1797 Rugby School Rebellion

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The 1797 Rugby School Rebellion was a mutiny of the boys at Rugby School after the headmaster, Dr. Henry Ingles, decreed that the damage to a tradesman's windows should be paid for by the Fifth and Sixth Forms.[1]

This was not an isolated event, as early as the 9th century AD, John Scotus Eriugena was stabbed by his pupils with their pens. Between 1728 and 1832, there were over 20 large-scale school rebellions, including 7 in Eton, 7 in Winchester, and 4 at Rugby, including this one. [2] [3]


One day in November 1797, the Headmaster caught a boy, Astley, shooting cork pellets at Mr. Gascoigne's study windows. When he interrogated Astley where he got the gunpowder from, he said he got it from a man called Rowell, who combined the functions of grocer, bookseller, and ironmonger. However, Rowell denied having given the boy any gunpowder, and Astley was flogged. Astley told his friends about all of this, and they smashed Rowell's windows, the Headmaster decreed that the damage must be paid for by the Fifth and Sixth Forms. The boys were outraged and, on a Friday afternoon, blew up the door of the Headmaster's study with a petard,[4] the next day, after the second lesson, the bells were rung and the boys, mounted on bigger boys' backs, broke the windows and ripped out walls, furniture, books, and desks. All of these were piled up and set on fire, the butler, 'Billy Plus', risked his life to rescue some valuable books. Dunchurch Road was crowded by that time, as all the teachers were enjoying the weekend, the Headmaster sent messengers to town, where a party of soldiers happened to be, and summoned them to his help. When the boys realised that the army was coming, they retreated to the Island, a Bronze Age burial mound that was back then surrounded by a moat approximately 5 meters wide and 1.5 meters deep, and drew up the drawbridge. Mr. Butlin read the Riot Act to distract the students while soldiers waded across the moat from behind and caught them, the floggings administered that day were terrible to remember, and those who were expelled were lucky. One of the ringleaders, Willoughby Cotton, later became a lieutenant general in the army. Another became a bishop.


The school added sport on weekday afternoons,[4] and, 25 years after the rebellion, William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it, inventing Rugby.