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Historical Rugby Milestones 1840s

Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boy

1840s A short Historical Back drop of Victorian Britain

  • Vacination for the poor was introduced.
  • A uniform postage rate of 1 penny was introduced.
  • Income tax introduced for the first time during peacetime.
  • Irish potato famine begins.

1841-2 - Running with the ball officially allowed in Rugby school rules provided that a) the ball was caught on the bound (from a bouncing ball), b) the catcher was not"off his side", c) that the catcher did not pass the ball but ran on himself.

1843 - Rugby club formed at Guy's Hospital, London. The foundation date of Guy's Hospital Rugby Club is accepted by both the Rugby Football Union and the Guinness Book of Records, making Guy's the oldest rugby club in the world. The club merged with St Thomas' Hospital Rugby Club in the early 90's. The evidence this is based upon is a 1883/4 fixture card which stated Guy's 40th season, and the testimoney of J.N.C. Davies-Colley, who joined the club in 1865, and stated that the birth of the club was 1843 and also personally knew men who had played in the 1850s.

NB. Notes on identifying the oldest Rugby club in the world: Since Rugby rules were not documented at all until 1845 and even then, someone had to have personal knowledge of how to play the game to interpret them, I would contest that all clubs prior to 1845 played some variety of football and hence by definition could not be playing Rugby rules (since there were no written rules) although I must conceed that the club could be playing the same game as was being played at Rugby school brought to it by ex-Rugby pupils and staff (by word of mouth so to speak) more here.

William Webb Ellis becomes the Rector of St. Clement Dane church from 1843 to 1855.

Clement of Rome was Pope until 100 AD when the Emperor Trajan tied him to an anchor stone and threw him into the sea. For this reason he became the Patron Saint of Sailors. During the reign of King Alfred (871 - 899), England was incessantly ravaged by Danish seafarers, though some came to adopt the English way of life. Some believe that it was these Danes who built the church and adopted St Clement as patron due to their - and his - ties to the sea. They were to be known as the St Clement Danes.

The original church was built on its present site in the 10th Century AD and was rebuilt by William the Conqueror after his successful invasion in the 11th Century. It was rebuilt, again, in the 14th Century, pulled down and is the only church outside the City of London to have been rebuilt by Wren (1681). The steeple was added in 1719 and the vast majority of the church was destroyed by German bombing in 1941, leaving the steeple and walls extant. The interior of the church was entirely rebuilt by the Royal Aeronautical Fleet and dedicated to the RAF, as a tribute to all allied air crew from both world wars, in 1958.

St Clement Dane claims to be the church made famous by the childrens's nursery rhyme but the honor probably goes to St Clements which is a small church situated in St. Clements Lane, Eastcheap. There have been three Churches on the site starting with the first in the 11th Century when the church is mentioned in a confirmation of grants to Westminster Abbey in 1067. The original old Church was rebuilt in the 15th Century.  The second church was destroyed in 1666 during the Great Fire of London The existing church was rebuilt in 1687 by Sir Christopher Wren (the great architect of St Paul's Cathedral). The "Oranges and lemons" refer to the citrus fruits unloaded at the nearby wharves.

The original children's rhyme:

Gay go up and gay go down
To Ring the Bells of London Town
"Oranges and Lemons" say the Bells of St. Clements
"Bullseyes and Targets" say the Bells of St. Margaret's
"Brickbats and Tiles" say the Bells of St. Giles
"Halfpence and Farthings" say the Bells of St. Martin's
"Pancakes and Fritters" say the Bells of St. Peter's
"Two Sticks and an Apple" say the Bells of Whitechapel
"Maids in white aprons" say the Bells at St. Katherine's
"Pokers and Tongs" say the Bells of St. John's
"Kettles and Pans" say the Bells of St. Anne's
"Old Father Baldpate" say the slow Bells of Aldgate
"You owe me Ten Shillings" say the Bells of St. Helen's
"When will you Pay me?" say the Bells of Old Bailey
"When I grow Rich" say the Bells of Shoreditch
"Pray when will that be?" say the Bells of Stepney
"I do not know" say the Great Bell of Bow
Gay go up and gay go down
To Ring the Bells of London Town

  st clements


  St Clements, EastCheap

The rhyme is actually very clever for the words the bells are saying, such as " Oranges and Lemons", "Bullseyes and Targets" and "Pokers and Tongs", reveal  the many long-gone trades practised and wares sold by the people who lived in the great city of London. They also reveal the history of life in London!

Church Location Life in London
St. Clements Clements Lane and King William Street, Eastcheap Citrus Fruit unloaded at the nearby wharves
St. Margarets Lothbury (a street name) Archery practise
St. Giles Cripplegate, Barbican Builders
St. Martin's Martin Lane, Eastcheap Money lending
St Katherine Cree Leadenhall Street Leadenhall Market
St. Peter's Cornhill Bakers & Fast Food !
St. John's Tower of London Torturers
St. Ann's & St Agnes Gresham Street Coppersmiths
St. Helen's Bishopsgate Lord Mayor, Money Lender
St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate church and the bell of Newgate prison Old Bailey Courthouse and Prison
St Leonard's Church Shoreditch Very poor area of London
St Dunstan's Church Stepney Many sailors buried in the graveyard there, when will that be is thought to refer to wifes awaiting their husbands return.
St Mary-le-Bow Cheapside Londoners board within the sound of the f amous bow bells are called cockneys.

The "Bullseyes and Targets" refer to archery which was practised in the nearby fields. In 1363 King Edward III had commanded the obligatory practice of archery on Sundays and holidays. This tradition continued, thus ensuring the safety of the Realm, until Bows were replaced with guns. Many monarchs tried to ban playing ball games so men would practice their archery which took many years to master.

Alternative children's version:
"Oranges and lemons" say the bells of St. Clement's,
"You owe me five farthings" say the bells of St. Martin's,
"When will you pay me?" ask the bells of Old Bailey,
"When I grow rich," — say the bells of Shoreditch,
"When will that be?" — ask the bells of Stepney ("Step-knee")
"I do not know," — say the great bells of Bow.

...and added much later in order to play a game:
Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head,
Chip — chop — chip — chop,
The last — man's — head.

1845 - The first rules of Rugby football.

On 25 August 1845 three senior pupils at Rugby School received instructions to codify the game of Football.  Just three days later W.D. Arnold, W.W. Shirley and F. Hutchins submitted 37 Rules to the Sixth Levee; they were immediately passed and a Rule Book was printed.

1845 laws


Independent meetings held at Cambridge University and London to formulate a code to unify the various types of football.


Birkenhead, on the opposite bank of the Mersey Estuary from Liverpool, was the venue for the world's first man-made park, complete with lakes, hillocks and meadows. It was designed by Joseph Paxton, who also designed the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Many such parks followed as Victorians sought to provide open spaces in or near the centre of urban areas. For many smaller clubs these parks established all over the UK would provide playing fields which were able to be rented for games allowing many clubs to start without the expense of owning their own grounds.


The major public schools (Rugby, Eton college, Harrow, Marlborough, Westminster and Shrewsbury) met to draw up the 'Cambridge Rules' which became the basis for Association football. See 1863.



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