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Development of the Rugby Ball







The town of Rugby, Warwickshire and in particular two businesses close to the school, Gilbert's and Lindon are chiefly responsible for the development of the rugby ball as we know it today. 

Originally a pig's bladder was used for football in the public schools of England, but unfortunately for the pigs, the life span of a sporting bladder was short and they needed to be replaced regularly. The solution to the problem was for the bladder to be covered with leather and local shoemaker's were called in to solve the problem. By 1800, leather casings surrounded the bladder, which is naturally oval in shape, to prolong the life of the ball. Prior to the 1840s the aforementioned William Gilbert and Richard Lindon, cobblers by trade of Rugby, were both supplying  balls, boots and other equipment to the masters and boys of Rugby School. 

In the 1850s vulcanised rubber was invented by an American, Charles Goodyear. Richard Lindon applied this method to the manufacture of bladders for his footballs but failed to patent the process. Others soon caught on and by the 1880s there were several manufacturers of 'footballs' in England all using the same process. Lindon is also credited with inventing the adaptor with which to blow up the ball, previously the stem of a clay pipe which was attached to the bladder was used. His wife had contracted a lung disease thought to have come from years of blowing up the pig's bladders with the stems, out of necessity a new method was born.

The first mention of standard dimensions for a ball are in 1892. The RFU required that they were to measure 25.5 - 26 inches in width circumference and 30 - 31 inches in length circumference. In 1931 the dimensions were changed to the shorter and much narrower ball that is used today.

 Ball 1900

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Rugby Ball - circa 1905 - This ball dates from around 1905, The ball has been signed on the two uppermost panels as you view it. It is very likely to have been signed by the 1905 All Blacks as it accompanied a signed  photograph of this team. Unfortunately the signatures are faded and we are unable to positively identify any. This is definitely a job for all you amateur forensic scientists out there !  (WRM-0129)

New Zealand 1905 All Blacks Giant Postcard published by the Western Mail in 1905 (WRM 0596)


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1906 Springboks signed ball. A 'Zug' ball, these balls were available for purchase in SA, see the Perrins & Burke, Port Elizabeth advert, where you can buy the 'Zug' for 15 shillings. This advert is dated 1910. The signatures of the 1906 South African team adorn one panel of the ball although these are now faded and only one or two are legible. This was the first South African touring side, a tour in which the term 'Springboks' was coined. The illustration of a signed ball is of the 1906 tourists as illustrated in Piggot's book of the tour. (WRM-0357)

1906 Springboks Giant postcard published by the News of the World (WRM-0597)

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A cap from Rugby School dated 1886. Each school house had caps, the Maltese Cross belonged to the house called 'Hutchinson'. The inside of the cap has the matches in which the pupil (F Agnew) played embroidered onto patches which are then sewn inside. The matches which include Rugby v New College Oxford and Rugby v Old Haileyburians 1887 and the 'Sixth Match (Sixth form against the rest of the school)'. (WRM-0185)


100_1659.JPG (19667 bytes) French bisque rugby figure, circa 1890. 
58.jpg (48147 bytes) Typical bladder, circa 1950s.  (WRM-0128)
M3.jpg (30631 bytes) M4.jpg (29188 bytes) New Zealand & South African rugby ball badges, circa 1956 




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Keeping with the guidelines of the International Rugby Board each country developed it's own style of ball, the South Africans tended towards an 8 panelled ball and played with this type up until 1961 when the IRB decreed that 4 panels per ball should be the standard.  This 8 panel 'Springbok Improved' ball, circa 1950 has approximately 170 signatures of international players. Amongst these are the 1955 Lions who have signed neatly down one panel, names like Cliff Morgan, Tony O'Reilly, Robin Thompson & Bryn Meredith can be easily picked out. The next panel is signed by the complete 1953 Wallaby tour party. Two panels have been signed by the 1958 Barbarian tourists while he remaining 4 panels have been signed by Springboks and others, amongst these we can make out Danie Craven, Gerry Brand, Philip Nel, captain of the 1937 Springboks, & Wavell Wakefield, England Grand Slam captain of the 1920s.(WRM-0510)

Above illustration, the 1949 All Blacks hard at it during a signing session




1st February 1986 - Cardiff Arms Park

The crowd thought him mad, the media ‘ambitious’ only one man was certain he could do it. 70 yards 8 ˝ inches (64.65 metres) was the distance of the penalty that Paul Thorburn kicked for Wales against Scotland in 1986 with this Mitre Multiplex ball. The longest successful kick at goal in the history of Welsh International Rugby. This was one of 5 penalty goals kicked by the Neath legend as Wales went on to defeat Scotland by 22 points to 15. (WRM-563)

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Miniature balls & tobacco pouches were produced by ball manufacturers as gifts & keepsakes to boost their sales. They were popular with touring teams who presented usually presented signed miniatures to their hosts. This miniature ball is signed by the 1938 British Lions and formed part of the collection of England wing Jim Unwin, a member of the touring party.  (WRM-0234)

02.jpg (25502 bytes) Miniature ball signed by Bleddyn Williams, 1950s Welsh captain.  (WRM-0312)
90.jpg (12558 bytes) 57.jpg (12534 bytes) Miniature ball produced for Barbarians Centenary Dinner 1990 and bladder.  (WRM-0305)
49.jpg (38169 bytes) Tobacco pouch in the shape of a rugby ball.  (WRM-0309)
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Gilbert Barbarian - one of the first balls with an artificially coated surface to aid handling in wet weather.  (WRM-0354)
2007-rwc-ball.jpg (106077 bytes) The modern ball – 100% synthetic, made in India by Gilbert who are still regarded as one of the top names in the rugby ball industry. 


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