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WILLIAM WEBB ELLIS

1806-1872

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
A.D. 1823

 

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. 

 

*the date or the circumstances of James Ellis death need to be checked although most sources give 1812 the battle of Albuera is dated 16 May 1811 according to http://www.peninsularwar.org/albuera.htm 

 

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:

 

"Ninth - The Trustees, or the major Part of them, to elect and send, at such Time or Times as they shall think proper, Eight Boys to any of the Colleges or Halls in Oxford or Cambridge; the Sum of Forty Pounds a Year, by Half yearly payments, to be paid out of the Revenues of the said Charity Estate, to each Boy, for the term of Seven Years, and no longer; and to be called "THE EXHIBITIONERS OF LAWRENCE SHERIFF," and the number of such Exhibitioners, to be from Time to Time filled up in the Manner aforesaid: Which Boys respectively shall not be entitled to receive the same annual Sum of Forty Pounds, unless they shall actually reside Eight Months in the Year, in such Colleges, or Halls, and shall previous to such Payment, obtain a Certificate of such Residence, from the Master, or Head of each College or Hall." - WRRS128

   

 

 

99-0947-webb-ellis-letter.jpg (574402 bytes)

I hereby certify that Mr William Webb Ellis Scholar of Brazennose* College in the University of Oxford has completed between Michaelmas** 1825 and Michaelmas 1826 the usual residence required by the rules and regulations of the said college in regard to the members thereof.

Witness my hand this 27th day of October in the year of our Lord 1826

A J Gilbert, Principal

*the college name Brasenose derives from 'brazen' a door knocker in the shape of a nose 

** Michaelmas term was the first school term dating from September/October to Christmas. It derives from St Michael's Day, 29 September.

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Dear Sir

I have sent herein a certificate of the residence now required by the College & likewise the Trustees of Rugby School for Exhibitioners from there. I thank you for the form of the cer - tificate you gave my mother to be transmitted to me - with best respects 

believe me Dr Sir

yours obliged

W W Ellis

 


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  

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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.

In 1855 Ellis became rector of St Mary's Church, Magdalen Laver in Essex where there is now a Webb Ellis stained glass window. Of particular interest to the rugby historian is that he founded the village school in 1862. This shows that Ellis had the vision to make changes that were of benefit to this community, a trait that he must have carried over from Rugby School where he possibly pursued changes in the rules of football.
   

A picture of him (the only known portrait) appeared in the Illustrated London News after he gave a particularly stirring sermon on the subject of the Crimean War.


He left Magdalen laver in 1870 for the French Riviera most likely due to ill health and on 24 January 1872 William Webb Ellis passed away and is buried at Menton in the South of France.

  

FURTHER READING & INFORMATION
  

92.jpg (67189 bytes) Running with the ball - the Birth of Rugby Football by Jennifer Macrory. This book deals exclusively with the origin of Rugby Football and is by far the most comprehensive work on the subject. A must read for anyone interested in the origins of the sport, it includes lengthy excepts from the Old Rugbeian Society investigation published in 1897. To purchase this book on the Rugby Relics website please........  

CLICK HERE

 
93-Webb-Ellis-print.jpg (541561 bytes) WILLIAM WEBB ELLIS & RUGBY SCHOOL PRINT - THIS ITEM IS AVAILABLE TO PURCHASE ON THE RUGBY RELICS WEBSITE IN SIZES 18" x 12" or 30" x 20"

CLICK HERE

 
91.jpg (92920 bytes) William Webb Ellis, Fact or Fiction" by Floris Van Der Merwe  - an interesting  view of the origins of the game by a South African academic.

CLICK HERE

    

RESOURCES & LINKS

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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.

82-article-by-hf-ellis.jpg (946510 bytes) 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"

 

"UNDERSTANDING THE ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION OF SPORT"

Volume 1 – RUGBY UNION - by Dai Richards

“The origin of Rugby Union explained”

When Richie McCaw raised aloft the William Webb Ellis trophy after the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, few people would have thought about the schoolboy after whom the trophy was named. In this publication, sport historian Dai Richards explores the origin of Rugby Union and closely examines how sports evolve. He contends that the 1897 report by the Old Rugbeian Society that named Webb Ellis as the founder of rugby football was incorrect in its conclusion and that the origin of the sport has been misrepresented throughout written history. Through thorough research and analysis, the origin of Rugby Union is instead placed with the boys of Rugby School in the late 18th century. Published in a limited signed edition, this book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history of Rugby Union or the development of sport in general. 

ISBN: 978-0-9531714-1-5

CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE OR FOR MORE INFO

 

 

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  

 

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