WILLIAM WEBB ELLIS
William Webb Ellis is credited by some with inventing the sport of Rugby Union. The plaque in Rugby School wall reads:
WIILIAM WEBB ELLIS
WHO WITH A FINE DISREGARD FOR THE RULES OF FOOTBALL
AS PLAYED IN HIS TIME
FIRST TOOK THE BALL IN HIS ARMS AND RAN WITH IT
THUS ORIGINATING THE DISTINCTIVE FEATURE OF
THE RUGBY GAME
Unfortunately this is a myth. It is impossible for Webb Ellis to have invented a game he was already playing. He was playing a form of 'Football' that was peculiar to Rugby School, he was already playing 'Rugby Football'. Webb Ellis was playing a game where the ball was kicked over the crossbar and between the posts to score a goal. They were playing this form of 'Football' at Rugby School well before Webb Ellis entered the school. Kicking the ball over the crossbar and between the posts has always been the distinguishing feature of both Rugby Football and Rugby Union Football. Running with the ball allows a team to get closer to the posts, scoring a touchdown or try allows a team an opportunity to kick a goal.
William Webb Ellis was the second son of James Ellis and Ann Webb, they were married in Exeter in 1804. He was born on 24th November 1806 in Salford near Manchester in the county of Lancashire. James, an officer in the Dragoon Guards was killed at the Battle of Albuera in 1812*, Mrs Ellis decided to move to Rugby, Warwickshire in order that William and his older brother Thomas could receive a good education at Rugby School.
As a local foundationer a pupil living within a radius of 10 miles of the Rugby Clock Tower they were allowed free schooling. The headmaster at the time when Webb Ellis enrolled at Rugby School in 1816 was Dr Wooll. William attended the school from 1816 to 1825 and he was noted as a good scholar and a good cricketer, though it was noted that he was 'rather inclined to take unfair advantage' at football.
After leaving Rugby he went to Brasenose College, Oxford University in 1825, aged 18. Illustrated below is a letter in the museum collection written by Mr William Webb Ellis. on the reverse is a certificate of residency signed by the principal of Brasenose College A J Gilbert. The letter is addressed to G Harris Esq, Rugby, Warwickshire. Webb Ellis was an 'exhibitioner' which was a sort of scholarship from Rugby School to Oxford University. The letter was required by the 'Trustees' of the school so that Webb Ellis' fees would be paid. The exhibition system came into force as part of an Act of Parliament relating to Rugby School in 1777. WHD Rouse in his history of Rugby School lists the Act and this quote is directly from this book:
Above is a short note Mr Ellis certificate of residence Michaelmas 1826 which looks to be a filing note, the letter was obviously held in a filing system for it to have survived almost 200 years
William Webb Ellis Letter (WRM.0947-ault-webb.ellis-WRM.uysss)
Above, the letter can be seen in it's entirety, it has a hole in it which would have been where a wax seal was placed, this has been removed, the seal may have been placed on the letter to authenticate the certificate or most likely as a postal charge. Prior to the introduction of postage stamps in 1840 letters were paid for by the receiver rather than the sender. Wax seals have been collected for centuries with Mithridates VI of Pontus 134-63 BC being the first noted collector.
At university Webb Ellis continued his
sporting career with an innings of 12 in the 1827 Varsity cricket match. After university, he entered the Church and became chaplain of St George's, Albemarle Street, London and then rector of St Clement Danes in The Strand. His mother left Rugby at this point and
joined him in London. When she died he erected a memorial in St Clement Dane's church which said "A mother, whose piety is recorded in Heaven and requires no praise upon earth... Her
spirit rejoices in God her saviour. Let my last end be like hers."
Unfortunately this memorial was destroyed when the church was hit by a
bomb in WWII.
FURTHER READING & INFORMATION
RESOURCES & LINKS
Webb Ellis article by Ian Wooldridge of the Daily Mail - Wooldridge casts doubt on the Webb Ellis legend and throws Jem Mackie into the ring as a contender to have invented rugby.
|The Webb Ellis story by HF Ellis from an unknown source, quite a detailed account.|
|Rugby Football History website - A detailed account of the life and times of William Webb Ellis including a poem he wrote at Brasenose College, Oxford. To view this page please....... CLICK HERE|
|The Rugby History Society website - An article titled 'Did William Webb Ellis Invent Rugby' by P Shortell 2010 - A very good in depth look at the Webb Ellis conundrum reaching the conclusion that Webb Ellis did not invent running with the ball. A well thought out article that also looks at the codes of football as played by other public schools but unfortunately does not come up with an alternative origin theory to Webb Ellis. To view this page please....... CLICK HERE|
|At this point I decided to research
the Webb Ellis event myself which led me to write the book
"Understanding the ORIGIN & EVOLUTION of SPORT - Volume 1 - Rugby Union"
WEBB ELLIS MEETS WEBB ELLIS - THE RUGBY WORLD CUP CAME TO GLYNNEATH BEFORE THE 2015 TOURNAMENT AND LOCAL HERO MAX BOYCE INTRODUCED THE PAIR.
Contributors to this page:
Dai Richards: World Rugby Museum
Peter Shortell: for completing the transcription of the Webb Ellis letter.
www.world-rugby-museum.com is supported and hosted by www.rugbyrelics.com