Town and Gown

There has always been a degree of conflict between the interests of Town and Gown.

The Scholastica's Day Riot in 1355 was the worst eruption, though the fact that both sides were ready with arms suggests that tension had been running high for some time. The riot began with a brawl at the Swyndlestock Tavern at Carfax, and lasted several days. The townsmen rang the bell of Carfax Tower (then St Martin's Church) to summon reinforcements who came armed with various weapons. The Chancellor immediately ordered the ringing of St Mary's bell, whereupon the scholars of the University mustered with bows and arrows.

On the third day, two thousand or so country people joined in on the side of the townsmen, crying "Havoc! Havoc! Smyt fast, give gode knocks!", and things really began to get nasty. Sixty three students were killed, many more were injured and much damage was done to buildings and books.

For the following 500 years (until 1825), on 10th February, the Mayor and sixty three citizens were obliged to process in penitence to St Mary's, to bow before the Vice-Chancellor, and to pay a fine of a penny each.

In Oxford today, fighting is confined to the occasional late night fracas, although the interests of town and gown are still divergent. Each group has its own exclusive institutions and publications, and the separation tends to extend to pubs and restaurants. Student left-wing activitists often turn up when there is any industrial activity at Cowley Works, but their assistance is not always welcomed by the workers.

go back to the index of Potter Pouri...