The Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum houses a unique collection of rugby artefacts and memorabilia, charting the history and development of the game. The museum, just across the road from Rugby School and the William Webb Ellis statue, was formerly the workshop of William Gilbert - the man who manufactured the first rugby balls and whose name adorns the official ball for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. The museum's collection covers four themes - the history of the game, its development, the players and the ball. Visitors to the museum can discover how the first rugby balls were manufactured and find out how Gilbert and fellow Rugbeian Richard Lindon created the ball's distinctive oval shape.
William Gilbert and Richard Lindon can both claim to have played a pivotal role in the development of the rugby ball. In 1823, when William Webb Ellis invented the game, William Gilbert was Rugby School's official boot and shoe maker, also supplying footballs to the school. Gilbert's footballs were oval-shaped - a result of the pig's bladders favoured in production. In 1842, Gilbert established the first rugby football workshop in St Matthew's Street and his reputation for quality spread across the world - and won him medals at London's Great Exhibition of 1851 and 1862. Just a short pass from Gilbert's workshop, Richard Lindon was also securing a place in rugby history at his shop in Lawrence Sheriff Street. Like Gilbert, Lindon was a boot and shoe maker by trade, but in 1849 turned his hand to making rugby balls following frequent requests from boys at Rugby School. Lindon also favoured pig's bladders in production, but the bladders were often diseased and posed a significant risk to those charged with the task of inflating the balls. At Lindon's, the task fell to his wife, who died from lung disease believed to have been contracted from diseased bladders. The tragedy led Lindon to seek a replacement for the pig's bladder, and with the advent of galvanised rubber, Lindon introduced Indian rubber bladders to his rugby balls in the early 1860s.
The rubber bladders allowed Lindon to manufacture a near perfect round ball, but Rugby School boys were keen to keep the rugby ball's distinctive oval shape to differentiate the school's own brand of football from the traditional game. So Lindon developed a technique to create an oval bladder and, taking inspiration from an ear syringe, invented the brass hand pump to inflate the balls. Lindon also pioneered the four-panel rugby ball - a design which endures today. But his failure to patent his innovations meant Lindon's work was quickly copied by rivals, leaving his contribution to the game shrouded in the mists of time. Gilbert, however, has forged a lasting legacy. The Gilbert family sold the company in 1978, but the firm remains at the forefront of rugby ball technology to this day.
With history at your fingertips, you can see the rugby ball which helped Gilbert win a medal at London's Great Exhibition of 1851, and the brass hand pump invented by Lindon in the 1860s to inflate the Indian rubber bladders inside his rugby balls. The museum has many more unique exhibits which bring the history of rugby alive - all housed inside the former workshop where William Gilbert started the ball rolling. The museum is wheelchair accessible and there are many objests for the visually impaired to touch. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : 5 St Matthew's Street, Rugby CV21 3BY
Transport: Rugby (National Rail) then bus 1.2 miles. Bus Routes : 12, 63, 64, 64A and 86 stop near by.
Opening Times : Monday to Saturday 09:30 to 17:00
Tickets : Free
Tel: 01788 533 217