Rev. William Webb Ellis (24 November 1806 – 24 February 1872) was an Anglican (English) clergyman who is famous for allegedly being the inventor of Rugby football whilst a pupil at Rugby School. Webb Ellis's name is firmly established in rugby union folklore and the William Webb Ellis Cup is presented to the winners of the Rugby World Cup.
Webb Ellis was born in Salford. He was the younger of two sons of James Ellis, an officer in the Dragoon Guards, and Ann Webb, whom James married in Exeter in 1804. After his father was killed at the Battle of Albuera in 1811, Mrs Ellis decided to move to Rugby. He attended the school from 1816 to 1825 and was recorded as being a good scholar and cricketer, although it was noted that he was "rather inclined to take unfair advantage at cricket".
After leaving Rugby in 1826, he went to Brasenose College, Oxford, aged 20. He played cricket for his college, and for Oxford University against Cambridge University in a first-class match in 1827. He graduated with a BA in 1829 and received his MA in 1831. He entered the Church and became chaplain of St George's Chapel, Albemarle Street, London, and then rector of St. Clement Danes in The Strand. He never married and died in the south of France in 1872, leaving an estate of £9,000, mostly to various charities.
The sole source of the story of Webb Ellis picking up the ball originates with one Matthew Bloxam, a local antiquarian and former pupil of Rugby. On 10 October 1876, he wrote to The Meteor, the Rugby School magazine, that he had learnt from an unnamed source that the change from a kicking game to a handling game had "...originated with a town boy or foundationer of the name of Ellis, Webb Ellis".
On 22 December 1880, in another letter to the Meteor, Bloxam elaborates on the story:
"A boy of the name Ellis – William Webb Ellis – a town boy and a foundationer, ... whilst playing Bigside at football in that half-year , caught the ball in his arms. This being so, according to the then rules, he ought to have retired back as far as he pleased, without parting with the ball, for the combatants on the opposite side could only advance to the spot where he had caught the ball, and were unable to rush forward till he had either punted it or had placed it for some one else to kick, for it was by means of these placed kicks that most of the goals were in those days kicked, but the moment the ball touched the ground the opposite side might rush on. Ellis, for the first time, disregarded this rule, and on catching the ball, instead of retiring backwards, rushed forwards with the ball in his hands towards the opposite goal, with what result as to the game I know not, neither do I know how this infringement of a well-known rule was followed up, or when it became, as it is now, a standing rule."
The claim that Webb Ellis invented the game did not surface until four years after his death and doubts have been raised about the story since 1895, when it was first investigated by the Old Rugbeian Society. The sub-committee conducting the investigation was "unable to procure any first hand evidence of the occurrence".
Rugby is a market town in Warwickshire, England, located on the River Avon. The town has a population of 70,628 (2001) making it the second largest town in the county. The enclosing Borough of Rugby has a population of 100,500 (2011). The town is credited with being the birthplace of rugby football.
Rugby football is a style of football that developed at Rugby School and was one of several versions of football played at English public schools during the 19th century. The two main types of rugby are rugby league and rugby union. Although these two forms share the same objective of getting the ball over the line to score a try, the specific rules are different.
In 1871, English clubs met to form the Rugby Football Union (RFU). In 1892, after charges of professionalism (compensation of team members) were made against some clubs for paying players for missing work, the Northern Rugby Football Union, usually called the Northern Union (NU), was formed. The existing rugby union authorities responded by issuing sanctions against the clubs, players and officials involved in the new organization. After the schism, the separate clubs were named "rugby league" and "rugby union".
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