The History of Rugby

Ellis Rugby. The Rugby Heritage Brand – Our inspiration;

In 1823 William Webb Ellis of Rugby School is responsible for inventing rugby football. From that date onwards various forms of the game were established, including ‘Rugby’, but also many other forms usually originating from a number of Public Schools.  Eton and Cambridge had their versions and the Winchester game also became extremely popular. Former pupils began forming their own clubs, but there was difficulty in establishing the rules and often these were only agreed just before the agreed kick-off times.

So, on the 4th December 1870, Edwin Ash of Richmond and Benjamin Burns of Blackheath published a letter in The Times suggesting that “those who play the rugby-type game should meet to form a code of practice as various clubs play to rules which differ from others, which makes the game difficult to play.”

On 26 January 1871 a meeting attended by representatives from 21 clubs was held in London at the Pall Mall Restaurant on Regent Street. At this meeting it was agreed the rules of Rugby School would be adopted and the first official laws of the game were drafted.

Sixteen years later in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland – a lady called Emily Valentine – the youngest of six brothers and sisters played her first match of rugby at the Portora Royal School. According to her memoirs, in the winter of 1887, she removed her hat and overcoat to play alongside her two brothers as their team was a man short. She was the youngest of six brothers and sisters and played her first match of rugby union at the Portora Royal School, becoming the First Lady of rugby.

By the early 1890s many new rugby clubs had been formed and it was in the Northern English counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire that the game really took hold. Here rugby was largely a working class game, whilst the south eastern clubs were largely middle class. Rugby spread to Australasia, especially the cities of Sydney, Brisbane, Christchurch and Auckland. Here too there was a clear divide between the working and more affluent upper class players.

Large paying crowds were attracted to major matches, particular in Yorkshire. England teams of the era were dominated by Lancashire and Yorkshire players. However these players were forbidden to earn any of the spoils of this newly-rich game. Predominantly working class teams found it difficult to play to their full potential because in many cases – their time to play and to train was limited by the need to earn a wage.
In 1895 following a dispute over “broken time” payments twenty-two clubs met in the George Hotel, Huddersfield to break away from the Rugby Union and form the game of Rugby League.