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 turned up when there was any industrial activity at Cowley Works, but their assistance was not always welcomed by the workers.
The twin powerhouses of the University and the City Council have been responsible for some long-running disputes, not least when the council wanted to build an inner ring road through Christ Church Meadow to alleviate the traffic going across Magdalen Bridge. This particular knotty planning problem lasted from 1941 - 1972, during which time many properties in East Oxford were prevented from making any house alterations (including building indoor bathrooms) on the grounds they might be knocked down at any minute. In the end the matter went to parliament and the Donnington Bridge Road was built.
Though things have largely calmed down, the university and council are still sometimes at loggerheads, with the council setting up the new Westgate shopping centre apparently partly to entice high street brands away from college-owned properties in Cornmarket. But this continued division may be helpful to keep each other in check - when the university and city councils sided together they put up the controversial Castle Mill development, held by many to ruin the "dreaming spires" skyline as seen from Port Meadow.