HG catching up at Rugby School
The rugby pitches then had brand new posts installed, the surface was renovated incorporating many tonnes of sand and it was seeded with a perennial ryegrass seed mixture. This work was completed last year and is now in use, providing an exceptional new playing surface for the school rugby and cricket teams.
In celebration of the 200th anniversary of rugby football, the school will be hosting a number of events.
On 5th March England Rugby U18 women’s team play their first international match of the season against the Wales U18 women’s side at the birthplace of the game.
This will soon be followed on the 25th March with an International U18s Sevens schools tournament featuring teams from countries around the world including Australia, Canada, Chile, England, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa & Wales.
Then on 10th April the school will be hosting a vets sevens tournament inviting local midlands clubs to attend. Finally, on 23rd April the school will be attempting their own world record of the world’s largest uncontested rugby scrum on the hallowed pitch. The current world record is 2,586 people, so they are looking for 3,000 school children aged between 10 and 17 (18 if still at school) to help achieve this huge feat!
No doubt the next few months will be an extremely busy time for Jimmy and his staff with both rugby and cricket pitches to prepare. To help commemorate this 200th anniversary, Jimmy with the help of Fleet Line Markers, have come up with new logo that will be painted on the hallowed turf for the duration of these events.
I caught up with Iain and Jimmy during my visit. Iain told me, “Rugby School and Fleet Line Markers Ltd. have enjoyed an excellent working relationship over the last goodness knows how many years?! Quite a long time, in fact we don’t regard Rugby School as a customer, more as friends.”
Iain continued, “Ali from Fleet and Jim from Rugby were recently talking about the 200th Anniversary of the game of Rugby and as it happens, Fleet are also celebrating an anniversary in 2023, of 70 years. One thing led to another, and Jim ordered some bespoke stencils from Fleet to mark this momentous occasion.
“We are very proud in having this association with Rugby school and long may it continue.”