26 September 2023
New Special Exhibition at the World Rugby Museum - Enigma: The William Webb Ellis Story

Schoolboy William Webb Ellis is purported to have invented Rugby Football when he 'picked up the ball and ran' in 1823. But who was Webb Ellis, did he really invent the game and what did he do next?

This special exhibition, hosted by the World Rugby Museum 200 years after the mythical birth of Rugby Football, seeks to illuminate the legacy of a rebel schoolboy whose name has gone down in history.

The exhibition showcases the personal belongings of William Webb Ellis, contemporary Victorian schoolboy attire from the school and material, including match-worn jerseys, from when England & Wales played Scotland & Ireland in celebration of Webb Ellis in 1923.

Curator Phil McGowan said of the exhibition, 'we're delighted to finally run an exhibition about the world's most famous schoolboy, William Webb Ellis achieved much in life but is remembered for none of it, we hope that this exhibition will bring light to the real Webb Ellis and illuminate some of the myths that surround his legacy'.

The exhibition records how the children of Rugby School compiled the first written rules (not laws) to any of the modern codes of football, devised the world's first football jerseys and began the tradition of awarding caps to players.

It examines in detail the suggestion by modern academics that the Webb Ellis story was nothing more than a myth created in the aftermath of rugby's great schism of 1895, which led to the creation of the two distinct codes of Rugby Union and Rugby League.

Finally it records how handling became integral to the game as played at Rugby School between the years of 1819 and 1841.


'The William Webb Ellis story fiercely divides opinion more than 150 years after his death. We have sought to be dispassionate in our analysis and present only the facts...' summarises McGowan, '…the big question seems to be, has one myth simply replaced another?'

Why not visit the World Rugby Museum to decide for yourself.

The exhibition launched in September 2023 and will run throughout the 2023-24 season.