Rugby is celebrating the advent of the Rugby World Cup this autumn in many ways. A striking statue of William Webb Ellis stands in front of Rugby School. The plaque beneath it says: ‘The local boy who inspired the fame of rugby football on The Close at Rugby School in 1823’. And now the history behind this statue is explained in the nearby Rugby Art Gallery and Museum.
UK sculptor Graham Ibbeson also produced the well-loved statue of comedian Eric Morecambe that stands on the front at Morecambe, Lancashire. Graham won a competition to produce the Webb Ellis statue; it was unveiled in 1997 and has been a talking point in Rugby ever since.
Producing the cast
The cast for the statue is currently on display in the Rugby Art Gallery and Museum (on the ground floor outside the central library), together with an explanatory plaque. The original was modelled in clay on a metal framework (called an armature); this was then surrounded by plaster of Paris and then cast in fibre-glass (the cast shown here). The fibre-glass cast was used to produce a wax mould, and then the final metal statue that stands outside the school. Unsurprisingly the sculpture took several months to produce.
Model for the statue
William Webb Ellis was born in 1806 and attended Rugby School; at the age of 17 he picked up a football and ran with it, thus inventing the game of rugby football. The statue shows him in full flight with a football (the oval shaped ball was developed later). The sculptor used his own 13-year old son Max as a model.
Want to learn more?
There will be a display of the drawings, photographs and models used to create this sculpture on the second floor of the Rugby Art Gallery and Museum from September 12th until 9th Jan 2016. And do have a look at the article about William Webb Ellis and Rugby Football on this website, which has a photo of the final statue in situ outside Rugby School.