One of England’s most-celebrated schools, Rugby School is the prototype for the English Public School model. Under the illustrious Thomas Arnold, who was headmaster of the school between 1828 and 1841, Rugby embodied the concept of muscular Christianity and came to define what an English Public School should be. With that came, also, the creation of a code of football which came to be the sport of the English Upper and Upper Middle classes – namely rugby football. Rugby, today, is an excellent fee-paying, co-educational boarding school that offers a university-preparatory education to pupils between the ages of 13 and 18. Its associated preparatory school, Bilton Grange, completes the offer with an all-through education from the age of 3 with junior boarding as an option.
Rugby School is a selective-entry, mixed, day, and boarding school in England that is one of the oldest schools in the country. It has a strong academic and athletic reputation regularly featuring at the upper end of school rankings and is well-known as a top feeder school to the Russell Group universities, including the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. The school is one of the major Public Schools and is considered to be the mother school of the Public School model. The school prides itself on a modern, rigorous curriculum and a strong international outlook. The school is welcoming of international students and takes care to offer the very best pastoral care to ensure a home away from home for its boarders. The school has a proud sense of tradition and an engaged and passionate community of students and alumni.
The school was founded, by Royal Charter, in the town of Rugby, near Coventry in the West Midlands in 1567 at the behest of a wealthy merchant, Laurence Sheriff. Sheriff had been the premier supplier to the Royal Household and had made his fortune as a grocer and provisioner to various aristocratic households. In 1860 he began acquiring property in Rugby and, upon his death, he bequeathed those properties and a sum of money to be used to establish a free grammar school for boys in his hometown of Rugby and neighbouring surrounds. Many of what were to become the leading “Public Schools” of England were founded in this way as, until that time, the vast majority of schools that existed were maintained by religious orders and were intended to educate boys for cathedral choirs and, ultimately, entry into the clergy or monastic life. Few young men otherwise had access to education except for the sons of the enormously wealthy who might have a tutor live-in with them.
As with all such schools, the school was established by way of a charitable foundation which specified how the endowed funds were to be disbursed – to be used in the first instance to support the free education of poor boys from Rugby and Brownsover and then for the admission of other boys thereafter. Pupils at the school were therefore divided into “Foundationers” (boys who entered the school in accordance with Sherrif’s original bequest – i.e. local boys in receipt of free schooling met with disbursements from the school’s endowment) and “Non-Foundationers” (boys who paid fees and, typically, entered as Boarders)
The foundation also stipulated how properties of the estate were to be rented which led to a series of early disputes with the tenant Howkins family who initiated a series of lawsuits against the foundation when efforts to increase rent in line with market valuations were challenged. These suits intended to demonstrate that the school was in breach of the conditions of its foundation and were ultimately found to be vexatious and egregious being described in some records as “scandalous dishonesty” by the tenants. With these cases finally settled and the support of the courts, the school gradually began to admit pupils on a fee-paying basis in order to ensure the financial viability of the school and to ensure an adequate stipend for the headmaster. This marked the start of Rugby School’s reputation as an excellent school on a national scale.
Whilst Non-Foundationers were admitted from early on in the history of the school, following the settlement of these cases, they became the majority. Towards the end of the 19th Century it was decided that the existing model was no longer sustainable nor was it desirable and so a new grammar school was established in 1878 to cater to local boys in accordance with the original foundation and to allow Rugby School to become a predominantly fee-paying boarding school. The new grammar school still remains today as the Laurence Sheriff School.
Rugby School was one of the great beneficiaries of an emergent trend for wealthy and aristocratic families to send their sons to be educated at great boarding schools in the classical grammar tradition. Particularly, those sons who might not be in line to inherit great estates were encouraged to pursue education such that they might enter offices of State, the military, or engage in a profession in order to secure their future wealth. Indeed, by this point in history, Britain had begun to establish a global empire and opportunities for young men of good birth were widespread within the service of the government and the various Charter companies tasked with carrying out trade and administration on behalf of the Crown. This marked the birth of the great British Public Schools.
Over the next several hundred years, Rugby would become one of the country’s best-known schools for young gentlemen, alongside luminaries including such schools as: Charterhouse; Dulwich; Eton; Harrow; Merchant Taylors’; Oundle; Repton; Rossall; St Paul’s; Sedbergh; Sherborne; Shrewsbury; Tonbridge; Uppingham; Westminster; and Winchester (and many others). The school has a proud heritage and an interesting history, dotted with episodes of fame and infamy alike, including a riot that required a response from the armed forces; the invention of one of the world’s most popular sports; the inspiration for the modern Olympic Games format; becoming the archetype for boarding schools in the English tradition; and the Four Rugby Boys project which saw the sons of four dynastic Tibetan families dispatched to Rugby in 1913 to undergo an English Public School education before returning to Tibet as great modernisers in the Tibetan public service. Indeed, the school’s colourful history has become the stuff of legend, immortalised in the classic literary work, ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’.
Notwithstanding the school’s success and reputation through the 1600s and 1700s, it was the Victorian era, however, that saw Rugby School really cement its status as a truly great school.
In particular, the regime under Headmaster Thomas Arnold saw the school gain its reputation as the leading example of what a Victorian Public School, for the education of young gentlemen, should be. Arnold took the helm in 1828 having previously been a tutor to wealthy families. He stewarded the school for a relatively short period, ending his tenure in 1841 to take a role as Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford before his death in 1842 at the relatively young age of 46. In his time at Rugby, Arnold instituted a series of changes and reforms that reinvigorated the school and which became the standard-bearer for all other grammar schools and Public Schools in the country at that time, and for the series of great new Public Schools that were established in the Victorian era.
Thomas Arnold was staunchly religious and a key proponent of the broad church, even low-church, Anglican tradition, and firmly believed that character and action defined a good Christian man. This belief system underpinned a great many of the ideas that he implemented at Rugby School. Above all was the concept of “Muscular Christianity” which framed the essential ethos that was to define Rugby School and those schools that followed its model.
Arnold remained a firm advocate for a classic, grammar school curriculum but that it should be augmented by a greater conceptual and philosophical context. He recognised the need to introduce some of the technical subject matter being covered in modern technical schools and the low-church (often Presbyterian) academies that had achieved some degree of fame and standing in Scotland and the United States. Under his charge, history, mathematics, and modern languages were introduced as schools at Rugby. However, his Christian values remained steadfastly opposed to the study of sciences, as was common among believers at that time. It would be long after Arnold’s rule that science would become a key component of a school’s curriculum.
Arnold also saw the re-establishment of a prefectural system at the school (which is known as the Praepostor system in Rugby School’s lexicon). Essentially this system saw senior boys being tasked with the management and discipline of junior boys. The idea being that such an approach would be best for reinforcing the school’s culture and traditions and maintaining uniformity and discipline amongst the student body. Moreover, this would allow Arnold and his fellow schoolmasters to focus on instruction and school administration. As with many of their peer schools, this system would prove somewhat controversial over time, with incidents of abuse of power by older boys which might be considered bullying or worse today. Thankfully, the Prefect system at Rugby and other schools has changed considerably to become a system of reward for outstanding senior pupils with some degree of power over and management of junior boys (particularly within the house system). The worst aspects of this system at Rugby under Arnold are explored in the fictional but somewhat autobiographical ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ (the author of which attended Rugby School). Perhaps the most famous aspect of this prefect system was “fagging”, a practice which Arnold was a keen defender of despite some vocal criticism from some quarters and concerns about the capacity for physical or sexual abuse as a consequence of the perverse power dynamic created between younger and older boys. This practice no longer exists at Rugby and the prefect system is limited in application.
Within Public Schools, sport became a critical part of the culture and athletic prowess was revered amongst boys. Many have argued that the embrace of sports helped distract boys from more inappropriate activities (at Rugby many boys had engaged in poaching and had, on more than one occasion, ended up fighting with local townsfolk – most famously the Great Rebellion of 1797 which resulted in a full-scale riot) or, in some cases, relationships between boys of a sexual nature which were at odds with the Christian ethos of the Public Schools and their peers. Arnold himself was reported to not be an enthusiast of sports but understood how it would be a useful distraction for the boys in his charge and could foster a sense of school spirit. Regardless, sport flourished at Rugby and became an essential part of school life and, for many boys, was far more important than academic pursuits or, indeed, the ideas of faith so revered by Arnold. Sport at Rugby was so much a part of life so essential to the shaping of the gentlemen that departed its hallowed halls that Pierre de Coubertin (Baron de Coubertin) visited several times seeking inspiration for what would become the modern Olympic Games. Indeed, he paid tribute to the programme at Rugby when he founded the International Olympics Committee in 1894 and sought to instill the same ideas of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct that he had witnessed at Rugby into the spirit of the games.
Shortly after Arnold’s departure, a committee of Rugby boys, including William Delafield Arnold, son of Thomas Arnold, codified the rules and regulations of a code of football that had been played at the school and that would come to be known thereafter as Rugby football. Many of the great Public Schools had (and still have) their own versions of football, all of which differ slightly from more familiar versions or the versions played by their peers. This was, in fact, true for many other Public School sports too, such as Fives. As no formal codes otherwise existed, the traditions of the school and the constraints of the school’s grounds would often introduce quirks to their style of play.
Legend has it that a pupil at Rugby, William Webb Ellis (later a senior Anglican clergyman), who with “a fine disregard for the rules of football, decided to take the ball in his arms and run with it“. He picked up the ball during a game of football one day and ran forward with it when the standing practice had been to return backward with the condition that the ball may only pass forward by foot. The move proved popular with the boys of Rugby and came to be an accepted form of play, thus giving birth to the sport forever to be known as Rugby football. Whether or not Webb Ellis was actually responsible for this is a source of debate as it only came to be a part of the story of the sport sometime after Webb Ellis died and no verified account exists other than an account from Matthew Bloxam (author of ‘Rugby: The School and Its Neighbourhood‘). Nonetheless, Webb Ellis is forever immortalised as the creator of the sport, and the rugby union’s most prestigious prize – the Rugby World Cup trophy – is named in his honour. No mention of Webb Ellis was made during the codification of the rules of the game by William Delafield Arnold and his compatriots. Rugby union has become one of the dominant sports at Public Schools and their equivalents across the United Kingdom, The Commonwealth, and other countries including Ireland and France. As a sport, it has come to be heavily associated with the Public Schoolboy caricature.
The approach at Rugby School was considered to be character-forming in a way to be of great use to the empire and it’s administrative needs in overseas postings both for civil service and military functions. Rugby boys were considered to be excellent candidates for office and many dispatched their duties with aplomb, including William Delafield Arnold who was a noted colonial administrator in life after Rugby.
The school, having firmly established itself as one of the leading Public Schools in the country, would be listed as one of the nine Public Schools to be investigated by the Clarendon Commission in 1861 which sought to definitively set out what constitutes a Public School in the British sense (a private school which admits pupils from the public at large regardless of faith, trade or locality) and to set out the status of those schools with respect to educational reforms to be instituted by the State. Whilst the definition of a Public School still remains hazy, the so-called Great Nine schools identified by the Commission are recognised in law (the Public Schools Act, 1868) and precedent as being such. The school was subsequently referred to in the Taunton Commission. In the later Fleming Report on Public Schools, in advance of further changes to the education sector and funding for Endowed Grammar Schools, Rugby was again listed as one of the old independent schools that were recognised as Public Schools.
Indeed, Rugby School has long been considered to be one of the major British Public Schools and also one of its best, having been frequently referenced in literary and academic works. These works include: Old Rugbeian Thomas Hughes’ ‘Public Schools of England’ (1879); Howard Staunton’s ‘The Great Schools of England‘ (1877) in which he explores, in-depth, the 15 schools considered to be amongst the greats; the 1st edition of the ‘Public School Yearbook‘ (1889-95); ‘Tom Brown’s Universe: The Development of the English Public School in the Nineteenth Century‘ (1977) by J.R. de Symons Honey in which the school is categorised as a Tier One public school; and Gregory Walford’s ‘Life in Public Schools‘ (1986) in which the school is not only noted as a major public school but in which he coined the well-known phrase: “Something Like Rugby” to define those public schools which are considered to be the best and which are commonly considered to be the majors. It is perhaps a testament to the reforms under Arnold that Rugby achieved such status as it is notably absent from lists predating his time as Head (lists such as that put forward by the celebrated author Daniel Defoe in his ‘The Compleat English Gentleman‘ (1729). Rugby School also featured on a list of global elite schools that was assembled by the educational publishers Matthews & Matthews.
The school’s revered status was glorified in much of the Victorian and Edwardian eras when Public Schools and their ilk had acquired something of a cult status, occupying a unique place in the public imagination. References to Rugby School were commonplace in publications like ‘The Boy’s Own Paper‘ and the ‘Chums Annual‘ (both of which could be found in the Tuck Box of Public Schoolboys and boarding school attendees up and down the country). Of note are the: 1922-24 edition of Chums which includes a feature on the British Public Schools and which includes Rugby School amongst a list of 30 schools; and the ‘Grammar School Coats of Arms’ and ‘Arms and Devices Used by Our Public Schools’ features in ‘The Boys’ Own Paper’. The ‘Boys’ Own Paper’ regularly displayed the colours and arms of the leading Public Schools, a number of such features would be made into postcards and lithographic prints, including the ‘Rugby Football Colours of Our Public Schools’, the ‘Football Colours of Our Public Schools’ (which actually correspond identically) and the ‘Cricket Caps of Famous Clubs and Schools’. Rugby School has been included many of them.
The school has been recognised in a number of collectible series’ from postcards to cigarette cards including: the ‘Football Colours of Some of Our Public Schools’ and R.P.P.C. ‘Arms of the Public Schools of England’, 1st Series (1910) and ‘The Arms of the Great Schools of England’ postcards which are popular amongst collectors; and the Wills’ ‘Public Schools’, 1st Series (1906), Sunripe’s ‘Public Schools and Colleges’ (1923), Huddens’ ‘Public Schools and Colleges’ (1925), John Brumfit (Kenmore) ‘The Public Schools’ Ties’ (1925), Wills’ ‘Interesting School Buildings’ (1927), Godfrey Phillips ‘School Badges’ (1927), Cavanders’ ‘Public Schools’ (1928) and Wills’ ‘Public Schools’, 2nd Series (1933) cigarette cards (inserts into cigarette cartons which are also highly sought after.
Tribute was also paid to Rugby School with the SR V class of steam locomotives commissioned by Southern Railway. The class is commonly known as the Schools class and were designed by Richard Maunsell between 1930 and 193. The naming convention was chosen as a number of the great Public Schools were served by Southern Railway and because the Public Schools were so mythologised in popular media at that time. Engine number 920 was named for Rugby and pupils of the school were invited to attend the naming ceremony for the locomotive on its launch into service. The London, Midland and Scottish Railway included Rugby School in its 1932-1947 railway posters series.
Such cultural references affirm Rugby’s status as a major Public School. Curiously, such productions had attempted to confirm which English schools were indeed Public Schools but omissions and inclusions from one list to another rather muddied the waters. Thomas Hughes himself had remarked on such confusion himself in a tongue-in-cheek piece for the ‘Great American Review’ in 1879 in which he explored the concept of “what is a public school” and the odd fact that the concept was well understood amongst the British and yet remained so undefined. In his findings, Hughes noted that some believed that being established by way of Royal Charter was the defining criterion (as Rugby was) and that others believed a link to an Oxbridge college was necessary (as was the case with the foundation of Eton and Winchester but not Rugby). Yet others suggested that the right to play an annual game at Lords’ Cricket Ground was the requisite criterion and the reserved right of the Public Schools (Rugby School maintained such a right with an annual game against Marlborough College). Finally, Hughes states that another had suggested that the invitation to shoot at the Public Schools Meeting at the inauguration of the National Rifle Association at Wimbledon Common was the best test (17 schools were invited including a team from Rugby School).
Today, the commonly held view is that any school which is affiliated with the Heads’ Conference (HMC) by way of membership of the head of school may be considered a public school. However, this was not always the case, and that association itself was established in 1869 as a consequence of the omission of a number of noteworthy schools from the Public Schools investigation of the Clarendon Commission (with allegations of favouritism on the part of persons on the Commission and accusations of lobbying from some quarters) and the subsequent Taunton Commission. Rugby School was not invited to join the HMC at its founding conference but did join shortly afterward and has remained a member since (a period spanning some 150 years). The original member schools of the HMC and those that joined in the early years of the association (which included the so-called Clarendon Schools) were predominantly fee-paying, boarding schools for boys in the grammar tradition and that were not attached to any religious institution. A couple of notable day schools aside, this was typically the criteria by which a public school was defined. Whilst the HMC has expanded significantly to include a large number of schools that might not satisfy that set of criteria, a small cohort of member schools continue that tradition, and many work together through the Rugby Group, convened by Rugby School. With one or two exceptions (perhaps including members of the similar Eton Group), this group may be considered the standard-bearers of the English Public School tradition and continue to offer “Something Like Rugby“.
Rugby School has a diverse student body with the majority residing on campus as boarders. The school has traditionally attracted the children of wealthy and aristocratic families and military families as Non-Foundationers alongside Foundationers who are still drawn from the local community. However, the school today has a much broader student body, reflecting modern society. A great many students attend from overseas.
The school keenly welcomes international pupils and has dedicated pastoral care and support for overseas pupils and guidance for their families. The school is accredited with AEGIS and BAISIS and maintains the highest standards of care in its boarding houses. In an effort to expand its international reach and recognition, the school opened a campus in Thailand in 2017 with plans to open another satellite in Japan in 2023. Further schools may be established when appropriate opportunities arise. As part of the wider Rugby family, Rugby merged with one of its key feeder schools, Bilton Grange Preparatory School, located nearby, in 2020. As such the school can now offer all-through education from age 3 with boarding options from the age of 8 (Year 3).
Rugby is proud of its holistic “whole person” education approach and still embraces some of Arnold’s ideas about character education and the creation of ladies and gentleman fit for life after graduation and capable of great things. The concept of Noblesse Oblige underpins much of the school’s ethos. Coupled with that is Rugby’s recognition of its role in loco parentis and the School and its Housemasters are tireless in ensuring that pupils at the school are afforded every opportunity that would exist to pupils who reside at home, as evidenced in initiatives such as the “Family Group” approach at the Bradley House for girl boarders. Specifically, the school requires that every pupil must:
- “Participate in physical activity three times each week of at least moderate intensity;
- “Participate in a theatrical production either on or behind the stage;
- “Participate in a musical event;
- “Serve in the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) for at least one year;
- “Carry out community service for at least one year (unless in CCF);
- “Complete their Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award;
- “Commit to a weekly voluntary activity of their choice;
- “Attend a variety of Society meetings to enrich their academic curiosity;
- “Speak publicly in either the House, Chapel, or to a wider school audience;
- “Sing on stage in front of an audience;
- “Be a member of a sports team & represent your House or the School;
- “Be in the audience for at least one theatrical production each year;
- “Be in the audience for at least one musical event each year; and
- “Be a spectator at a minimum of one sporting event each year.“
Life at Rugby is beset with traditions, owing in part to the school’s long and illustrious history. Rugby uses the House system beloved of traditional Public School and grammar schools and which owes its existence to the various boarding houses for pupils. Pupils are assigned to a House on entry and will take their meals in House (with breakfast, lunch, and dinner available including in the Day Houses). The Houses all have housemasters or housemistresses responsible for overseeing the management and day-to-day life of each House and the pupils therein. In addition, each House has at least one matron and has a number of tutors assigned to it to assist in the education and pastoral care of the pupils in their care. Pupils also “Prep” (evening study/homework) in their House and enjoy downtime in their House common rooms. In this respect, the Houses are often considered to be something akin to the Collegiate system at the ancient universities with much of student life existing within their House except those subjects required to be taught in schools.
Members of the Houses share a fierce camaraderie and are immensely proud of their House. They engage in intense rivalry with the other Houses including athletic and academic competition. The Houses each have their own unique character with many having been repurposed to accommodate girls when the school became co-educational. The Houses each have their own history and traditions, with some being named for their location or the pupils assigned to them and others being named for important figures associated with the school.
THE HOUSES OF RUGBY SCHOOL
Bradley opened its doors to boys boarding at Rugby in 1830 but became a girls-only boarding House in 1992.
A boarding House, named for the famous Bishop Cotton who was Assistant Master at Rugby before making his name in India. It was founded in 1836 and is considered to be friendliest of the boys’ Houses.
Dean House began welcoming boarders in 1832 and was the first to accept girls in 1978. It has a family feel and is considered by some to be the most prestigious girls’ House.
The smallest and newest House at Rugby, Griffin was founded in 2003 as the first purpose-built, girls-only boarding House.
Founded shortly after Cotton in 1841, Kilbracken is considered to be the sportiest of the boys’ Houses and is also for boarders only.
A boys boarding House founded in 1882, Michell has a passionate community that has proven to be a formidable opponent in intramural competition.
Named for the famous poet who was a boarder at Rugby School and wrote fondly of his time there, this House occupies part of what was once an independent prep school also attended by Brooke. The House began in 1860 as a boys boarding House but became girls-only in 1988.
School Field was established in 1852 as a boys boarding House and was the second to be owned directly by the school.
For boarding boys, School House was established in 1750 as the first boarding house directly owned by the school and is considered by many to be the most prestigious of the Houses owing to its history and the past pupils who were members. School House has a rivalry with School Field which is best demonstrated in an annual football game known as “Bosh”.
Named for the school’s original benefactor, Sheriff was the last of the boys’ boarding Houses founded at Rugby in 1930.
Southfield was established in 1993 as the House for day girls.
Founded in 1828 as a boarding House for boys, Stanley became girls-only in 1992 and is exclusive to Sixth-formers.
The oldest of the Houses at Rugby, Town House is a Day boys house which traces its history back to 1567 and which is the traditional home for Foundationers.
Tudor House was the last of the Victorian-era boarding Houses established at Rugby School in 1893. It was originally a boys boarding House but became girls-only in 2002.
A boarding House for boys that claims a history dating back to 1790.
It was at Rugby School where the system of school prefects first introduced at Eton College (Praepostors) was expanded and modified to become the “fagging” and punishment system so closely associated with the historical idea of the British Public School and as immortalised in ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’. At Rugby School, the system is known as “Levée” (and disparagingly referred to as “Pig” by the wider student body). Whilst Thomas Arnold is accredited with sponsoring this system at Rugby School it was introduced by a previous Headmaster, Thomas James, who had been at Eton College and who brought with him to Rugby the system of “Praepostors served by fags, dames’ houses and even the very books used at Eton”. The prefects are drawn from the ranks of the Sixth Form and play an essential role within the House system and are responsible for much of the administration and supervision as well as invigorating school spirit and House pride. Historically, prefects were also responsible for making sure boys in their House knew the rules of the school, its games and sports, and its specific lexicon. Failure to respond satisfactorily or demonstrate sufficient knowledge would result in punishments such as “lines”, “Close” (a running punishment unique to the school), a “defaulter” or worse. House prefects wear a distinct tie as do the Levée.
Perhaps the most famous aspect of life at Rugby is the school’s association with the modern sport of Rugby, having been first played at the school. That legacy is manifest today in the team colours of the England national rugby team whose white jerseys are a tribute to the varsity colours of the Rugby XV.
Furthermore, a number of rules familiar to rugby players and fans stem from the code stipulated at Rugby School. Switching ends at half-time was invented at Rugby, as one side of the pitch was particularly exposed to the wind and, during a game against a team comprised of Old Rugbeians and Old Wykehamists (Winchester College old boys), it was decided that both teams should be exposed to the wind at some point so as to ensure no unfair advantage (at that time, both sides fielded 20 players). It was at Rugby that the first scoring of tries or touchdowns was recorded, the idea being that the game would be won by the scoring of two goals (which must be kicked), but that a crack at goal would be available to any team who ran the ball in over the line for a touchdown. Even the ball’s distinct shape and appearance owe its existence to a local manufacturer, William Gilbert, who first stitched together the pig’s bladders used by the school in its Rugby football game. It was also a School House (one of the various houses at Rugby) team that first wore a uniform at a match attended by Queen Adelaide. That team, which is believed to have included Thomas Hughes, donned a red velvet cap which came to be a new tradition at Rugby with the awarding of a cap seen to be a great honour demonstrating that a young man was considered good enough to play for his team. A tradition that has been embraced globally by national sports teams who now award a ceremonial velvet cap to players who are called up to play and make their debut for their nation.
Cricket is also a major part of sporting life at Rugby School and many Old Rugbeians have been celebrated at County and National levels. Cricket has been played at the school since at least 1831 with earliest records showing the school playing against old established cricket clubs, including the Marylebone Cricket Club (the most prestigious cricket club in the world – they own and play at the Lord’s Cricket Ground and were the body responsible for governing world cricket for much of the existence of the sport), various Oxbridge college teams and wandering clubs, including the Butterflies Cricket Club. One of the highlights on the Rugby School calendar was the Tall vs the Short game which saw players allocated to a team based on height (5’6″ being the cut-off). The school first played a game against Marlborough College in 1855 and continues to play that annual fixture today. They are one of a handful of prestigious schools that were afforded the right to play their annual game at Lords’ (the other schools being Marlborough College for this very game; Eton vs Harrow; Oratory vs Beaumont; Tonbridge vs Clifton; and Cheltenham vs Haileybury; a Southern Schools vs The Rest fixture; and an Oxford vs Cambridge fixture). The Rugby School First XI are famous for wearing their duck egg blue cricket uniform on the field of play as opposed to the “traditional cricket whites“. They argue that the cricket whites are, in fact, non-traditional being introduced long-after teams like theirs played in their home colours.
The school has its own code of that unique public school game of Fives – a type of handball played against a wall. Known as Rugby Fives, the sport is believed to have been introduced by Thomas Arnold who had played a variant at Lord Weymouth’s Grammar School (now Warminster School). Unlike the more famous variant, Eton Fives, Rugby Fives is played in an enclosed court. Rugby Fives has an active playing community with courts maintained across England and elsewhere.
Rugby School also has a noted shooting sports history with Rugby rifles shooting at the first meeting of the National Rifles Association at Wimbledon Common as one of 17 Public Schools invited to participate in the prestigious event. Similarly, Rugby regularly fields participants to compete in the Ashburton Shield.
Rugby’s sailing team regularly competes against top-tier teams, particularly from other prestigious Public Schools in the Arrow Trophy.
Today, Rugby (Union), Cricket and Fives are still popular sports at the school alongside Association Football (Soccer) (Rugby School is a member of ISFA); Athletics (Track & Field); Badminton; Basketball; Cross Country; Fencing; Fives; Golf; Hockey (Field); Hockey (Indoor); Hockey (Sevens); Netball; Polo; Rackets; Rifles (Clay Pigeon); Rifles (Target); Rugby (Sevens); Sailing; Squash; Swimming; and Tennis, at both House and varsity level. Pupils at the school also take part in the annual “Crick Run” a fun run between Crick and Rugby.
Rugby School has an excellent, vigorous, and rigorous academic programme too with a focus on preparing pupils for university and for a life of great service thereafter with many alumni finding successful careers in academia, civil and public service, the military, the clergy, the arts, and business. The school offers the English academic curriculum and the International Baccalaureate with options to study a number of modern and classic languages; politics, philosophy, and sports science alongside the required subjects including physical sciences, English language and literature, mathematics, social sciences, and humanities. This is coupled with a host of co-curricular opportunities to enhance the learning experience and maximise potential in later life. This includes the officer-training Combined Cadet Force and the Duke of Edinburgh Award as well as a number of community and charity service schemes. Pupils are also able to participate in debating; coaching, teaching and mentoring; enterprise management; Model United Nations, and dedicated performing arts and fine arts programmes. In association with Bilton Grange, the school has a nationally-renowned chorister programme with many great choristers attending the school on scholarships.
The school has a strong Anglican ethos as evidenced in the reforms of Thomas Arnold, its most famous headmaster. The school has a long tradition of educating future clergy with many former alumni and faculty being called to ordination and becoming senior figures within the Church of England. Frederick Temple, a headmaster after Arnold, ultimately became Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior role in the Church of England behind the Monarch. William Webb Ellis, the celebrated inventor of rugby, chose a life and career in the Church.
As with many of the major Public Schools, Rugby has developed a specific lexicon and language that is unique to its community and known as “Rugby School Slang” (sometimes referred to as “Slanguage”). It is a combination of words, slang, people, and place names that have come to be a core part of life at the school. Some of Rugby’s terminology is in common with peer schools and some is entirely local to the school.
THE UNIQUE SLANG, JARGON AND TERMINOLOGY OF RUGBY SCHOOL
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The school is known for its duck egg blue sports kit and the colour is also to be worn for shirts and blouses as part of the school’s daily uniform. Different blazers are worn dependent on the time of year and the student’s role in the school. The blazers may either be the school’s tweed blazer or a blue blazer. Levée pupils must wear the blue blazer at all times with the addition of gold blazer buttons, a right reserved only for the Levée. The blue blazer must be worn with matching blue trousers or the famous Rugby skirt (a long-line baggy skirt popular with the girls at the school). Girls used to wear baggy culotte trousers known as “Bags” which were popularised at Oxford in the 1920s and which form part of the uniform at Oundle. Boys must also wear their House tie with prefects wearing either the Sixth tie or the Levée tie depending on which system has granted them Prefect rights. Pupils who have been awarded sporting colours may wear the corresponding tie. Girls must wear a badge in accordance with the same rules.
Campus and Facilities
The school is located in the town of Rugby, a large town in Warwickshire, England, near the city of Coventry. It is set within 200 acres of parkland with landscaped grounds and gardens and beautiful courtyards, quadrangles, and squares. Rugby School has a sprawling complex of ancient and new buildings, including the main school building, the chapel, the library, the sports hall, and the playing fields. The school boasts state-of-the-art gymnasiums and sports equipment together with physiotherapy and treatment facilities, all-weather pitches, tennis courts, indoor pitches, and a swimming pool. The school’s campus features leading-edge laboratories, interactive classrooms, and the historic Macready Theatre, which hosts regular workshops and masterclasses from leading thespians, directors, and producers. The chapel also plays host to the school’s orchestral and choral programs which have been recognised nationally and featured on various high-profile television broadcasts.
The various boarding Houses and day Houses are located throughout the campus which also includes a tuck shop, school shop, and other amenities. The school’s proximity to the town centre means pupils do not need to venture far in order to acquire essential provisions or supplies.
The school’s nearest airport is Birmingham Airport (BHX), less than 30 miles from the schools’ grounds. Rugby has a train station which is less than a mile away from the school.
Rugby School is a selective school with two entry points – 13+ (Year 9) and 16+ (Sixth Form). Candidates are required to complete a pre-interview survey, furnish selected transcripts and records demonstrating English-language capability (Verbal Reasoning Test) and academic ability, and must present for an interview, including with the master of the house to which the candidate is to be assigned. Preferred candidates must also satisfactorily pass the Common Entrance Exam. Rugby receives a large number of applicants.
Today, whilst the Anglican tradition remains strong at Rugby, the school welcomes pupils of all faiths and none. Whilst the school was historically an all-boys school, girls were first admitted in 1975 with the school becoming fully co-educational in 1992. Pupils from the locality are still admitted as day pupils and may apply on Foundation terms. The school has a thriving international community and welcomes applicants from across the globe to apply.
As an elite school, fees tend to be high (in line with similar Public Schools and members of the Sevenoaks Group). However, bursary schemes are available to support admissions from lower-income families and a number of scholarships exist for gifted applicants with sporting or artistic prowess, including choristers.
Old pupils are known as Old Rugbeians and are invited to join the Rugbeian Society. The alumni association is very active and members of the group were instrumental in the founding of early rugby football clubs. Old boys are members of a select group of Public School alumni that are eligible to join the prestigious Butterflies Cricket Club. In addition, the Old Rugbeian cricket team is a participant in the prestigious Cricketer Cup tournament, limited to alumni clubs of only the top tier of private schools. Similar privileges are afforded to the Old Rugbeian football and golf teams participating in The Arthurian League and the Public Schools Golfing Society’s Halford Hewitt Cup (“The Hewitt”). Old Rugbeians may also compete in the Arrow Trophy sailing competition for Public Schools. An active Old Rugbeians Freemasons Lodge exists for past pupils seeking to join The Craft. The lodge is a member of the Public School Lodges’ Council.
As the school has remained in association with the HMC for most of its existence, past pupils are able to apply for membership of the East India Club (which absorbed the Public Schools Club), in London’s St James. It is one of the most prestigious and active private gentleman’s clubs in England. Similarly, past pupils are invited to join The Public Schools Old Boys Lawn Tennis Association (PSOBLTA / “Pubs”), a nomadic tennis club that plays a series of regular fixtures against prestigious clubs, schools, and universities and which oversees the D’Abernon Cup tournament.
The Rugbeian Society has an active business network bringing together various members engaged in commerce and providing opportunities for recent graduates of the school to seek mentors, internships, and employment opportunities.
Old pupils of Rugby School are known as Old Rugbeians and are invited to join the Rugbeian Society. Alumni are entitled to use the post-nominal letters “OR”. The alumni association is very active and members of the group were instrumental in the founding of early rugby football clubs. Old Rugbeians have a strong cricket history too and are eligible to join the prestigious Butterflies Cricket Club (a wandering club). The Old Rugbeian cricket team is a participant in the prestigious Cricketer Cup tournament, limited to alumni clubs of only the top tier of private schools. Similar privileges are afforded to the Old Rugbeian football and golf teams participating in The Arthurian League and the Public Schools Golfing Society’s Halford Hewitt Cup (“The Hewitt”). Old Rugbeians may also compete in the Arrow Trophy sailing competition for Public Schools. An active Old Rugbeians freemasons lodge exists for past pupils seeking to join The Craft. The lodge is a member of the Public School Lodges’ Council. As the school has remained in association with the HMC for most of its existence, past pupils are able to apply for membership of the East India Club (which absorbed the Public Schools Club), in London’s St James. Similarly, past pupils are invited to join The Public Schools Old Boys Lawn Tennis Association (PSOBLTA / “Pubs”), a nomadic tennis club that plays a series of regular fixtures against prestigious clubs, schools and universities and which oversees the D’Abernon Cup tournament.
ADDRESS: RUGBEIAN COMMUNITY OFFICE , C/O RUGBY SCHOOL, LAWRENCE SHERIFF STREET, RUGBY, WARWICKSHIRE CV22 5EH, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM
Accreditations and Affiliations
Rugby School is subject to oversight and inspection by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI). The school is a member of the Association for the Education and Guardianship of International Students (AEGIS); the Association of Governing Bodies of Independent Schools (AGBIS); the British Association of Independent Schools with International Students (BAISIS); the Boarding Schools Association (BSA); The Head’s Conference (HMC); the Independent Schools Council (ISC); the Independent Schools Modern Languages Association (ISMLA); the Schools Enterprise Association (SEA); and The Independent Schools Christian Alliance (TISCA). Rugby is an International Baccalaureate World School. It is also the founding member of the Rugby Group and was a participant in the Sevenoaks Group admissions survey.