One of the most infamous rule-breakers in history, William Webb Ellis has been credited with inventing the game of Rugby Football. As a pupil at the prestigious Rugby School, he showed a disregard for the rules of football when he picked the ball up and ran with it. That was back in 1823, and Rugby Football is now one of the most popular sports in the world.
It makes for quite a wonderful story, but there is actually very little historical evidence to support the idea that the tale is anything more than folklore. Nevertheless, it is such a great tale that we are unlikely to let that get in the way of telling and retelling it in the future!
What will you find in this article?
There are lots of things about William Webb Ellis that we do know to be true, however.
William Webb Ellis was born in Salford outside Manchester in the north of England on 24th November in 1806 to James Ellis, an Army Officer, and Ann Webb.
His father was killed at war in 1812, leaving William, his brother and his mother with nothing but a modest army pension. His mother decided to move to Warwickshire so the boys could attend Rugby School as “local foundationers,” which meant benefiting from attendance at no cost due to living within 10 miles of the school.
The ball-catching incident is purported to have happened in late 1823. Catching and running with the ball is now such a crucial skill for rugby players that players around the world follow Rugby Drill Training videos made by companies like Sportplan https://www.sportplan.net/drills/Rugby/.
After His Death
He died in southern France 66 years later in 1872, leaving an estate of around £10,000. Webb Ellis had never married and left no children, so the estate was distributed among various charities.
Because he died abroad, little was done to mark his grave originally, although it was rediscovered as recently as 1958. It was renovated by the French Rugby Federation.
There are few images of William Webb Ellis, but the town council is still keen to honour its most famous resident, so there is a bronze statue in Webb Ellis’s honour that still stands outside the famous Rugby School.
One image was printed of him in the Illustrated London News back in 1854.
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