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History of Rugby School

Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boy

The Legacy

Rugby school has left a considerable legacy in terms of the Laws of the Game, terminology, half time change of ends, the ball, the cap and, as far as the England team are concerned, the white of their jerseys.

Half time change

The first "foreign" match played by Rugby School was on 16th. November 1867. It was a 20-a-side match and the school 20 played A.C.Harrison Esq.'s 20 on the Close. School captain was H.W.Badger and the opposition consisted of eighteen Old Rugbeians and two Old Wykehamists. After thirty minutes the teams changed ends to allow the visitors an equal share of the strong south-westerly wind. It is believed this is the origin of half time and players changing ends after the interval. Mind you, this was a marked departure from the old days when a match could lasted for up to five days.

The Try

In the early days - at Rugby School a match was won by the side obtaining two goals - scoring was very much a reflection of a side's ability to kick, rather than run and the favoured option was the drop-goal. Running-in and touching the ball down between posts - which in today's language is called a try - was just a way of creating an opportunity for taking a kick at goal. A failure to land the ball between the uprights rendered the touchdown - as it was then called - valueless. This is why so many matches during the 1850s and 60s ended in a draw, although the number of touchdowns (tries) scored was considerable.

The Ball

It was William Gilbert, a boot and shoe manufacturer in the town of Rugby, who is credited with the making of the earliest rugby balls to be used in the school football game, at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1851, a rugby ball made by the second Gilbert, his nephew James, was displayed at the London Exhibition and the wooden frame holding the ball and carrying the School Houses emblems made from leather is still on display in the old shop across the road from the school. His son James John Gilbert further developed the ball-making business. It was made of leather sown around a pig's bladder, which gave the ball its distinctive oval shape.

The Cap

The School House team of 1839 was the first side to adopt a uniform. All their players wore red velvet caps during a match attended by the Dowager, Queen Adelaide in which Thomas Hughes the author had played. The velvet cap became a sign of attainment at Rugby school and was adopted as such by clubs then by England and other Unions a symbol of national and international achievement. Every international player who represents his country receives his cap on this occasion. France award an international cap after three appearances for the country.

Lawrence Sheriff

Lawrence Sheriff, the founder of Rugby School, like the founders of Harrow and of the Charterhouse, was a man of no exalted station in life that was born early in the reign of Henry VIII.

On November 18, 1560, he purchased from one Mr.Streete, a field called Conduit Close or Conduit Meadwhich, in the county of Middlesex, some half mile outside the city of London, which was to play an important part in the history of the School. It was a piece of land measuring twenty-four acres, and it cost him £320; his wife Elizabeth is mentioned as joint purchaser.

He bequeathed three pieces of land to Rugby School:

  1. Mansion House built by him in Rugby, together with the land round it, being altogether one rood. Thirty poles or thereabouts. This house was built on the site of certain ancient cottages, and carried with it the cottage rights over the common land in Rugby which those cottages originally had.
  2. The parsonage of Brownsover, with one yard of glebe land, more or less, and the tithes. Note: Historically Glebe, whether land or other property, has been used to create income to meet the financial needs of the clergy. Originally, each member of the clergy benefited directly from the Glebe attributed to their own benefice. However, the inequality of the benefit to each member of the clergy varied widely, as it depended upon the extent of the property within their benefice.
  3. One-third part of Conduit Close, making eight acres or thereabouts, in his will laid down on a trip to Rugby just three weeks prior to his death. Originally he was going to leave £100 for the purposes of building the future school but replaced this with the land.

Lawrence Sheriffe was buried at the Grey Friars' Church (Christ Church), in Newgate Street, close by the place where he had spent so much of his life but this was not in accordance with his will which was for him to be buried in Rugby. The church was burnt to the ground, all but part of the cloisters, in the great fire of 1666; but the registers fortunately escaped destruction. In the earliest volume occurs the entry- “September 1567. The xvi. Daye was buryed Mr. Lawrence Shyryfe.” Note: there are many alternative spellings of Sheriffe.

The first School Building

One third part of Conduit Close, then, which at that time was worth six or eight pounds a year, and the Brownsover properly, were left in trust to Field and Harrison and their heirs; and they were directed to build a fair and convenient school house adjoining the house which Lawrence Sheriffe had built, and four meet and distinct lodgings for four poor men. For this purpose a sum of fifty pounds was assigned under the will. The School was to be free to the boys of Rugby and Brownsover. The School built, an honest, discreet, and learned man was to be appointed to teach a free grammar school there, and the same was, if possible, ever to be a Master of Arts. The Mansion House, as Sheriffe calls it, was granted him for his dwelling, free of all charge, and the repairs of the premises were to be paid out of the profits of the endowments. The Master was to receive as his salary twelve pounds by the year; and the almsmen were to have each his lodging, with seven pence by the week, to be weekly paid, for maintenance. These expenses could not be covered by the rent of Conduit Close; and accordingly the property in Brownsover was left to the same Trustees, and it was charged with a yearly rent charge of £16. 13s. 4d, to be paid to the uses of the Trust.

Bridget, a sister of Lawrence Sheriffe, and her husband, John Howkins, were to be "farmers" or tenants of Brownsover during their lifetime, and, after their death, preference was to be given to one who should be of their body, lawfully begotten, and after to any other. Besides paying the rent of £16. I3s. 4d, the tenant was always to keep the chancel of Brownsover chapel in repair (to which he was bound as lay rector), and well and sufficiently to repair the premises. It does not appear from the will or the intent that the tenant of Brownsover was expected to pay anything more towards repairing the school buildings; but at first they did 80, and in after years the Master claimed this as a right. The dispute about it caused much ill-feeling on both sides. Such was the original foundation of Rugby, which the Founder desired to be called for ever the Free School and Almshouses of Lawrence Sheriffe of London, Grocer: a charitable foundation of the most complete kind, providing, as it did, for the education of the young, and the peace and quietude of those who were old and needy. The School was, in the first place, meant for the boys of Rugby and Brownsover, who were to enjoy it free of all charge; and after them it might be made available for others on such terms as should appear convenient. The Almsmen of Lawrence Sheriffe were to be chosen from the same two villages, two from Rugby and two from Brownsover. No provision is made for an increase in the value of the property, and most likely the Founder did not conceive that it might ever increase. That he intended the rents of Conduit Close, whatever they might be, to be entirely given to the charity, seems probable; but it is not so clear whether he intended the same of Brownsover, That property, with tithes and glebe lands, was worth more than the specified rent; and to one not learned in the ways of the law, it looks as though this charge alone would still be exacted, had it not been for the scandalous dishonesty of the tenants in later years.

After the death of Lawrence Sheriffe the Trustees would seem to have lost no time in beginning to carry out their trust. The buildings were not yet ready for the School, but four poor men were immediately appointed as almsmen, two being of Rugby and two of Brownsover. These were placed for the time being in the Mansion House. No fault can be found with the arrangement, since there was as yet no schoolmaster to inhabit ill it. There is nothing to show that the Trustees meant to ignore Lawrence Sheriffe's directions, or to leave the almsmen permanently in that place. The next thing was to build a big School, and this appears to have been needlessly delayed. It was not until seven years after the Founder's death that the School was ready. Meanwhile the rents of Brownsover had been paid to the Trustees by John and Bridget Howkins, so that there was available from the Trust Moneys the sum of £116. 13s. 4d. If we deduct £42. 9s. 4d. for the almsmen, a balance is left of £71 4s., besides the £50 allotted for building by the Founder. At the Inquisition of 1602 it was declared that £17 of the Brownsover rent was not used in the building, nor was the said sum of £50 so used. This statement implies that the remainder was spent on building the School; and as no accusation is made with regard to the rent of Conduit Close, we may fairly assume that this also was so applied. This leaves a residue of £54. 4s., without the £50, or the rent from Conduit Close. This sum (if not more), which was then worth about ten times its present value, was the sum spent on the first big School of Rugby. We can hardly hope to clear up the matter now, but it should be borne in mind that these statements come from the opponents. It is therefore quite possible that the Schoolroom had more spent on it than this minimum. However that may be, it was well and substantially built,  and for nearly two centuries survived the destructive influences of time, poverty, and schoolboys.

The School now being complete, Field proceeded to appoint a Master. No exact date is given for this first appointment, but it is reasonable to assume that it was made soon after the buildings were ready, that is to say, in or about the year 1574.

The town gathered about a central market-place, from which spread four streets. One of these led eastwards past the parish church, opposite to which, on the other side of the road, stood the Mansion House of Lawrence Sheriffe; a second led towards Newbold; the two others were the present High Street and Sheep Street. These last ran into the Hillmorton Road, and enclosed  a triangle, which was probably then, as now, full of houses, At the end of the High Street was a grange of the monks of Pipewell, and perhaps on the site of the present Schoolhouse stood a predecessor of that house, which was afterwards bought for the School. Both these were built on an enclosure of part of Rugby Field, the village common. The market-place was an important centre, not for the town only, but for the whole neighborhood.

The first Master of Rugby School

The first Master of Rugby School was Edward Bolston,' of Christ's College, Cambridge, who had taken his Bachelor's degree in the year of the Founder’s death, and proceeded M.A. in 1572. The Mansion House was given him for his abode, but not the whole of it. The four almsmen, it will be remembered, had their rooms in the Mansion House, and no meet and distinct lodgings had been built for them. This arrangement was clearly most awkward, especially if there should happen to be boys boarding in the house. Something was done, however, to smooth matters. The doors of the a1msmen's rooms, which opened inwards, were blocked up, and new doors opened upon the air on the east side of the Mansion House. Partitions were put up within them, and a separate chimney was built for each set. By this arrangement each of the four poor men had a pair of rooms to himself, one over the other. Thus, like a happy family, the recipients of the Trust lived together under one roof quietly and without interruption for many years.

In 1675 the Trustees appointed Robert Ashbridge, M.A., a Cumberland man, from Queen's College, Oxford. His Mastership marks an epoch in the history of the School, for immediately upon his appointment he began the School Register. From the first entries we see clearly a fact of which there have already been indications, that the School was not merely or chiefly a free school for the boys of the neighborhood. The names are arranged in two columns, foundationers and non-foundationers being kept apart.

1748/52 survey

An architect, Mr. Hiorn, was employed to survey the premises, which he did on March 1, 1748, and again in 1751. He found them to be in a ruinous condition. The roof could not be repaired by any means; and if it should be taken off the walls were expected at once to fall in. Thus either a new structure must be built up on the same site, or one must be bought or built elsewhere.

But the difficulty was where to raise money. The London property was let out on building lease, which had still many years to run; and the choice seemed to be between selling a portion of this, or raising the money by a mortgage of it. Sir Thomas Cave 1 was at that time one of the Trustees, and he used his influence to get a Bill through the House of Commons authorizing the Trustees to act. In 1748 the Bill passed, and it contains a good deal of information about the School. This Act empowered the Trustees to raise £1800 by mortgage of not more than two-thirds of the Conduit Close share; for most fortunately it had been decided not to ask leave to sell. Of this sum, £1000 was spent in buying the old Mansion House of Rugby, then standing on the site of the present Schoolhouse.

Thomas James

The Trustees were well advised in their choice of the man who was to be first titular Head-master of Rugby in 1778. Thomas James was an Etonian who had distinguished himself at Cambridge, having been twice Members' Prizeman, and at the time of his election being Fellow and Tutor of King's College. He was not only an accomplished classical scholar, but had no mean skill in mathematics, which formed his chief recreation. What is even more important for a head-master, he showed himself a firm disciplinarian and an organizer for whose care no detail was too small. James brought with him to Rugby Cambridge scholarship and Eton methods. The tutorial system, Praepostors served by fags, dames’ houses and even the very books used at Eton were to be transplanted to Rugby.








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