St Scholasticas Beer Riots
Relations between students and local residents can get a bit strained at times: however interesting the latest release by this week's new face of rock most can live without it at three in the morning. And the friction can get worse in the pub - did you spill my pint? But if you are tempted to have a word, think about the St Scholastica's Day Riots in Oxford.
On February 10 1355 a group of scholars were having a few quick ones in the Swindlestock Tavern in the Carfax, destined to go down in history as the hardest pub ever. No doubt it was just to lubricate the old thought processes. Maybe there was a bit too much lubrication, because after a time they started making derogatory comments about the quality of the beer, or the wine. The landlord, John Barford, took the thing personally, and according to the historical record replied in 'saucy' language. Doubtless he criticised their haircuts and suggested they get a proper job.
At this point one student thought actions speak louder than words, and clocked the publican with his flagon - the medieval precursor of glassing. Sadly for the student population, Barford happened to be mayor, and like Vic he would not let it lie. Barford recovered his wits and dashed to St Martin's church, ringing the bell to signal for help; the students saw how things were going and rushed to their church, St Mary's, where they in turn rang the bells to call out their supporters. Who needs mobiles?
Before long town and gown were mixing it in the city centre, and the students came out on top, routing Barford and his mates.
But Barford was not done yet: next day he toured the country districts around Oxford, and gathered what was more of an army than a mob, said to number more than 2,000, armed with scythes, forks and anything else that came to hand. I predict a riot.
This time things went against the scholars, and it was not just a question of a few punches thrown and forget about it the next day. If any student had chanted - come and have a go if you think you‚re hard enough - he no doubt regretted it.
In all 63 students were killed, the rioters rampaging through the various colleges, breaking down doors to get at their targets. It was not all one way, however, as around 30 townies were killed in the affair as well.
King Edward III was staying in his palace at nearby Woodstock , and quickly intervened to investigate and halt the carnage. He found for the University, with considerable (and prolonged) consequences.
In the short term the town burgesses had a fine levied on them of 63 pence, one penny for every student murdered. But this was to be repeated every St Scholastica's Day, and into the bargain the mayor, bailiffs, and 60 prominent townsfolk were ordered to parade bareheaded through Oxford on the anniversary, in theory in perpetuity. This continued until 1825, when a mayor refused - students traditionally had lined the route and pelted the dignitaries with rotten fruit, and worse.
For the town the economic consequences were even more far reaching: markets were placed in the hands of the University; they were given responsibility for weights and measures in the town, doubtless annoying the merchants; and they fixed the prices of bread and, perhaps adding insult to injury, of wine and beer too. The riots even meant the University had its own courts in future to further separate town and gown.
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