This edited article about Warwickshire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 698 published on 31 May 1975.
“Up school! Up school!” “Come on, Headmaster’s House!”
Supporters of both teams stood in groups round the football pitch, loudly urging their schoolfellows on to one last effort. The match was nearly over, the players muddy and tired. And still there was no score.
The scene was Rugby School, Warwickshire’s famous public school. On the football field that day in 1823 one boy was to make sporting history. His name was William Webb Ellis.
A dozen boys crowded round the ball. A deft flick of the foot, and the ball sailed towards Ellis. “Come on Ellis, now’s your chance!” roared the boys on the side-lines. A straight kick, and the match would be won.
But William Ellis did not kick the ball. At the side of the pitch, spectators gasped in astonishment as he gathered the ball in his hands, and ran, twisting and weaving, towards the goal.
Astonishment turned quickly to anger. “Foul! Foul! Drop the ball, Ellis! Shame!” yelled the watching boys, as Ellis, the ball tucked firmly under his arm, crossed the goal line and triumphantly touched down the ball there.
Ellis’s attempt to win that match was not appreciated by his schoolfellows. “Disgraceful!” they said. The whole point of football was that no-one should touch the ball with his hands.
Yet William Webb Ellis’s action sowed a seed which grew steadily. Soon it became an accepted fact at Rugby that the ball could be handled – and so Rugby football was born.
Warwickshire has made its mark in the sporting world, and also on the industrial world. Geographically, the county is right in the centre of Britain, and inevitably it was caught up in the industrial revolution.
But now the teeming “Black Country” as it was once called, has been swallowed up in the newly formed county of the West Midlands which incorporates cities like Coventry and Sutton Coldfield, with their mines and factories. Nowadays, agriculture is a prominent feature of the Warwickshire countryside, consisting chiefly of dairy-farming and the growing of oats and wheat.
Although it is still extensively wooded, the amount of woodland has declined considerably in recent years. At one time, the Forest of Arden was reputed to have covered most of the county, Arden being the ancient term for a woodland area.
Although it is in ruins, Kenilworth Castle, north of Warwick, attracts many visitors, the ruins themselves giving an indication of the considerable fortress the castle once was.
The county has had its share of turbulence and wars. Kenilworth was the headquarters of the rebel leader Simon De Montfort. When he was killed at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, it fell into the hands of the opposing faction. During the 17th century, Warwickshire was involved in the Civil War and Warwick Castle was besieged at the very beginning of the campaign.
The county has a vast stake in the motor industry. With hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of cars exported each year, Warwickshire is called “The county that put Britain on wheels.”
Yet all the achievements of Warwickshire’s industries have been eclipsed by one man, who lived long before the first motor-car was thought of – William Shakespeare. Over three hundred and fifty years after his death, he is still regarded as the world’s greatest playwright.
Each year thousands of visitors from all over the world travel to Stratford-on-Avon to see the house where he was born, and the school-room where he learned to write.
The whole area around Stratford is bound up with Shakespeare. Each year a festival of his plays is held at the modern Memorial Theatre.
Since the Romans first fought their way northwards through Warwickshire nearly 2,000 years ago, many great people in our history have followed in their footsteps.
All over the county many of the fine castles and houses they built are still standing today.
In Warwick, the administrative centre, there are complete streets of Tudor houses. The grammar school there was founded by King Edward I, and in St. Mary’s Church is the tomb of the Earl of Warwick, who supervised the burning of St. Joan of Arc.
There is also a fourteenth century castle, claimed to be one of the finest in England.
The “county of motor-cars” and “Shakespeare’s county” – Warwickshire is called both. What better titles for a county which is literally the very centre of Britain?
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