Rugby's famous names

Rupert Brooke


Rupert Brook


Rupert Brook - First World War poet

Rugby was the birthplace of Rupert Brooke, the famous First World War poet whose sonnets captured the idealism of the early years of the Great War.

Brooke's collection of work - 1914 and Other Poems - was published in May 1915, just weeks after the 27-year-old died from sepsis while serving with the Royal Navy.

But his words still resonate to this day, and Rugby has commemorated Rupert Brooke by erecting a statue in his honour in the town centre.

"If I should die, think only this of me; That there's some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England."

Sir Frank Whittle


Sir Frank Whittle


Sir Frank Whittle - father of the jet engine

Whittle made crucial breakthroughs in the engine's development while working in Rugby.

Sir Frank ran the first successful test of his turbo-jet engine at Rugby's British Thomson-Houston works on 12 April 1937, and in the following years based his design team at the town's Brownsover Hall while the prototype was perfected at a disused foundry in nearby Lutterworth.

A sculpture commemorating the work of Whittle, the father of the jet engine, can be found in Rugby's town centre.

"A nation's ability to fight a modern war is as good as its technological ability."

The gunpowder plot

"Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot." Rugby had a crucial role in Robert Catesby's conspiracy to assassinate James I and blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.

At the behest of Catesby and his fellow plotters, a crowd was gathered at Dunchurch's Red Lion Inn on 4 November  - eagerly awaiting news from London. 

The plotters had planned to ride from Dunchurch to nearby Coombe Abbey on hearing news of James I's death, seizing Princess Elizabeth and proclaiming her the new monarch. 

But when Guy Fawkes was discovered in a cellar beneath the House of Lords the following day - together with 36 barrels of gunpowder - the plot unravelled. 

Catesby and his co-conspirators rode from London to Dunchurch to announce the plot had failed.

The Red Lion Inn can still be found in Dunchurch - now called Guy Fawkes House to commemorate its unique role in history. 


"Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot."

Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll - Alice in Wonderland


A young Charles Lutwidge Dodgson arrived in Rugby in 1846 and spent three years studying at the public school before leaving for Oxford University.

A decade later, writing under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll, he found worldwide fame with the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, one of the cornerstones of the literary nonsense genre.

Carroll's other works included Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland which featured the classic poem, Jabberwocky.

"Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Dennis Gabor

Dennis Gabor - inventor of holography


In 1933 Dennis Gabor, a Hungarian-born scientist, fled from Nazi Germany, where he was considered Jewish. He was invited to Britain to work at the development department of the British Thomson-Houston company in Rugby.

During his time in Rugby, he met Marjorie Louise Butler, and they married in 1936. He became a British citizen in 1946, and it was while working at British Thomson-Houston that he invented holography, in 1947.

He experimented with a heavily filtered mercury arc light source. However, the earliest hologram was only realised in 1964 following the 1960 invention of the laser, the first coherent light source. After this, holography became commercially available.

He was honoured with the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work.

"Til now man has been up against nature; from now on he will be up against his own nature."

Thomas Hughes

Thomas Hughes - Tom Brown's School Days

Former Rugby School pupil Thomas Hughes was a lawyer, judge and a Member of Parliament.

But it was his first novel - Tom Brown's School Days - which cemented his place in history.

Published in 1857, the novel tells the tale of Tom Brown's life at Rugby School - targeted by the bully Flashman and guided by the headmaster, Dr Thomas Arnold.

"Remember this, I beseech you, all you boys who are getting into the upper forms. Now is the time in all your lives, probably, when you may have more wide influence for good or evil on the society you live in than you ever can have again.”

Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer

Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer - discoverer of helium


Lockyer was born in Rugby in 1836. He was a keen amateur astronomer with a particular interest in the Sun.

He is credited with the discovery of the gas helium in 1868, together with French scientist Pierre Janssen.

Both men had observed a prominent yellow line in a spectrum taken near the edge of the sun - and Lockyer suggested an unknown solar element was the cause.

He named the element helium after the Greek word 'helios' - meaning sun.

Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer also founded and edited the influential journal Nature.

"Surely in metereology, as in astronomy, the thing to hunt down is a cycle... If there be no cycle, then despair for a time if you will, but yet plant firmly your science on a physical basis and wait for results."