The St Scholastica Day riot of 10 February 1355, is one of the most notorious events in the history of Oxford. The seed of the riot was an altercation in the Swindlestock Tavern (now the site of the Santander Bank on Carfax, on the corner of St Aldate’s and Queen Street) between two students of the university, Walter Spryngeheuse and Roger de Chesterfield, and the landlord, John Croidon. They complained about the quality of the beer, which led to an exchange of rude words that ended with the students throwing their drinks in the landlord’s face and assaulting him. Retaliation for this incident led to armed clashes between locals and students.
The mayor of Oxford, John de Bereford, asked the chancellor of Oxford University, Humphrey de Cherlton, to arrest the two students, but he refused. Instead, 200 students supported Spryngeheuse and Chesterfield, allegedly assaulted the mayor and others. As the situation escalated, locals from the surrounding countryside poured in, crying: “Havoc! Havoc! Smyt fast, give gode knocks!”
A riot broke out and lasted two days, which left 63 scholars and perhaps 30 locals dead. The scholars were eventually defeated. The dispute was settled in favor of the university – big surprise – by the courts, and a special charter was created. Annually thereafter, on 10 February the saint’s day of St Scholastica, the mayor and councilors had to march bareheaded through the streets and pay to the university a fine of one penny for every scholar killed, a total of 5s 3d. The penance ended 470 years later, in 1825 when the mayor refused to take part. In an act of conciliation on 10 February 1955, the Mayor was given an honorary degree and the Vice-Chancellor was made an Honorary Freeman, at a commemoration of the events of 1355.
I wish I could say that town and gown tensions are over in Oxford. In my day they were alive and well; I had to step lively more than once. I imagine they still are. I was rather stuck in the middle because I was an undergraduate at Pembroke College, but also had a great many maternal relatives who lived in the town, including my dear cousin Peter (R.I.P) who was the boatman and rowing coach at Pembroke (and for the dark blues for a time). I rowed bow oar for one of our eights. Rather like being a galley slave.
As a small aside, Carfax where the riot began is Middle English for “four corners” — the center of Oxford where Queen street, St Aldates, St Giles, and High street meet.
Here’s a recipe for Oxford sausages. Should be served as part of a full English breakfast – fried egg, sausages, bacon, mushrooms, fried tomatoes and either toast or fried bread. Preferably the latter. You must have Oxford marmalade too. Don’t knock English cooking. Otherwise I will haunt you.
500g/1lb 2oz minced pork
500g/1lb 2oz minced lamb
350g/12oz shredded suet
225g/8oz fresh breadcrumbs
2 lemons, zest only
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage leaves
1 free-range egg, beaten
salt and freshly ground black pepper
plain flour, for dusting
50g/2oz goose fat, butter or oil, for frying
Place the minced pork and lamb, suet, breadcrumbs, lemon zest, nutmeg and herbs into a large bowl and mix well to combine. Add the egg and mix to bind.
Dust the work surface and your hands lightly with flour, then pinch off a small ball of the sausage mixture and roll into a sausage shape. Repeat with the remaining sausage mixture.
Heat a frying pan until smoking, then add the goose fat. Add the sausages to the pan, in small batches, and fry over a medium-low heat for 6-8 minutes, turning the sausages over every so often, until golden-brown and cooked through.