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Program 117
Rugby, Warwickshire, EnglandHighlightsLocation

Rugby, in the Midlands county of Warwickshire, is a town whose name is likely to ring a bell, perhaps primarily because of the sport to which it has lent its name. But Rugby is also known throughout Great Britain as a medieval market town that has grown into an important industrial center. From the arrival of the canals and railways, to the modern motorway network, the secret of its prosperity has always been its location. Situated atop a sandy ridge between Dunsmore Heath to the west and Hillmorton in the east, Rugby overlooks river valleys to its north and its south.

The official date of Rugby's formation as a settlement is not known for certain, but by the end of the 11th century most Midlands villages had evolved into systems of open fields surrounding central settlements, which served as marketplaces. Laying out marketplaces became popular during this time, and vestiges of uniform plots suggests there was an element of planned urban development in Rugby very early on. Although Rugby was granted its market charter in 1255, it is safe to assume that Rugby would have been well developed before the lord of the manor invested his money in obtaining a charter. And in modern times, the town of Rugby has continued to support the industry of the Midlands.

Rugby School dates from 1567. Poet Rupert Brooke and Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, are two of the school's boyhood denizens who went on to achieve fame. It was in the Close at Rugby School in 1823 that William Webb-Ellis, another student destined for notoriety, was playing an ordinary game of football, or soccer as it is known in America. The rules of that time allowed that you could catch the ball immediately before kicking it. But William instead caught the ball and immediately ran with it to the opposite goal line. Football games of the time were disorganized and densely populated affairs, with practically the whole school sometimes joining in, so while William's spontaneous variation was "against the rules," it was not quite the controversy it would be today. At any rate, his moment of inspiration had far reaching effects. The passions aroused today—especially in Europe—by the Six Nations Championship and the World Cup are awesome to behold, and Gilbert's Rugby Football Museum in Rugby is still making the odd-shaped balls by hand.

And recently, a new museum opened in Rugby with a flare for innovation not unlike William Webb-Ellis'. Instead of filling their displays with objects that the museum decides are important, the staff asked local citizens for items from their own lives that they thought should be preserved. The result is a kind of open time capsule, providing a very intimate and interesting record of Rugby's 20th century.

To learn more about Rugby and Warwickshire, visit: and


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