Rugby, Warwickshire

Rugby is a market town in the county of Warwickshire in central England on the River Avon. Rugby has a population of 62,790 (2002 estimate). The surrounding borough of Rugby has a population of 89,240. Rugby is about 15 miles (24 km) east of Coventry, on the east edge of Warwickshire, near the borders with Northamptonshire and Leicestershire

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The town centre

Claims to fame

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Rugby School

Rugby is most famous for the invention of Rugby football, which is played throughout the world. Legend has it that the game was invented by William Webb Ellis in 1823 at Rugby School, which is near the centre of Rugby.

Rugby School is one of England's oldest and most prestigious public schools, and was the setting of Thomas Hughes's semi-autobiographical masterpiece Tom Brown's Schooldays. A substantial part of the 2004 dramatisation of the novel, starring Stephen Fry, was filmed on location at Rugby School.

Rugby is also birthplace of the jet engine. In April 1937 Frank Whittle built the world's first prototype jet engine at the British Thomson-Houston works in Rugby, and between 1936-41 based himself at Brownsover Hall on the outskirts of the town, where he designed and developed early prototype engines. Much of his work was also carried out at nearby Lutterworth. Holography was also invented in Rugby by the Hungarian inventor Dennis Gabor in 1947. Template:GBmap-named In the 19th century, Rugby became famous for its once hugely important railway junction (see below) which was the setting for Charles Dickens's story Mugby Junction.

Famous or notable people born in Rugby include the poet Rupert Brooke, the scientist Norman Lockyer who discovered helium, and the athlete Katharine Merry. Also, many famous names attended Rugby School, including Neville Chamberlain, Lewis Carrol, Matthew Arnold and Salman Rushdie. The bands Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized also came from Rugby.

Rugby today

Rugby is a lively town. The town centre includes numerous nightclubs, restaurants and pubs. Rugby town centre is noted for its large number of pubs, and was for many years in the Guinness Book of Records for having the second highest density of pubs in England.

The town centre is the main shopping area, but in recent years several out of town retail centres have opened to the north of the town. A traditional street market is held in the town centre several days a week around the Clock Tower. Rugby also contains several large parks.

Regent Street with St Andrews Church
Regent Street with St Andrews Church

The modern town of Rugby is an amalgamation of the original town with the former villages of Bilton, Hillmorton, Brownsover and Newbold-on-Avon which merged with Rugby as it expanded; all except Brownsover still have their former village centres. Rugby also includes an area called New Bilton. The spread of Rugby has nearly reached the villages of Clifton-upon-Dunsmore, Cawston, Dunchurch and Long Lawford.

The town centre is mostly Victorian, but a few older buildings survive. Much architecture in Rugby including Rugby School and St Andrews church, was designed by William Butterfield in the 19th century.

Among the old buildings whose loss is regretted, are:-

  • Holy Trinity Church. (There are old people's apartments there now, called Trinity Court.)
  • The almshouses. These faced the Market Place, on its northeast side. There are shops there now.

Places of interest

Places of interest in the town include:-

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The Oxford Canal near Rugby

Places of interest around Rugby include:


Rugby is near the M6, M1 and M45 motorways and the A45 road.
Rugby is served by the West Coast Main Line railway, and has services to London - Birmingham and the North West of England (see Rugby railway station).
The Oxford Canal flows along the north edge of Rugby, but south of the new housing estates round Brownsover.


Rugby's economy is mainly industrial. It is an engineering centre and has a long history of producing gas and steam turbines at the Alstom (formerly GEC and AEI (earlier British Thomson-Houston or BTH)) works which used to dominate employment in the town. Engineering in Rugby has declined in recent years and the future of the Alstom works looks shaky, but it still remains the largest private employer in Rugby.

Another major industry in Rugby is cement making; the giant Rugby Cement works on the western outskirts of the town is one of the largest of its type in Europe and makes cement from the local Jurassic Lias limestone. The cement works can be seen from up to 20 miles away.

Since the 1980s several large industrial estates have been built to the north of the town, and warehousing and distribution have become major employers.

Further afield, within the Rugby borough is the Peugeot car factory at Ryton-on-Dunsmore, and the Rolls-Royce engineering works near Ansty. Both of these are nearer to Coventry, but are also major employers in Rugby.

Tourism is also important to the town's economy, especially related to Rugby football.

A link to Rugby's rural past can still be found in the cattle market held near the railway station. A cattle market has been held in Rugby since medieval times.

Rugby is to some extent a dormitory town for nearby places such as Coventry, Leicester, and Birmingham.


As well as the famous Rugby School, Rugby is home to the Lawrence Sheriff School for boys, one of the few remaining public grammar schools in England. Lawrence Sheriff School has recently gained a specialist status in mathematics and computing. There is also the Rugby High School for girls, in Bilton, and several comprehensive schools, including the Ashlawn School, Avon Valley School and the Harris School. State education in Rugby is run by Warwickshire county council. Rugby is home to a college, which is now a part of the Warwickshire Colleges.

Nearby places and twin towns


Early History

In the Iron Age the Rugby area was settled. Rugby's site on a plateau at about 400 feet above sea level, overlooking the River Avon made it an important strategic post overlooking the Avon, which was a natural barrier between the Dobunni and the Coritani tribes. Iron Age remains, probably lookout posts or forts, have been located on either side of the Avon.

In Roman times, two major Roman roads were built very close to the site of modern day Rugby: the Fosse Way and Watling Street.

Just outside modern day Rugby, remains have been found of a Roman town called Tripontium, on the original Watling Street which is now known as the A5. Historians believe that the settlement was a kind of ancient service station, providing stabling and accommodation to passing Roman armies and travellers.

Rugby got its name in Saxon times. It was first mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086 as a small farming settlement then called Rocheberie. General belief is that this name it came from Anglo-Saxon Hrōceburh = "Rook fort", where Rook may be the birds or may be a man's name; in 1200 it was spelt Rokebi. Later Viking influence in the area changed the ending to the Old Norse -bı. The name later evolved into "Rokeby", and by the 18th century had become "Rugby". There is a theory that Hrōceburh is an Anglo-Saxonizing alteration of an old Celtic name Droche-brig meaning "wild hilltop".

In the 13th century Rugby gained a market charter, and became a small rural market town, which it remained until the 19th century. The layout of the streets in the town centre around the Market Place still follows the pattern set down in medieval times. Rugby's built-up area was only High Street and Sheep Street and North Street and the Market Place.

One of the most significant events in the town's history was the founding in 1567 of Rugby School: Lawrence Sheriff, a locally born grocer to Queen Elizabeth I, left money in his will to establish a school in Rugby for local boys. The school needed to take some fee-paying pupils from outside the area, to help pay the bills, and gradually became a largely fee-paying school.

"Guy Fawkes House" in
"Guy Fawkes House" in Dunchurch

The Rugby area has associations with the Gunpowder Plot - On the eve of the plot on November 5th, 1605, the plotters stayed at an inn in nearby Dunchurch to await news of the plot. If it had been successful then they planned to kidnap the princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, who was staying at nearby Coombe Abbey, and install her as Queen.

From medieval times until the late 18th century, the population of Rugby stayed at around 500-1000. It began to grow in the 1770s when the Oxford Canal was constructed around the town and spurred some growth in local industries and in population.

19th-century development

Rugby really came into its own in the 19th century.

Rugby School, one of England's oldest and most prestigious public schools, rose to national prominence in the 1820s through the teaching methods pioneered by its headmaster, Dr Thomas Arnold, which contributed to a radical change in Public School education in England. Most of the present school buildings, near the centre of the town, date from this period.

The growing popularity of the school in the early 19th century led to an increase in population of the town. Many immigrants came to Rugby, many of whom were Rugby School pupils' parents, who preferred their sons to be able to go to a normal home life each night instead of having to endure school conditions (poor food, crowding, bullies) 24 hours every day; in Rugby such immigrants were called "sojourners". This caused an expansion of Rugby along Bilton Road and Dunchurch Road.

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The railway at Rugby in 2004

In 1835 Rugby was a small rural town with a population of around 2,500, but developed rapidly with the coming of the railways. In the 1830s, the London and Birmingham Railway, an early part of what later became the West Coast Main Line, was built through the town. In the 1840s, the Midland Counties Railway, which linked the East Midlands with North East England, formed a junction with the London and Birmingham, making Rugby the busiest and most important railway junction in Britain.

By the 1850s railways from five direction joined at Rugby, including the main 'Trent Valley Line' to the north-west of England. For nearly 30 years, nearly all rail traffic between London, the Midlands, the north of England, Scotland, and north Wales passed through Rugby junction, giving the town huge national importance.

By the 1860s the junction had become extremely congested, so much so that it was not uncommon for trains to have to queue for hours to pass through. This caused much anger and frustration amongst travellers, for whom Rugby became a byword for delays. Charles Dickens lampooned it in his short story Mugby Junction (1866). To relieve this congestion a new line, later called the Midland Main Line, was built, taking a more direct route to London, avoiding Rugby. Much traffic was diverted onto the new line; Rugby remained one of the most important railway junctions in the country, but was no longer an all-important hub.

Many wagon works, and engineering facilities were opened, and Rugby's population reached 10,000 by the 1870s, many employed by the railways. Because of its transport links, a number of engineering and manufacturing industries developed in Rugby.

20th century

From the 1890s onwards Rugby began to attract engineering industry, due largely to its good transport links. The Willans & Robinson works opened in Rugby in 1893 which made steam engines. And in 1899 the British Thomson-Houston works opened which made electrical equipment and later turbines. Engineering would dominate the town's economy for most of the century. The engineering works in Rugby atracted many workers to the town, and in the early decades of the 20th century the population grew rapidly and Rugby's built-up area spread fast, particularly down the northern hill slope to the railway.

In 1901 the population of Rugby was 16,950, by 1931 it had reached 40,000. Rugby became a municipal borough in 1932 and absorbed the nearby parishes of Bilton, Hillmorton and Newbold-on-Avon.

From 1926, near Rugby to its east was a large antenna farm for the VLF transmitter Rugby. All but four of the twelve big radio masts (used to broadcast the MSF time signal) were demolished in June 2004 - delayed by rabbits chewing through the wires controlling detonation [2] (

In the late 1930's Frank Whittle developed the jet engine in Rugby.

Unlike nearby Coventry and Nuneaton, Rugby was highly fortunate to avoid German bombing during World War II. This is perhaps somewhat surprising given the town's strategic importance as a railway junction and engineering centre. A few stray bombs landed on Dunchurch however, but no other significant bomb damage occurred in the area.

In the postwar years Rugby became a centre of the national motorway network. Two of Britain's most important motorways, the M1 and M6, as well as the M45, run close to the town.

At the same time several of the railway lines which radiated from Rugby were closed as part of the Beeching axe, including the once hugely important Midland Counties Railway (Rugby - Leicester) in 1961. As of 2003, only the West Coast Mainline still serves the town.

From the 1950s, Rugby gained a substantial Afro-Caribbean community, and a sizeable community from the Indian sub-continent, making Rugby a multi-cultural town. There is a small Hindu temple in Rugby; it was converted from two adjacent terrace houses.

See also


  • Rugby, Aspects of the Past, and Rugby, Further Aspects of the Past, by the Rugby Local History Group.
  • Rugby: A Pictorial History, by E.W. Timmins (1990) ISBN 0850337003
  • Rugby's Railway Heritage, by Peter H Elliot (1985) ISBN 0907917062

External links

de:Rugby (Stadt) no:Rugby, England


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