The historic Rugby school educated several notable writers including Lewis Carroll and Salman Rushdie, although it is best known as the birthplace of rugby. Tours of the school are available on Saturdays.
Dating from the 16th century, Rugby School is one of the oldest independent schools in the United Kingdom. It was founded in 1567 as a free grammar school and it grew in importance to become one of England’s most prestigious schools.
William Webb Ellis, a pupil at the school from 1816 to 1825, is often credited with inventing the game of rugby when he picked up a football and ran with it in 1823. However, this is now considered to be a myth and the precise origin of the game remains unknown. However, it is certain that the school played a major role in the development of the sport and the rugby ball, the rubber inflatable bladder and the hand pump were all invented by Richard Lindon, who operated as a shoemaker near the school’s main entrance.
Rugby School is also credited as the home of rugby fives, a handball game similar to squash. Although rugby fives is played nationwide, it never gained the international popularity of rugby football.
Thomas Arnold was the school’s headmaster from 1828 to 1841 and it was during this time that it had its greatest impact. While at Rugby, Arnold introduced a number of reforms that were copied by other prestigious schools defining the standards of England’s top public schools.
Baron de Coubertin, who is credited with the birth of the modern Olympic Games, was a great admirer of Thomas Arnold and he credits him as one of his influences leading to the birth of the modern Olympics.
In addition to William Webb Ellis, past pupils have included Tom Wills (who invented Australian rules football), former prime minister Neville Chamberlain and authors Lewis Carroll, Salman Rushdie and Thomas Hughes.
Thomas Hughes’ 1857 novel, Tom Brown’s School Days, is set at the school and is credited as the forerunner of the English school novel genre which has grown to include many other popular books including the Harry Potter series.
What to see at Rugby School
Rugby School is primarily a school rather than a tourist attraction and because of this, visitors must take a tour of the school in order to avoid disrupting operation of the school.
Visitors to the school take a 1½ hour guided tour. The tour shows visitors the school buildings and its famous rugby ground and it includes access to the School Museum, which has exhibits about Rugby School and the sport that originated here.
In addition to the standard tour, there is also an A-Level Sports Tour, which is aimed at those studying for sports-related qualifications. This tour has a greater focus on the school’s sporting facilities and the impact that Rugby School has had on sport and education.
Visiting Rugby School
Rugby School is located on the southeastern edge of the town centre.
Access to the school is by guided tour only with tours departing from the school shop just before 2pm on most Saturdays. You can usually just show up at the school shop before 2pm, although it is recommended to phone ahead on 01788 556169 to book a place if you’re visiting during the peak season. Tours take around 1½ hours.
If you enjoyed the tour, you can also visit the Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum and the World Rugby Hall of Fame, which are both a short walk away, as well as the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham Stadium in London.