Rugby School

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Rugby School
Rugby School crest.png
Lawrence Sheriff Street

, ,
CV22 5EH

Coordinates 52°22′03″N1°15′40″W / 52.3675°N 1.2611°W / 52.3675; -1.2611 Coordinates: 52°22′03″N1°15′40″W / 52.3675°N 1.2611°W / 52.3675; -1.2611
Type Public school
day and boarding school
Co-educational school
Motto Latin: Orando Laborando
(by praying, by working)
Religious affiliation(s) Church of England
FounderLawrence Sheriff
Department for Education URN 125777 Tables
Head MasterPeter Green
Age13to 18
Colour(s)Oxford blue, Cambridge blue, and green
Former pupilsOld Rugbeians
School songFloreat Rugbeia
Rugby School

Rugby School is an independent co-educational day and boarding school in Rugby, Warwickshire, England. Founded in 1567 as a free grammar school for local boys, it is one of the oldest independent schools in Britain. [1] Up to 1667, the school remained in comparative obscurity. Its re-establishment by Thomas Arnold during his time as Headmaster, from 1828 to 1841, was seen as the forerunner of the Victorian public school. [2] It is one of the original seven Great Nine Public Schools defined by the Clarendon Commission of 1864. Rugby School was also the birthplace of Rugby football. [3] In 1845, a committee of Rugby schoolboys, William Delafield Arnold, W. W. Shirley and Frederick Hutchins, [4] wrote the "Laws of Football as Played At Rugby School", the first published set of laws for any code of football. [5] [6]


As the nature of the school shifted, a new school – Lawrence Sheriff Grammar School – was founded in 1878 to continue Lawrence Sheriff's original intentions. Rugby expanded further in the 20th century and new buildings were built inspired by the Edwardian Era. The Temple Speech Room, named after former headmaster and Archbishop of Canterbury Frederick Temple (1858–69) is now used for whole-School assemblies, speech days, concerts, musicals – and BBC Mastermind. Between the wars, the Memorial Chapel, the Music Schools and a new Sanatorium appeared.

In 1975 two girls were admitted into the sixth form, and the first girls’ house opened 3 years later, followed by three more. In 1992, the first 13-year-old girls arrived, and in 1995 Rugby had its first-ever Head Girl, Louise Woolcock, who appeared on the front page of The Times. In September 2003 a last girls’ house was added. Today, total enrolment of day pupils, from forms 4 to 12, numbers around 800. [7]


Rugby School from The Close, the playing field where according to legend the game of rugby was invented Rugby School 06.jpg
Rugby School from The Close, the playing field where according to legend the game of rugby was invented

Early history

Ex libris from Rugby School. From BEIC Rugby School - ex libris.tif
Ex libris from Rugby School. From BEIC

Rugby School was founded in 1567 as a provision in the will of Lawrence Sheriff, who had made his fortune supplying groceries to Queen Elizabeth I of England. [8] Since Lawrence Sheriff lived in Rugby and the neighbouring Brownsover, the school was intended to be a free grammar school for the boys of those towns. Up to 1667, the school remained in comparative obscurity. Its history during that trying period is characterised mainly by a series of lawsuits between the Howkins family (descendants of the founder's sister), who tried to defeat the intentions of the testator, and the masters and trustees, who tried to carry them out. A final decision was handed down in 1667, confirming the findings of a commission in favour of the trust, and henceforth the school maintained a steady growth. [9] "Floreat Rugbeia" is the traditional school song.

Academic life

Pupils beginning Rugby in the F Block (first year) study various subjects. In a pupil's second year (E block), they do nine subjects which are for their GCSEs, this is the same for the D Block (GCSE year). The school then provides standard A-levels in 29 subjects. Students at this stage have the choice of taking three or four subjects and are also offered the opportunity to take an extended project.


The Governing Body provides financial benefits with school fees to families unable to afford them. Parents of pupils who are given a Scholarship are capable of obtaining a 10% fee deduction, although more than one scholarship can be awarded to one student.


It was no longer desirable to have only local boys attending and the nature of the school shifted, and so a new school – Lawrence Sheriff Grammar School – was founded in 1878 to continue Lawrence Sheriff's original intentions; that school receives a substantial proportion of the endowment income from Lawrence Sheriff's estate every year.

The core of the school (which contains School House, featured in Tom Brown's Schooldays ) was completed in 1815 and is built around the Old Quad (quadrangle), with its Georgian architecture. Especially notable rooms are the Upper Bench (an intimate space with a book-lined gallery), the Old Hall of School House, and the Old Big School (which makes up one side of the quadrangle and was once the location for teaching all junior pupils). Thomas Hughes (like his fictional hero, Tom Brown) once carved his name on the hands of the school clock, situated on a tower above the Old Quad. The polychromatic school chapel, new quadrangle, Temple Reading Room, Macready Theatre and Gymnasium were designed by well-known Victorian Gothic revival architect William Butterfield in 1875, and the smaller Memorial Chapel was dedicated in 1922.

By the twentieth century Rugby expanded and new buildings were built inspired by this Edwardian Era. The Temple Speech Room, named after former headmaster and Archbishop of Canterbury Frederick Temple (1858–69) and now used for whole-School assemblies, speech days, concerts, musicals – and BBC Mastermind. Oak-panelled walls boast the portraits of illustrious alumni, including Neville Chamberlain holding his piece of paper. Between the wars, the Memorial Chapel, the Music Schools and a new Sanatorium appeared. [10]


In 2005, Rugby School was one of fifty of the country's leading independent schools found guilty of running an illegal price-fixing cartel allowing them to drive up fees for thousands of parents. [11] Each school was required to pay a nominal penalty of £10,000 and all agreed to make ex-gratia payments totalling three million pounds into a trust designed to benefit pupils who attended the schools during the period in respect of which fee information was shared. [12] However, Mrs Jean Scott, the head of the Independent Schools Council, said that independent schools had always been exempt from anti-cartel rules applied to business, were following a long-established procedure in sharing the information with each other, and that they were unaware of the change to the law (on which they had not been consulted). She wrote to John Vickers, the OFT director-general, saying, "They are not a group of businessmen meeting behind closed doors to fix the price of their products to the disadvantage of the consumer. They are schools that have quite openly continued to follow a long-established practice because they were unaware that the law had changed." [13]

Head Masters

Thomas Arnold

Rugby's most famous headmaster was Thomas Arnold, appointed in 1828; he executed many reforms to the school curriculum and administration. Arnold's and the school's reputations were immortalised through Thomas Hughes' book Tom Brown's School Days.

David Newsome writes about the new educational methods employed by Arnold in his book, 'Godliness and Good Learning' (Cassell 1961). He calls the morality practised at Arnold's school muscular Christianity. Arnold had three principles: religious and moral principle, gentlemanly conduct and academic performance. Dr George Mosse, former professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, lectured on Arnold's time at Rugby. According to Mosse, Thomas Arnold created an institution which fused religious and moral principles, gentlemanly conduct, and learning based on self-discipline. These morals were socially enforced through the "Gospel of work." The object of education was to produce "the Christian gentleman," a man with good outward appearance, playful but earnest, industrious, manly, honest, virginal pure, innocent, and responsible.

John Percival

In 1888 the appointment of Marie Bethell Beauclerc by Percival was the first appointment of a female teacher in an English boys' public school and the first time shorthand had been taught in any such school. The shorthand course was popular with one hundred boys in the classes.

Rugby football

William Webb Ellis plaque WWEplaque 700.jpg
William Webb Ellis plaque
Webb Ellis at Rugby, 1823 Webb-Ellis-at-Rugby,.jpg
Webb Ellis at Rugby, 1823

The game of Rugby football owes its name to the school. The legend of William Webb Ellis and the origin of the game is commemorated by a plaque. The story that Webb Ellis was the first to pick up a football and run with it, and thus invented a new sport, has been known to be a myth since it was investigated by the Old Rugbeian Society in 1895. There were no standard rules for football in Webb Ellis's time at Rugby (1816–1825) and most varieties involved carrying the ball. The games played at Rugby were organised by the pupils and not the masters, the rules being a matter of custom and not written down. They were frequently changed and modified with each new intake of students. The sole source of the story is Matthew Bloxam, a former pupil but not a contemporary of Webb Ellis. In October 1876, four years after the death of Webb Ellis, in a letter to the school newspaper The Meteor he quotes an unknown friend relating the story to him. He elaborated on the story four years later in another letter to The Meteor, but shed no further light on its source. Richard Lindon, a boot and shoemaker who had premises across the street from the School's main entrance in Lawrence Sheriff Street, is credited with the invention of the "oval" rugby ball, the rubber inflatable bladder and the brass hand pump. [18]


Rugby School has both day and boarding-pupils, the latter in the majority. Originally it was for boys only, but girls have been admitted to the sixth form since 1975. It went fully co-educational in 1992. The school community is divided into houses.

HouseFounded Girls/Boys
Cotton1836 [19] Boys
Kilbracken1841 [20] Boys
Michell1882 [21] Boys
School Field1852 [22] Boys
School House1750 [23] Boys
Sheriff1930 [24] Boys
Town House1567 [25] Boys
Whitelaw1936 [26] Boys
Bradley1830 (1992) [27] Girls
Dean1832 (1978) [28] Girls
Griffin2003 [29] Girls
Rupert Brooke1860 (1988) [30] Girls
Southfield1993 [31] Girls
Stanley1828 (1992) [32] Girls
Tudor1893 (2002) [33] Girls


Rugby School from the side Rugby school.jpg
Rugby School from the side

Former pupils

There have been a number of notable Old Rugbeians including the purported father of the sport of Rugby William Webb Ellis, the inventor of Australian rules football Tom Wills, the war poets Rupert Brooke and John Gillespie Magee, Jr., Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, author and mathematician Lewis Carroll, poet and cultural critic Matthew Arnold, the author and social critic Salman Rushdie (who said of his time there: "Almost the only thing I am proud of about going to Rugby school was that Lewis Carroll went there too." [37] ) and the Irish writer and republican Francis Stuart. The Indian concert pianist, music composer and singer Adnan Sami also studied at Rugby School. [38] Matthew Arnold's father Thomas Arnold, was a headmaster of the school. Philip Henry Bahr (later Sir Philip Henry Manson-Bahr), a zoologist and medical doctor, World War I veteran, was President of both Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and Medical Society of London, and Vice-President of the British Ornithologists’ Union. [39] [40] Richard Barrett Talbot Kelly joined the army in 1915, straight after leaving the school, earned a Military Cross during the First World War, and later returned to the school as Director of Art. [41]

See also Category:People educated at Rugby School

Rugbeian Society

The Rugbeian Society is for former pupils at the School. [42] An Old Rugbeian is sometimes referred to as an OR.

The purposes of the society are to encourage and help Rugbeians in interacting with each other and to strengthen the ties between ORs and the school.

In 2010 the Rugbeians reached the semi-finals of the Public Schools' Old Boys' Sevens tournament, hosted by the Old Silhillians to celebrate the 450th anniversary of fellow Warwickshire public school, Solihull School.

Rugby Fives

Rugby Fives Rugby Fives.jpeg
Rugby Fives

Rugby Fives is a handball game, similar to squash, played in an enclosed court. It has similarities with Winchester Fives (a form of Wessex Fives) and Eton Fives.

It is most commonly believed to be derived from Wessex Fives, a game played by Thomas Arnold, Headmaster of Rugby, who had played Wessex Fives when a boy at Lord Weymouth's Grammar, now Warminster School. The open court of Wessex Fives, built in 1787, is still in existence at Warminster School although it has fallen out of regular use.

Rugby Fives is played between two players (singles) or between two teams of two players each (doubles), the aim being to hit the ball above a 'bar' across the front wall in such a way that the opposition cannot return it before a second bounce. The ball is slightly larger than a golf ball, leather-coated and hard. Players wear leather padded gloves on both hands, with which they hit the ball.

Rugby Fives continues to have a good following with tournaments being run nationwide, presided over by the Rugby Fives Association. [43]

See also

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Further reading