2023 marks 200 years since the creation of rugby football at Rugby School when William Webb Ellis, playing in a football match on The Close, took the ball in his arms and ran with it – displaying, in the words of the Old Rugbeian Committee, ‘a fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time’ – but inventing a game that is now enjoyed by millions.

In honour of the occasion Rugby School, has launched two new, free-entry exhibitions to celebrate the bicentenary of the game.

‘The Game in the School’ and ‘He Ran With It…’ will give the public the chance to see items and documents not been shown previously, such as a  scrapbook and carte-de-visite album created by the 1871 English international player and 5th Rugby Union President, A G Guillemard.

‘The Game in the School’ features a timeline of events since the founding of the School in 1567 which had an impact on how the game has been played on The Close, the ground where rugby football was invented.

It includes the foundation of the School and its early years in the town; the story of William Webb Ellis; the development of The Close, the rules and the School; changes to kit and how the School has celebrated the history of the game. It also highlights how girls could have been playing rugby football on The Close as early as the 1870s with the founding of The Laurels School in 1872.

‘He Ran With It…’
is an exhibition of art, textiles, objects and records which tell the story of how the town and the School influenced the world-wide development of the game.

It offers the chance to learn about the development of the ball, clubs, rules, the Rugby Union, kit and celebrations of the game, and to see The Harwood painting (thought to be the oldest oil painting of a game of rugby). Items on display include gifts given to the School by clubs and unions from around the world and older versions of rugby balls.

Visitors are also encouraged to share their own knowledge of rugby clubs around the world by adding origin stories of rugby clubs to a map that shows the geographical history of rugby football.

‘The Game in the School’
will run at the School Museum until the end of the year. ‘He Ran With It…’ will be on show in The Lewis Gallery from 5 February to 7 April, then transfer to Rugby Art Gallery and Museum for display in September and October. It will also be available during events held throughout 2023.

Entry to the exhibitions is free, but donations are encouraged.

Funds raised will shared between Wooden Spoon, the children’s charity of rugby, which has also loaned the original Wooden Spoon, awarded in a Dublin bar to five England supporters in 1983 after England were condemned to the bottom of the Five Nations Tournament Table, and the 1823 Bursary*.

Exhibition visits can be booked via Rugby School Shop, tel:  01788 556169 or email: