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Historical Rugby Milestones 1850s

Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boy


A short Historical Back drop of Britain:

  • The Great Exhibition opens at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London 1851
  • Britain and France declare war on Russia and the Crimean War begins 1854
  • Britain's first permanent symphony orchestra is founded 1858
  • Charles Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species' is published 1859


German Rugby started in 1850 at the Neuenheim College in Heidelberg, South Germany - now called Heidelberg College. Students under the guidance of the teacher Edward Hill Ullrich were the ones who then founded the Heidelberger Ruderklub von 1872 (HRK 1872) in 1872, which is the today the oldest German rugby club.


A "Rugby School Football" - an oval shaped ball - inflated by a pig's bladder - made by William Gilbert was on display at the International Exhibition in London.

  Gilbert Rugby Ball 1851  


G.E.L Cotton, a rugby old boy, brings Rugby rules to Marlborough school.


25 yard line established.


Trinity College at Dublin University founded the first Rugby Football Club in Ireland. Students at the University had first learnt the game while at English Public Schools. A number of historians say that Trinity is the first rugby club as the Guy's hospital club is not very well documented (see 1843), read more.


William Webb Ellis became rector of St Mary Magdalene in Magdalene Laver, near Ongar, from 1855 until 1870.

The Guards and the Cavalry played the earliest recorded game of Rugby in the British Army. The match was at Balaclava on 27th March 1855, right in the middle of the Crimean War (1854-56). This was less than 6 months after the fated charge of the Light Brigade (25th October 1854).

Dec. 1st, 1855, game between original and new members of Trinity College.


Liverpool RFU founded, claimed to be the oldest, continuously open rugby club in the world (see also 1986).

December 19th, 1857 a William Mather of Bootle Hall, Liverpool, who had played Rugby football as a boy at Rugby School, felt that it was a game which might well be played and enjoyed by men. He formed a side of Old Rugbeians and Cheltonians living in Liverpool, and invited his friend Richard Sykes, a former captain of football at Rugby school (born 1840) to bring a similar side from Manchester. Sykes, who was then in his last term at Rugby School, was also asked to provide a ball, as no one in the North knew how to make one. This he did, bringing the ball he last used on Big Side.

This great match, unusual in that it was a trial of a game rather than a trial of players, took place before a large crowd on the ground of the Liverpool Cricket Club at Edge Hill, Liverpool. Of the match itself, little is known, except that over fifty men played on each side and it was decided to play Rugby vs. the world, five goals are said to have been scored, although the score is not known and that it was considered to be highly successful.

From contemporary accounts we know that the groundsman used white chalk for the lines as he did not wish to cut the turf. There was a long discussion about rules between William Mather, Richard Sykes and a nephew of Mr. Gladstone. The writer also recorded that the game was watched by the leading citizens of Liverpool, who impressed him "by the bearing and dignity of the gentlemen, and the elegance and charm of the ladies." He ends by saying that the ball was to be sent to Balliol College, Oxford, to start the game there.
It was two years before this match bore results. In 1860, Richard Sykes completed his education at Heidelburg University and returned to Manchester. He started training his friends in the playing of Rugby football at the Western Cricket Club, Pendleton, and was assisted by Major White of the 84th Regiment of Foot, on garrison duty at Ashton-under-Lyne Barracks.

After the game the Liverpool club was formed, read more.

Richard Sykes with first Child 1906

Richard Sykes captained Manchester RFC for 7 years and is accredited with introducing the game to the USA. He (Richard Sykes Land Company) later formed the town of Sykeston, North Dakota in 1883 where he created a new lake at a cost of four thousand dollars, a beautiful lake within the town site of Sykeston, which is named Hiawatha Lake, and is eighteen feet deep in places and two miles long and about a fourth of a mile wide. His company also had large land interests in Foster, Wells, Stutsman, and LaMoure counties.

He died in Santa Barbara, California in the centenary year 1923.



Edinburgh Academy (Academical Football Club) formed (first club in Scotland). The playing of rugby football was organized by Mr Alexander Crombie who came from Durham grammar school in 1854, read more.

Merchiston Castle School played the High School Feb 13th, 1858 in the first inter-school rugby game, it's been an annual fixture ever since. Merchiston had hoped to play their first game against the Academy in November 1857 but this plan was abandoned due to sickness, eventually being played in Dec 1958).

The Merchiston captain, Van der Byl, returned to Cape Colony and played in the first recorded football match in South Africa (August 1862).

Edinburgh University formed 1857/8.

Blackheath club (formally the old blackheathens F.C.) was founded by some of the old boys of the Blackheath Proprietary School school as an open club. In the years immediately after the Club's formation, the game was being played mainly by teams with closed membership such as schools, colleges and teaching hospitals. This caused Blackheath to become known as "the Club" to differentiate it from the various institutions against whom they played. The practice continues to this day with supporters still cheering for "the Club!" rather than "Blackheath". There is however, controversy over the actual year of foundation, some references show 1862 as the year, read more.

Ned Haig - inventor of Rugby sevens, born.



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