A Bigside at Rugby
The object of the month for June is a step back in time, to the early years of the sport. The photograph ‘A Bigside at Rugby’ is regarded as the oldest existing photograph of a rugby match. It was taken in the 1860s and shows events before a match at Rugby School, where teams were made up out of the houses of the school. The skull and cross bone emblem on some of the player’s jerseys is that of one of the houses.
The development of the game of Rugby occurred primarily at Rugby School, where the first laws were written down in 1845. Prior to this, rules had been dependent upon the students, and as such they would change as new students enrolled at the school. However, as the photograph shows, even after 1845, rugby matches involved a huge number of players. There are well over seventy players in this photograph, and one can only imagine the chaotic scenes that would have occurred during the match itself.
It would take until 1871, the decade after this photograph was taken, when there were twenty players a side, that the laws of Rugby were codified. In 1877 the number of players on each team would be reduced to fifteen.
Images from across the sport of rugby can be seen in the forthcoming ‘Rugby in Focus’ exhibition at the museum, which celebrates the relationship between rugby and photography.