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Webb-Ellis, William (November, 24, 1806 - January, 24, 1872)

Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boy

William Web Ellis was born on 24th November 1806 in Salford near Manchester, Lancashire (Some sources say he was born in Manchester, Webb Ellis actually said he was born in Manchester in an 1851 census as he later moved to the city) . He was the son James Ellis, an officer in the Dragoon Guards and Ann Webb whom he married in Exeter in 1804.

After James was killed at the Battle of Albuera in 1812, Mrs Ellis and her two sons were left totally unprovided for except for a small army pension of 10 pounds a year for each child. She decided to move to Rugby, Warwickshire so that William and his older brother Thomas could receive a good education at Rugby School with no cost as a local foundationer (i.e., a pupil living within a radius of 10 miles of the Rugby Clock Tower). William Webb Ellis Enrolls at Rugby School under the headmastership of Dr Wooll and was at town house.


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. The incident where Webb Ellis picked up and ran with the ball in his arms during a football match is supposed to have happened in the latter half of 1823.

After leaving Rugby he went to Oxford University in 1826, aged 18. Here he played cricket for Brasenose College, Oxford, he went in at number 3 for Oxford at Lords Cricket ground and got 12 runs.

According to a Times article "The Rugby Football Mystery" published in March 3rd, 1965 he is thought to have unwittingly contributed to a book called:

Brasenose ale. A collection of poems presented annually by the butler of Brasenose college on Shrove Tuesday

By Brasenose College (University of Oxford).

The book's introduction:

A Series of Poems is here presented on a theme abundantly familiar to all Members of B. N. C. ; for whom alone, in all probability, the following pages will possess any interest. To them it may seem almost superfluous to mention that the Butler of the College is bound by immemorial custom to produce in Hall annually on Shrove Tuesday a copy of Verses in praise of the College Ale : accompanying which, a special brew is made for the day, and supplied ad libitum to every inmate of the College.

Though of late these Verses have been printed on each annual occasion, a desire has been expressed in many quarters for a compilation of such as are extant, whether in print or manuscript, in a form which might better conduce to their preservation. This desire is now acted upon : and it is hoped that, with all their faults, these ephemeral compositions, thus rescued from oblivion, will not be denied the interest of old associations.

Hiqh o'er the windings of a vault
That joins the new-born house of malt,
Where still in fame a Fabric grows
That proudly rears her Giant Nose :
That nose that snuffed with Spartan sent
The track that God-like Heber went,
And bids her brazen sons aspire,
And fans the Poet's infant fire :
While brooding in my long arm'd chair,
A steamy vapour mounts the air,
And as the fumes my soul relax,
Sleep seals my eyes as close as wax.
When lo ! a Shade of wond'rous size
In gait like Bacchus seem'd to rise,
But thrice as fat—so round and hale
As tho' he swill'd not wine, but ale ;
His grisly beard he 'gan to stroke,
He wav'd his hand and thus he spoke :—
Mortal attend ! no vulgar theme
Has roused me from my Stygian dream.
Hast thou not heard the festive tale,
The mystic wonders of the new-brew'd ale ?
Or seen the vapours of the reeking cloud?
Sweet incense to the Drinking God!
'Tis said that Cain and Abel shook
Their sides with laughing at the joke.
How late so quick a plan was found
To make the men so plump and round.
For oh ! too well we'd cause to rue
The trash fall fraught with Devil's blue,
Drain'd from a muddy brackish mass
That would have turn'd the nose of Brass.
For swipes and dregs and vile small beer,
Have been our lush for many a year.
Hence the dire cause our sons were fools,
And looked so sheepish in the Schools;
As though they lived on Aristotle,
And never ate or crack'd a bottle.
How could they swell with Pindar's rage ?
Or drink the flowing Homer's page ?
But now—ye Nine, your pinions wave—
The God inspires me and I rave—
See the bright beverage frothing up,
See the juice sparkle in the cup !
Oh! for a mouth from ear to ear
To swallow hogsheads of such beer !
See to the banquet Nestor-King
Slowly the foaming goblets bring,
And as he rolls his gloating eye,
He sighs—' my day of drink's gone by!'
But see, the scouts are scouring by,
The Hall resounds—'more Ale—quick—fly,"
And the new Butler cries ' Odd zooks,
This swells the reck'ning of nay books :
Forsooth ! a lucky change for me,
The Porter's for the Tapster's key !
Lord of this cask, I'll rule the roast;
For sure my claim's a Prior boast!'
What tho' the teeming barrel favor
The soporiferum papaver,
The virtues of the pregnant malt
Are new-spun wit and attic salt.
The time draws nigh when one good glass
Shall nerve men for the fiery Pass, .
While wrapt in awe the School shall class
Their blushing honors on the Nose of Brass !
And more my prophet Muse could tell:—
But soft—my time is spun—Farewell!"
This said, the Genius fled like smoke ;
I started, rubb'd my eyes, and woke

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 went to stay with William. 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 sprit rejoices in God her saviour. Let my last end be like hers." This memorial was destroyed in the 2nd world war bombing.

william webb ellis

In 1855 he became rector of Laver Magdalen in Essex where there is now a Webb Ellis stained glass window. 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.

William Webb Ellis passed away on 24 January 1872 and is buried at Menton in the South of France.

The sole source of the story of Webb Ellis picking up the ball originates with one Matthew Bloxam, a local antiquarian and former pupil of Rugby. In October of 1876, he wrote to The Meteor, the Rugby School magazine, that he had learnt from an unnamed source that the change from a kicking game to a handling game had "...originated with a town boy or foundationer of the name of Ellis, William Webb Ellis".

On 12th December of 1880, in another letter to the Meteor, Bloxam states: "A boy of the name Ellis – William Webb Ellis – a town boy and a foundationer, ... whilst playing Bigside at football in that half-year, caught the ball in his arms. This being so, according to the then rules, he ought to have retired back as far as he pleased, without parting with the ball, for the combatants on the opposite side could only advance to the spot where he had caught the ball, and were unable to rush forward till he had either punted it or had placed it for some one else to kick, for it was by means of these placed kicks that most of the goals were in those days kicked, but the moment the ball touched the ground the opposite side might rush on. Ellis, for the first time, disregarded this rule, and on catching the ball, instead of retiring backwards, rushed forwards with the ball in his hands towards the opposite goal, with what result as to the game I know not, neither do I know how this infringement of a well-known rule was followed up, or when it became, as it is now, a standing rule."

William webb ellis statue

The town of Rugby's first public commemoration of the game of Rugby was unveiled by Jeremy Guscott on 26th September 1997.The bronze statue, by Graham Ibbeson and modeled after his own son, cost £40,000 which was raised by a public appeal. The bronze statue of a boy running with a Rugby ball, cast using the lost wax technique, now stands at the junction of Lawrence Sheriff Street and Dunchurch Road, beside the school and opposite Gilbert's museum.

william Webb Ellis


Further to this the Rugby world cup was named the 'William Webb Ellis Trophy' forever immortalizing the boy attributed with the invention of Rugby.

See Origins of Rugby

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