Batmaker gets balls as James Gilbert is rescued
Paul McFarland
September 15, 2002

The world's most famous rugby ball brand has been bought by a company renowned for making one of the best loved cricket bats.

Grays of Cambridge has acquired the name and assets of the James Gilbert business, which failed to manage its debt following a management buyout last year, and went into receivership at the end of July.

The Gilbert ball is used in major competitions throughout the world, including the Six Nations and the last Rugby World Cup.

The firm has operated since before the game was invented - the original William Gilbert was a boot and shoe maker right by Rugby School in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and used to sew pig bladders together and nail metal caps onto their shoes so the boys could play football. When the game of rugby was being developed, it was Gilbert and his nephew James who developed the ball.

After several generations of family ownership, the firm eventually passed into other private hands.

Gilbert had expanded into other equipment and also boots and clothing. By the end, the group had an annual turnover of £7 million ($11m), employed 47 people from its head office in Rugby, England, and had operations in Australia, New Zealand and France.

It is not known how the deal will affect jobs and the product range, nor when supplies to clubs and retailers will be back to normal.

Grays was established on 1855 and remains a family business with a record of innovation in cricket to match Gilbert in rugby. Besides cricket equipment under the Grays and Gray-Nicolls brands, it also produces racquets and hockey equipment.

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