Rugby, Warwickshire

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Rugby town centre.jpg
Rugby Market Place, looking west from Church Street
Rugby is located in Warwickshire
Rugby shown within Warwickshire
Population70,628 (2011 Census)
OS grid referenceSP5075
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townRUGBY
Postcode districtCV21, CV22, CV23
Dialling code01788
AmbulanceWest Midlands
EU ParliamentWest Midlands
UK Parliament
List of places
52°22′N 1°16′W / 52.37°N 1.26°W / 52.37; -1.26Coordinates: 52°22′N 1°16′W / 52.37°N 1.26°W / 52.37; -1.26

Rugby is a market town in Warwickshire, England, close to the River Avon. The town has a population of 70,628 (2011 census[1]) making it the second largest town in the county. The town is the main settlement within the larger Borough of Rugby which has a population of 100,500 (2011 census).

Rugby is on the eastern edge of Warwickshire, near the borders of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. It is 83 miles (134 km) north of London, 30 miles (48 km) east of Birmingham and 11 miles (18 km) east of Coventry,

The town is credited with being the birthplace of rugby football due to William Webb Ellis picking a football up during a match at Rugby School.


Early Iron age settlement existed in the Rugby area, and a few miles outside what is now Rugby, existed a Roman settlement known as Tripontium. Rugby was originally a small Anglo-Saxon farming settlement on the hill overlooking the River Avon and was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Rocheberie, a popular theory is that this 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' being a name for a hill fortification, with the 'g' being pronounced as an 'ee' sound. By the 13th century the name of the town was commonly spelt as Rokeby before gradually evolving into the modern form.[2] The first mention was made of St Andrew's Church in 1140, and Rugby became a parish in its own right in 1221. The lord of the Manor Henry de Rokeby obtained a charter to hold a market from king Henry III in 1255, and Rugby soon developed into a small country market town.[3]

Rugby School was founded in 1567 with money left in the will of Lawrence Sheriff, a locally born man, who moved to London and became grocer to Queen Elizabeth I. Rugby School was originally intended as a school for local boys, but by the 18th century it had acquired a national reputation and gradually became a mostly fee-paying private school, with most of its pupils coming from outside Rugby. The Lawrence Sheriff School was eventually founded in 1878 to carry on Sheriff's original intentions.[4][3]

The growth of Rugby was slow, due in part to the nearby markets at Dunchurch and Hillmorton which were better positioned in terms of road traffic. In 1663 Rugby contained only 160 houses. By 1730 this had increased to 183 houses, with a population of around 900. Rugby's importance and population increased more rapidly during the late 18th and early 19th century due to the growing national reputation of Rugby School. By the time of the first national census in 1801, Rugby had a population of 1,487 with 278 houses. By 1831 this had increased further to 2,501 in 415 houses. This growth was driven by parents who wished to sent their boys to Rugby School, but were unable to afford the boarding fees and so took up residence in Rugby.[5][6][2]

More rapid growth started with the coming of the railways: In 1838 the London and Birmingham Railway was constructed around the town, which in 1840 made a junction with the Midland Counties Railway at Rugby. By 1850 there were five railway lines meeting at Rugby, with more than sixty trains a day passing through Rugby railway station.[5] The railway junction at Rugby soon became one of the busiest and most important of the era, and the proliferation of rail yards and workshops attracted workers.[3] Rugby's population grew to nearly 8,000 by 1861.[6] reaching nearly 17,000 by 1901.[7]

In the later half of the 19th century, Rugby also developed some industries: Large-scale cement production began in the town in around 1870 when the Rugby Portland Cement Company Ltd was founded to take advantage of the locally available Blue Lias limestone.[8][2] In the 1890s and 1900s heavy engineering industries began to set up in the town, and Rugby rapidly grew into a major industrial centre: Willans and Robinson were the first engineering firm to arrive in Rugby in 1897,[9] building steam engines to drive electrical generators, they were followed by British Thomson-Houston in 1902, who manufactured electrical motors and generators. Both firms started producing turbines in 1904, and were in competition until both were united as part of GEC in 1969.[10] Rugby expanded rapidly in the early decades of the 20th century as workers moved in. By the 1940s, the population of Rugby had grown to over 40,000, and then to over 50,000 by the 1960s.[7]

A local board of health was established in Rugby in 1849, to provide the town with the amenities necessary to cope with its growth, this was converted into an urban district council in 1894. Rugby's status was upgraded to that of a municipal borough in 1932, and its boundaries were expanded to incorporate the formerly separate villages of Bilton, Hillmorton, Brownsover and Newbold-on-Avon which have become suburbs of the town.[6][11] In 1974 the municipal borough was merged with the Rugby Rural District to form the present Borough of Rugby.[12]

In the postwar years, Rugby became well served by the motorway network, with the M1 and M6 merging close to the town.[10]


Rugby is most famous for the invention of rugby football, which is played throughout the world. The invention of the game is credited to William Webb Ellis whilst breaking the existing rules of a football match played in 1823 at Rugby School.

Rugby School is one of England's oldest and most prestigious public schools, and was the setting of Thomas Hughes's semi-autobiographical masterpiece Tom Brown's Schooldays. A substantial part of the 2004 dramatisation of the novel, starring Stephen Fry, was filmed on location at Rugby School. Hughes later set up a colony in America for the younger sons of the English gentry, who could not inherit under the laws of primogeniture, naming the town Rugby. The town of Rugby, Tennessee still exists.

Rugby is a birthplace of the jet engine. In April 1937 Frank Whittle built the world's first prototype jet engine at the British Thomson-Houston works in Rugby, and between 1936-41 based himself at Brownsover Hall on the outskirts, where he designed and developed early prototype engines.[13] Much of his work was carried out at nearby Lutterworth. Holography was invented in Rugby by the Hungarian inventor Dennis Gabor in 1947.[14]

In the 19th century, Rugby became famous for its once important railway junction which was the setting for Charles Dickens's story Mugby Junction.

Rugby today[edit]

Regent Street with St Andrews Church

The modern town of Rugby is an amalgamation of the original town with the former villages of Bilton, Hillmorton, Brownsover and Newbold-on-Avon which were incorporated into Rugby in 1932 when the town became a borough,[6][15] all except Brownsover still have their former village centres. Rugby also includes the areas of New Bilton, Overslade and Hillside. The spread of Rugby has nearly reached the villages of Clifton-upon-Dunsmore, Cawston, Dunchurch and Long Lawford.

Town centre[edit]

The town centre is mostly Victorian and early 20th century, however a few much older buildings survive, along with some more modern developments. Rugby was described by Nikolaus Pevsner as 'Butterfieldtown'[16] due to the number of buildings designed by William Butterfield in the 19th century, including much of Rugby School and the extension of St Andrew's Church.

The main shopping area in Rugby is in the streets around the Clock Tower, two of which - High Street and Sheep Street - are pedestrianised. The town centre has an indoor shopping centre called Rugby Central which opened in 1980 (previously named The Clock Tower shopping centre). A street market is held in the town centre several days a week. In recent years several out-of-town retail centres have opened to the north of the town. Rugby contains several large parks, most notably Caldecott Park near the town hall. The borough council along with Warwickshire County Council had plans to pedestrianise North Street, a busy road through the town centre as part of the town centre's regeneration. This proved to be very controversial, with the town's major bus operator Stagecoach in Warwickshire threatening to reduce many bus services if the road closed to traffic. Ultimately however, the plans were abandoned in favour of a redesign of the nearby "Gyratory" traffic system which lies just outside the town centre itself.


The Rugby Art Gallery, Museum and Library

The largest general purpose venue in Rugby is the Benn Hall which opened in 1961 as part of the town hall complex,[17] Rugby Theatre on Henry Street in the town centre is a 270 seat amateur theatre which puts on regular productions as well as musical entertainment and has a small cinema.[18]

The Rugby Art Gallery and Museum which opened in 2000, hosts various temporary art exhibitions, the main collection which is not on permanent display is the nationally renown "Rugby Collection of 20th century and Contemporary British Art" which includes 170 artworks by artists such as L. S. Lowry, Stanley Spencer, Paula Rego and Graham Sutherland.[19] The museum hosts Roman artefacts excavated from the nearby Romano-British town of Tripontium, as well as an exhibition of the social history of Rugby. The building also houses the World Rugby Hall of Fame as well as the town's library.[20]

Since 2011 Rugby has held the annual Rugby Festival of Culture, which lasts for two or three weeks in June and July, and includes a wide ranging program of music, theatre, arts and crafts and comedy.[21][22]

The poet Rupert Brooke was born and raised in Rugby, and he is commemorated in the town by a statue in Regent Place.[23]

In the 1980s the influential rock band Spacemen 3 was formed in Rugby by the local musicians Jason Pierce and Pete Kember. Following its demise in 1991, both musicians went on to form successful subsequent projects; Pierce formed the critically acclaimed band Spiritualized and Kember continued performing under the names Sonic Boom/Spectrum.[24]

Politics and governance[edit]

Rugby Town Hall (built 1961) - The headquarters of Rugby Borough Council

Rugby is administered by two local authorities: Rugby Borough Council which covers Rugby and its surrounding countryside, and Warwickshire County Council. The two authorities are responsible for different aspects of local government. Rugby is an unparished area and so does not have its own town council.

Rugby Town Hall (pictured) dates from 1961, and is beside Caldecott Park. An earlier town hall on High Street dated from 1895 and was for many years a Marks and Spencer shop.[25]

From 1885 until 1983 Rugby was a constituency in itself. From 1883 until 1950 Rugby was a marginal seat which changed hands between the Conservative and Liberal parties, from 1950 until 1979 it was Labour dominated. In 1983 Rugby became part of the parliamentary constituency of Rugby and Kenilworth, one of the Midlands' most marginal seats. Between 1983 and 1997 Jim Pawsey was the Conservative Member of Parliament, losing in 1997 to Labour's Andy King. At the 2005 general election Jeremy Wright regained the seat for the Conservatives.[26]

Following the recommendations of the Boundary Commission for England, Warwickshire was allocated a sixth parliamentary seat. In the 2010 general election, the existing Rugby and Kenilworth constituency was abolished and split in two. A new Rugby constituency was created, and a new constituency of Kenilworth and Southam formed to the south of Rugby, and as a result the town regained its pre-1983 status of returning its own member of parliament, albeit with the addition of the Bulkington Ward from Nuneaton. Jeremy Wright chose to stand for Kenilworth and Southam in the 2010 general election and was successful. Mark Pawsey, son of former Rugby MP Jim Pawsey, was elected for Rugby in 2010.[26]


Map of Rugby


Adjacent settlements[edit]

Places adjoining or on the outskirts of Rugby:

Nearby places[edit]


At the 2011 census 89% of Rugby residents were White, 5.8% were Asian, 2.5% were Black and the remaining 2.4% were either mixed race or from some other ethnic group.[1]

In terms of religion, 66.5% of Rugby residents identified as Christian, 27.4% said they had no religion, 2.8% were Hindu, 1.7% were Muslim, 0.8% were Sikh, 0.4% were Buddhists and the remaining 0.4% were from some other religion, including 46 people who identified as Jewish.[1]


For most of the 20th Century manufacturing was the largest employer in Rugby. Since the 1990s manufacturing employment has gone into decline, and service industries are now the largest source of employment.[27] Rugby remains an engineering centre and has a long history of producing gas and steam turbines at the GEC and at the AEI. The AEI was earlier British Thomson-Houston or BTH. They used to dominate employment in the town. They are now amalgamated to form Alstom. Engineering in Rugby is still the most important sector.

Rugby Cement works

Another major industry in Rugby is cement making; Rugby Cement works, on the western outskirts, makes cement from the local Jurassic Lias limestone. The cement industry in Rugby dates back to the 1860s. In the 1990s the Rugby Cement works was dramatically expanded, and in 2000 other Rugby Cement plants at Southam and Rochester were closed, with all production moved to the Rugby plant,[28] now one of the largest of its type in Europe. The Rugby cement works are powered by SRF (Solid Recovered Fuel) created from waste from homes across the West Midlands. This process is facilitated by SUEZ Recycling & Recovery UK.

Since the 1980s several large industrial estates have been built to the north, and warehousing and distribution have become major employers. This is due to the town's close proximity to the M6 motorway (Junction 1) and M1 (Junction 19), at the heart of the UK's motorway network.

Further afield, within the Rugby borough is the Rolls-Royce engineering works near Ansty. This is nearer to Coventry than Rugby, but is a major employer to the Rugby population.

Tourism is also important to the town's economy, especially related to Rugby football.[29]

One of the last links to Rugby's rural past was the cattle market held near the railway station, and earlier in the "Market Place" in the old centre of Rugby since medieval times. The market near the railway station was closed in late 2008 and the site has been redeveloped into housing, a hotel and a Tesco store as part of a wider scheme of work in the station area.


Rugby VLF transmitter (now demolished)

One of the most notable landmarks around Rugby was, until August 2007, the Rugby VLF transmitter, a large radio transmitting station just to the east of the town. The station was opened in 1926 and was used to transmit the MSF time signal. Several of the masts however were decommissioned and demolished by explosives in 2004, although a few, including four of the biggest masts remained until 2007. (Firing the explosive charges was delayed by rabbits gnawing the wires).[30] The remaining four 'tall' masts were demolished on the afternoon of 2 August 2007 with no prior publicity. However the majority of the smaller masts still stand, awaiting demolition before becoming a housing estate

Rugby Cement works, to the west of the town, can be seen for many miles. Standing at just 115 metres high, the landmark is not a popular one— in 2005 it came in the top ten of a poll of buildings people would like to see demolished on the Channel 4 television series Demolition.[31] In October 2006, the owners of the Rugby Cement works, Cemex, were fined £400,000 for excessive pollution after a court case brought by the Environment Agency.[32]

William Webb Ellis' statue

The town has statues of three famous locals: Rupert Brooke, Thomas Hughes and William Webb Ellis. The Rupert Brooke statue is situated at the forked junction of Regent Street on the green and commemorates his contribution to poetry. Thomas Hughes' statue stands in the gardens of the Temple Reading Rooms (the central library of Rugby school) on Barby Road. Since England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003, the William Webb Ellis statue outside Rugby School is one of the most visited parts of the town.

St Andrew's Church

St Andrew's Church, in the town centre, is Rugby's original parish church. A church has stood on the site since 1140. The oldest surviving part of the church is the 22 metre high west tower which bears strong resemblance to a castle turret, the west tower was possibly built during the reign of Henry III (1216–1272) to serve a defensive as well as religious role, and is Rugby's oldest building. The church has other artefacts of medieval Rugby including the 13th-century parish chest, and a medieval font. The church was extensively re-built and expanded in the 19th century, designed by William Butterfield. The expanded church included a new east tower, added in 1895 which has a spire 196 feet (60 m) high.[2] The church is Grade II* listed.[33]

St Maries church

Rugby's main Roman Catholic church is St. Maries on Dunchurch Road. It is one of the town's most well-known landmarks as it is quite dominant on the skyline. The church was first opened in 1847, designed by Pugin in the Gothic style, it was enlarged in 1864, and in 1872 the current tall and slender spire was added, which is nearly nearly 200 feet (61 metres) tall.[2][3] The church is also Grade II* listed.[34]

Places of interest[edit]

Places of interest in the town include:

Places of interest around Rugby include:



Rugby is near several major trunk routes including the M6, M1 and M45 motorways and the A45 road. Other less important main roads include the A426 road, the A428 road and the Rugby Western Relief Road, linking the A45 with the Leicester Road, that connects with the Motorway at Junction 1 of the M6.

In 2010 a short local bypass, the first part of the Rugby Western Relief Road, was opened, running from the A428 (Lawford Road) along the edge of the built-up area to the A4071 (road from Rugby through Bilton and Cawston) a little west of Cawston, to take through heavy traffic off suburban housing roads such as Addison Road. On 10 September 2010, the final part of Rugby's Western Relief Road was opened. The road runs from Potsford Dam near Cawston, through the Lawford Road and ending at Newbold Road, near the Avon Valley School. The initial estimated cost was projected at £36.6 million, while the final figure is in excess of £60 million.[37]


Buses run to Coventry, Southam, Leamington Spa, Daventry, Leicester and Northampton as well as serving the major estates of the town on a regular basis. Stagecoach in Warwickshire have a depot in the town.


Rugby railway station is served by the West Coast Main Line, and has frequent regular services to London Euston, Birmingham New Street, Stafford and Crewe. There are also some albeit very infrequent services between Rugby and Glasgow Central, the North West of England, Shrewsbury Chester and Holyhead. Rugby Rail Users Group is campaigning hard to secure more direct express services down the Trent Valley main line to Crewe, Preston and beyond.

Rugby has had a railway station since 1838, when the London and Birmingham Railway was opened, though the present station dates from 1885. Rugby station used to be served by lines which have now been closed, including lines to Leicester. Leamington Spa, and Peterborough. These were closed in the 1960s as part of the Beeching cuts.

Between 1899 and 1969, Rugby had a second station; Rugby Central station on the former Great Central Main Line which had services to London Marylebone to the south and Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield to the north. The station and line were closed in the 1960s as part of the Beeching cuts.

British Railways' steam locomotive testing centre was in Rugby.

Warwickshire County Council has proposed Rugby Parkway station be built on the Northampton Loop Line, south-east of the existing station, serving the Hillmorton area of the town. The station is to be built in between the current edge of town and DIRFT to accommodate for the future expansion of the town where 2,600 homes are planned to be built over a 15 to 20-year period. Construction work on the new station was due to begin in May 2018 and it is planned to open in 2019.[38]


There are direct rail links to the nearest major airport Birmingham Airport. The smaller Coventry Airport is nearby.


The Oxford Canal runs along the north edge of Rugby, but south of the new housing estates round Brownsover.


Present day schools and colleges

Schools in Rugby include the Lawrence Sheriff School for boys (which came top of the country in the 2009 and 2010 GCSE League Tables),[39] and Rugby High School for Girls, which are grammar schools. Ashlawn School (formerly Dunsmore School for Boys, Dunsmore School for Girls and Fareham School) is a partially selective school.

Rugby School is a public school. This is home of rugby football and is co-educational. There are several other schools, equivalent to the type of school formerly known as a secondary modern school. These are Bilton School (formerly Herbert Kay & Westlands School, and Bilton High School), Avon Valley School (formerly 'Newbold School'), and Harris Church of England Academy. Other schools in the town include Eastlands Primary School, Abbots Farm Junior School, Paddox Primary School, St. Oswalds C.E. Primary School, Crescent School, Bilton Junior School, Bilton Infant School, Henry Hinde Infant School, Henry Hinde Junior School and English Martyrs.

Former schools and colleges

Rugby does not harbour a university, however, five universities lie within 25 miles of the town, namely the University of Leicester, De Montfort University (Leicester), Coventry University, the University of Warwick (Coventry) and the University of Northampton.


Notable residents[edit]

Born in Rugby[edit]

Lived or lives in Rugby[edit]

Local media and newspapers[edit]

The Rugby Advertiser

The Rugby Observer

Rugby FM

Twin towns[edit]

Rugby is twinned with:[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Rugby (Warwickshire)". Rugby on City Population. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e Osbourne, Andy, Rawlins, Eddy (1988). Rugby Growth Of A Town.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Rugby history timeline". Rugby Local History Research Group. Archived from the original on 20 September 2016. Retrieved 30 August 2016.
  4. ^ "SHERIFF, Lawrence". Rugby Local History Group. Archived from the original on 12 April 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  5. ^ a b Rugby, Further Aspects Of The Past (1977) Rugby Local History Group
  6. ^ a b c d "THE BOROUGH OF RUGBY". British History Online. Archived from the original on 8 March 2018. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  7. ^ a b "Administrative unit Rugby MB/UD Local Government District". Vision of Britain. Archived from the original on 8 March 2018. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  8. ^ "Rugby Portland Cement Company Ltd". Cement Kilns. Archived from the original on 26 October 2018. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  9. ^ "THE WILLANS WORKS". Our Warwickshire. Archived from the original on 8 March 2018. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  10. ^ a b "Industrial Town - From 1836 to now". Rugby Local History Group. Archived from the original on 8 March 2018. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  11. ^ Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ "Timeline History of Rugby". VisitorUK. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  13. ^ "The Papers of Sir Frank Whittle" (HTTP). Janus. Retrieved 15 September 2007.
  14. ^ "Nobel Prize Winner Denis Garbor, inventor of holography". Archived from the original on 24 May 2012. Retrieved 28 November 2006.
  15. ^ Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ Allen, Geoff, (2000) Warwickshire Towns & Villages, ISBN 1-85058-642-X
  17. ^ "Directory of attractions - BENN Hall". The Rugby Town. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  18. ^ "Directory of attractions - Rugby Theatre". The Rugby Town. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  19. ^ "Rugby Art Gallery and Museum Art Collections". Art UK. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  20. ^ "Directory of attractions - Rugby Art Gallery and Museum". The Rugby Town. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  21. ^ "Rugby to hold first festival of culture". BBC News. 27 June 2011. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  22. ^ "Rugby Festival of Culture". The Rugby Town. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  23. ^ "RUPERT BROOKE Poet from Rugby". Our Warwickshire. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  24. ^ "Spacemen 3 Biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine". Allmusic. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  25. ^ "RUGBY'S WANDERING TOWN HALL". Our Warwickshire. Archived from the original on 13 March 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  26. ^ a b "THE HOUSE OF COMMONS CONSTITUENCIES BEGINNING WITH "R"". leighrayment. Archived from the original on 16 September 2012. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  27. ^ "Simplified Industrial Structure". Vision of Britain. Archived from the original on 21 March 2018. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  28. ^ Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine. (PDF)
  29. ^ Rugby BC Action on Tourism Archived 29 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  30. ^ "Rabbits delay masts' demolition". BBC News. 20 June 2004. Archived from the original on 19 July 2004. Retrieved 15 September 2007.
  31. ^ "The dirty dozen" (HTTP). Channel 4. Archived from the original on 8 November 2007. Retrieved 15 September 2007.
  32. ^ "EA Court Case details". Environment Agency. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 15 September 2007.
  33. ^ "Church of Saint Andrew A Grade II* Listed Building in Rugby, Warwickshire". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 12 December 2018.
  34. ^ "Roman Catholic Church of St Marie A Grade II* Listed Building in Rugby, Warwickshire". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 12 December 2018.
  35. ^ "World Rugby Hall of Fame: Jonny Wilkinson attends launch". BBC News Coventry and Warwickshire. 17 November 2016. Archived from the original on 27 April 2017. Retrieved 27 April 2017.
  36. ^ "{title}". Archived from the original on 18 May 2005. Retrieved 21 May 2005.
  37. ^ "Final £60.5 million bill for Rugby Western Relief Road". Rugby Advertiser. 15 December 2010. Archived from the original on 19 December 2010. Retrieved 12 January 2011.
  38. ^ "Second train station to be built as Rugby expands". Rugby Advertiser. 15 October 2015. Archived from the original on 24 November 2015. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  39. ^ "The Daily Telegraph league table". Archived from the original on 29 April 2018. Retrieved 2 April 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Rugby, Aspects of the Past. Rugby Local History Group.
  • Timmins, E.W. (1990). Rugby: A Pictorial History. ISBN 0-85033-700-3.
  • Elliot, Peter H (1985). Rugby's Railway Heritage. ISBN 0-907917-06-2.
  • Rawlins, Eddy; Osborne, Andy (1988). Rugby Growth Of A Town. ISBN 0-907917-06-2.

External links[edit]