Universities of Oxford and Cambridge

Whenever I give a tour of Oxford one of the first things I get asked is how the Oxford and Cambridge rivalry was created.


King's College Cambridge

Well it has varying accounts, but what we believe to be true is that the university split had its beginnings in 1209. Where locals hung two students for a murder of a young woman. Students left the town and some moved to Cambridge. The town was already known for its scholarly research and this helped the university to grow.

A number of people feel that the creation of the university was in 1355, this is not the case.

However, there was more bloodshed with the town and students. It was caused by an argument in the Swindlestock tavern.

Unfortunately, the tavern has not been kept and a bank has taken it over. Though there is a memorial stone that sits in its place.

Swindlestock Tavern

Carfax Tower, Oxford

The argument seems to have started over a drink, two students complained about some wine they had been sold. The barman gave a snappy response, and the students, in turn, poured the wine over the barman and all hell broke loose.

The next day the two students were requested to meet with the bailiffs and the Mayor but they refused. The head of the university, the Chancellor, was asked to intervene and said he could not. Instead, the bell of St. Mary’s church was rung and roughly 200 students came into the streets and proceeded to fight the Mayor and his associates. This caused the local townspeople to join in again nothing was resolved, the fighting only grew as people from the surrounding countryside started to come into the town to join the fight. Causing riots, an estimated 90 deaths and some scalping.

Eventually, King Edward III was brought into the situation. He happened to be 8 miles away in a town called Woodstock. The King had been born there and as a result, periods of the year in the town and coincidentally this coincided with the riots. (Interesting fact, Elizabeth the 1st would also spend time in this town as a prisoner and it is home to Blenheim Palace, home to Winston Churchill.)

Once the rioting died down the King requested that judges investigate the matter. Blame was placed on the townspeople, and the university was given further powers to control the town’s running, food and upkeep.

Furthermore, an annual custom was created. On February 10, a mass would be held with the mayor and councillors, where they would pay 1 penny for each person killed. To give you an idea of value. 1 penny could feed a person for a day at that time.

This lasted until 1825 when the then Mayor of Oxford simply refused to attend, ending the tradition and punishment, almost 500 years after the event!

More next week.

I’m still looking for people to join the petition to stop the Carfax Tower law being stopped.

I’ve attached the link below:


I’ve also started a YouTube channel, showing my travels, and some beautiful sites, which I’m sure you will enjoy. The link is below:

Special thanks to our Oxford photographer spiralling_oxford who’s linked below.

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