William Webb Ellis (November 24, 1806 January 24, 1872) is often credited with the invention of Rugby football. The story of how he founded the game of rugby football is highly likely fictional. Nevertheless his name is firmly established in the lore of rugby football. He has become immortalised by the William Webb Ellis Cup presented to the winners of the Rugby World Cup.
The cup is silver gilded in gold and has been presented to the winner of the world cup since the first competition in 1987. The 38 centimetre trophy is supported by two cast scroll handles. On one handle there is a head of a satyr, on the other there is that of a nymph. On the face of the trophy, the words International Rugby Board are written and below that arch The Webb Ellis Cup. The cup was made at Garrard's workshop based on a Victorian design of a 1740 cup by Paul de Lamerie.
The cup toured Australia during the pool stages of the 2003 Rugby World Cup. 2004 saw it travel around England following their win and has since appeared in Canada for the first time ever, when it was on show at the USA & Canada match for 2007 qualification. Finally a four-carriage rugby train toured France (May to November 2006), stopping frequently to promote the following years world cup.
William was born in Salford, Lancashire, though he said he was born in Manchester in an 1851 census. He was the son of James Ellis, an officer in the Dragoon Guards and Ann Webb. After her husband was killed in 1812 during a battle, Mrs Ellis decided to move to Rugby, Warwickshire so that William and his older brother Thomas could receive a good education at Rugby School, living within 10 miles of the school meant she paid no fees for the boys. William attended the school from 1816 to 1825 and he was recorded as a good scholar and cricketer. The incident where Webb Ellis picked up and ran with the ball in his arms during a football match is supposed to have happened in the latter half of 1823.
After leaving Rugby he went to Oxford University in 1826. Here he played cricket for Brasenose College, Oxford. He entered the Church and became chaplain of St George's, Albemarle Street, London and then rector of St Clement Danes in The Strand. In 1855 he became rector of Laver Magdalene in Essex. He died in the south of France in 1872 in the town of Menton on the French Riviera near the Italian border. He spent the last six months of his life trying to recover from TB in the dryer conditions by the Mediterranean. His grave at Menton was rediscovered by Ross McWhirter in 1958 and has since been renovated. The actual site is plot 957 in le cimetiére du Vieux Château à Menton in the Alpes-Maritimes.