The Rugby School, founded in 1567, played a crucial role in the development of rugby. In the early 19th century, football at Rugby School had distinctive features that later defined rugby.

Key Figures and Rule Development

Rules at Rugby School were traditionally determined by students rather than teachers, allowing for frequent modifications. These rules were first codified in 1845 by three students: William Delafield Arnold, W. W. Shirley, and Frederick Hutchins. This codification process marked a key moment in the formalization of rugby.

Key FigureContribution
William Delafield ArnoldWas one of the key figures in writing the 1845 rules, establishing a structured approach to the game.
W. W. ShirleyEnsured the rules were comprehensive and practical for regular play at the school.
Frederick HutchinsDocumented and refined the rules, ensuring organized and playable games for future generations.
Thomas ArnoldAs headmaster of Rugby School (1828-1842), he promoted physical education and the development of sports as an integral part of education.

Broader Impact

The influence of Rugby School extended beyond its walls. Alumni carried the game’s rules and practices to universities and other institutions, leading to the spread of rugby. This dissemination played a crucial role in the sport’s growth and eventual establishment as a separate code from association football.

ClubYear of FoundationContribution
Guy’s Hospital Football Club1843First and oldest “football club” in the world, formed by Rugby School alumni.
Dublin University Football Club1854Possibly the oldest football club in the world in any code.
Blackheath Football Club1858The oldest non-university/school rugby club.
Cheltenham College1844One of the oldest documented school clubs.
Sherborne School1846One of the oldest documented school clubs.
Durham School1850One of the oldest documented school clubs.
Francis Crombie and Alexander Crombie1854Introduced rugby to Scotland via Durham School.
St David’s College, Lampeter1850First rugby club in Wales, founded by Rowland Williams.

Rules Used at Schools

English public schools developed various football rules, which later influenced the development of both rugby and association football. Some notable school rules include:

Eton College

Eton had its own set of rules, known as the “Eton Field Game” and the “Eton Wall Game”. The rules for the Eton Field Game were codified in 1815. These rules included:

  • Playing Field: Divided into two halves with a halfway line.
  • Objective: To pass the ball over the opponent’s goal line.
  • Foot Play: Players could dribble and pass the ball with their feet.
  • Wall: In the Eton Wall Game, the ball is played along a wall and goals are scored in designated areas.

Harrow School

Harrow developed its own game called “Harrow Football”. Some of its features included:

  • Ball: Used a rounder and smaller ball.
  • Short Passes: Short hand passes were allowed.
  • Field: Field rules were stricter compared to other schools.
  • Objective: The game involved carrying the ball past a designated line to score a goal.

Westminster School

At Westminster, football was played on the school’s green field, and some features included:

  • Hand Play: Although the use of hands was allowed, foot play predominated.
  • Playing Times: Football was primarily played on Thursdays and Saturdays as a recreational activity for students.
  • Game Rules: Rules were determined by students and could vary according to pre-game agreements.

Charterhouse School

Charterhouse had a unique variant of football known as “The Charterhouse Rules”, which included:

  • Playing Field: The field was surrounded by a ditch, and the ball could not go out of bounds.
  • Hand Play: The use of hands was restricted to certain situations.
  • Objective: Points were scored by carrying the ball past a designated line.

Winchester College

Winchester had its own rules known as “Winchester Football”. Its rules focused on:

  • Foot Play: Emphasis was placed on playing with the feet.
  • Team Formation: Teams were divided into “kickers” and “scrummers”.
  • Contact Rules: Physical contact was limited compared to other versions.
  • Objective: The goal was to carry the ball beyond the opponent’s goal line without using hands.

Rugby School

The rules of Rugby School, codified in 1845, had the following characteristics:

  • Carrying the Ball: Players were allowed to carry the ball with their hands.
  • Tackling: Opponents could be tackled and brought to the ground.
  • Foot Play: The ball could be kicked in any direction.
  • Scrums: Used to restart play after certain interruptions.
  • Scoring a Goal: Achieved by carrying the ball beyond the goal line and placing it on the ground.


The legacy of Rugby School in the development of rugby is commemorated with the naming of the Rugby World Cup trophy, the Webb Ellis Cup, in honor of the legendary figure associated with the origins of the game. While the contributions of figures like William Delafield Arnold, W. W. Shirley, Frederick Hutchins, and Thomas Arnold were crucial, the history surrounding the sport’s development is a collective effort of the Rugby School community.

The different rules used by the schools played an essential role in shaping modern rugby. Each school had its own variations of the game, contributing to the diversity and richness of the sport that eventually consolidated into the rules we know today.

By admin