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Rugby is a market town in the English county of Warwickshire, close to the River Avon. Its population was estimated to be 77,285 in 2020, making it the second-largest town in Warwickshire. It is the principal settlement in the larger Borough of Rugby, which has a population of 108,935 people (2019 estimate).

Rugby is located near the borders of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire on the eastern edge of Warwickshire. It is located 83 miles (134 kilometres) north of London, 30 miles (48 kilometres) east of Birmingham, 11 miles (18 kilometres) east of Coventry, and 19 miles (31 kilometres) south-southwest of Leicester.

Rugby became a market town in 1255, but remained a small rural town until the mid-nineteenth century, when the location of a major railway junction in the town spurred industrial development and rapid population growth. Rugby School was founded in 1567 as a grammar school for local boys, but by the 18th century it had established a national reputation as a public school. The school is the birthplace of Rugby football, which was invented in 1823 by a Rugby schoolboy named William Webb Ellis, according to legend.

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    History from the beginning
    The River Avon served as a natural barrier between the Dobunni and Corieltauvi tribes, and it is likely that defended frontier settlements were established on both sides of the Avon valley. Rugby’s location on a hill with a view of the Avon made it an ideal location for a fortified Dobunni watch settlement. The Roman town of Tripontium was established on the Watling Street Roman road around 3.4 miles (5.5 km) north-east of what is now Rugby during the Roman period, but it was later abandoned when the Romans left Britain.

    The small settlement of Rugby was taken over by the Anglo-Saxons around 560 AD, and it was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Rocheberie; although there are several theories about the origin of the name, a popular one is that it was a phonetic translation of the Old English name Hrocaberg meaning ‘Hroca’s hill fortification’; Hroca being an Anglo-Saxon man’s name pronounced with a silent ‘H,’ and berg The town’s name was commonly spelled Rokeby (or Rookby) by the 13th century, before gradually evolving into the modern form by the 18th century. St Andrew’s Church, which was originally a chapel of the mother church at Clifton-upon-Dunsmore until Rugby was established as a parish in its own right in 1221, was first mentioned in 1140. The lord of the manor, Henry de Rokeby, obtained a charter in 1255 to hold a weekly market in Rugby, which grew into a small country market town.

    Rugby was mentioned in the 12th century as having a castle on the site of what is now Regent Place. The nature of the ‘castle,’ however, is unknown, and it could have been nothing more than a fortified manor house. In any case, the ‘castle’ was only temporary: It was most likely built during King Stephen’s reign (1135–1154) during the period of civil war known as The Anarchy, and then, as a so-called adulterine castle, built without Royal approval, it was demolished around 1157 on King Henry II’s orders. The earthworks for the castle could still be seen as late as the nineteenth century, but they have since been built over. According to one theory, the castle’s stones were later used to build the west tower of St Andrew’s Church, which bears a strong resemblance to a castle and was most likely intended for defensive as well as religious purposes.

    Rugby School was founded in 1567 with funds left in the will of Lawrence Sheriff, a local who had moved to London and made his fortune as Queen Elizabeth I’s grocer. Sheriff intended Rugby School to be a free grammar school for local boys, but by the 18th century, it had gained a national reputation and had gradually evolved into a mostly fee-paying private school, with the majority of its students coming from outside Rugby. To carry on Sheriff’s original intentions, the Lawrence Sheriff School was established in 1878.

    During the English Civil War, one of the first armed clashes occurred in the nearby village of Kilsby in August 1642. The same year, King Charles I passed through Rugby on his way to Nottingham, and 120 Cavalier Horse Troops reportedly stayed there, but the townspeople were sympathetic to the Parliamentarian cause, and they were disarmed by the Cavalier soldiers. Later, in 1645, Rugby was strongly Parliamentarian, and Oliver Cromwell and two regiments of Roundhead soldiers stayed there in April that year, two months before the decisive Battle of Naseby, which took place 12 miles (19 km) to the east in nearby Northamptonshire.

    Rugby was a small and relatively unimportant settlement until the nineteenth century, with only its school giving it any notoriety. Its growth was slow, owing in part to the proximity of markets such as Dunchurch and Hillmorton, which were better positioned in terms of road traffic. Rugby was recorded as having 160 houses and a population of around 650 people in 1663. By 1730, there were 183 houses and a population of around 900 people. Rugby’s importance and population grew more rapidly in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as a result of the growing national reputation of Rugby School, which had moved from its original location north of St Andrew’s Church to its current location south of the town centre by 1750. Rugby had a population of 1,487 people and 278 houses at the time of the first national census in 1801. By 1831, the population had risen to 2,501 people living in 415 houses. This expansion was fueled by parents who wanted to send their sons to Rugby School but couldn’t afford the boarding fees, so they moved to Rugby.

    History of the present
    The arrival of the railways prompted Rugby’s growth into a significant town, as its location made it an ideal meeting place for various railway lines. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the railway junction at Rugby had become one of the most important in the country: The first railway arrived in 1838, when the London and Birmingham Railway (L&BR), one of the earliest inter-city main lines, was built around the town. The Midland Counties Railway connected with the L&BR at Rugby in 1840, followed by a connection with the Trent Valley Railway in 1847. By the mid-1850s, five railway lines intersected at Rugby, with more than sixty trains passing through the station each day. Rugby was transformed into a railway town, and the influx of railway workers and their families grew the city’s population rapidly. Rugby’s population had risen to nearly 8,000 by 1861, and had reached nearly 17,000 by 1901.

    Rugby also developed some local industries in the latter half of the nineteenth century: The Rugby Lias Lime & Cement Company Ltd was founded in 1862 to take advantage of the locally available deposits of Blue Lias limestone. In 1882, a corset factory was established, which lasted until 1992, when it was replaced by a swimwear factory. Heavy engineering industries began to establish themselves in Rugby in the 1890s and 1900s, drawn by its central location and good transport links, causing the town to rapidly grow into a major industrial centre: Willans and Robinson were the first engineering firm to arrive in 1897, building steam engines to power electrical generators. They were followed in 1902 by British Thomson-Houston, which manufactured electrical motors and generators. Both companies began producing turbines in 1904 and competed until 1969, when they were merged as part of GEC. Rugby grew rapidly in the early twentieth century as workers moved in. Rugby’s population had risen to over 40,000 by the 1940s, and then to over 50,000 by the 1960s.

    In 1848, a local board of health was established in Rugby to provide the town with the necessary infrastructure for its growth, such as paved roads, street lighting, clean drinking water, and sewerage; this was later converted into an urban district council in 1894. In 1932, Rugby was elevated to the status of municipal borough, and its boundaries were expanded to include the formerly separate villages of Bilton, Hillmorton, Brownsover, and Newbold-on-Avon, which have since become suburbs of the town. The municipal borough merged with the Rugby Rural District in 1974 to form the current Borough of Rugby.

    Rugby was well served by the motorway network in the postwar years, with the M1 and M6 merging close to the town.



    The majority of Rugby is located on an irregularly shaped plateau between the valleys of the River Avon and Swift to the north and the Rains Brook and River Leam to the south. During its modern expansion, Rugby spread north across the Avon valley, engulfing the villages of Brownsover and Newbold to the north.

    The A5 road (the former Watling Street) marks the county boundary between Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, and Leicestershire to the east of Rugby. It is located about 3 miles (4.8 km) east of Rugby town centre. Dow Bridge, where the A5 road crosses the River Avon, serves as a tripoint for the three counties. The Rains Brook defines the county boundary with Northamptonshire to the south-east of Rugby. Rugby is Warwickshire’s easternmost town (and the entire West Midlands region)

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