i was born and raised in oxford, left pretty sharpish after i finished school and haven’t lived there since (apart from a brief post-university stint at my mum’s). the majority of people i have met since then, upon finding this out invariably think, a) i'm rich / posh and b) i'm somehow part of the university.

obviously, there are a lot of pre-conceptions about the place, some of which are absolutely spot-on and others that are well wide of the mark. that’s why I wasn’t in the least bit surprised by the successes of the greens and the i.w.c.a. in the council elections.
(thanks to john eden)

oxford has a long history as a seat of learning, a centre of culture and it is a majestic city in terms of architecture (so long as you ignore queen street and cornmarket where, amazingly, the council has used coventry city centre as a template); when the sun shines, the sandstone sucks in the light and reflects a warm glow back at you; the 'dreaming spires' (c/o matthew arnold) viewed from the top of holloway can be hallucinogenic, especially on a misty morning, when they float in the valley bottom; the awesome open spaces; pitt rivers museum (if you had a great grandmother who travelled the world living with exotic tribes, i imagine her house would have echoes of this place) etc etc ...i won't go on,

it is also a very wealthy place. but, there is a history; an alternative oxford, that is hidden from the tourists who troop around the colleges and museums for an afternoon and then go for a punt. conflict is central to the relationship between the ‘town’ and the ‘gown’ [the university] .), there are some interesting alternatives to the university dominated (acceptable) culture and pockets of poverty (blackbird leys estate is the founding father of ‘demoing’, nationally known as joy riding) exist that you very rarely hear about.

hopefully, this history might also shed some light on recent events.

part 1- town and gown
there is to say the least, a great deal of animosity between the two groups. in more modern times you can probably add tourists to the internal hate list carried round by locals- i have seen my normally sane and docile father walk straight through a group of tourists, knocking them onto the road, all the while chuntering and muttering under his breath, rather than go round them. after all, it is ‘his city’.

within 100 years of the formation of the university, the first records of violence between the city and the students start to appear:

“Town-gown riots were recorded regularly from the early thirteenth century, but the most notorious was on St Scholastica's Day (10 February) 1355. It began as a tavern brawl between scholars and the landlord of the Swindlestock at Carfax, and lasted for three days during which academic halls were sacked, a large mob of countrymen marched in to support the townsmen, and six clerks were allegedly killed and many injured.”

another trend then reared its ugly head (and also continues to this day): the locals suffered, while the university flourished.

further examples (other than the usual drunken attacks, the traditional 5 november ruck and random violence at st.giles’ fair- which takes place on one of town’s main streets), include the headington riots of 1727:

“Last Tuesday (being Easter Tuesday), there being a Bull baiting at Heddington near Oxford, a Quarrel arose between some Scholars that were there, & two or three of Heddington, about a Cat, that the Scholars would have had tied to the Bulls Tayl. The Scholars being worsted, at wch time one Walters (lately Gent. Com. now a Batch. of Arts) & one Laun (a Civilian, who came lately from Hart Hall, but is now, as is Mr. Walters, of Edm. Hall) were sadly beat and bruised, so as not to be able to come home, but were fetched back in a chair, notice was given to other Scholars at Oxford, whereupon a great Number (some say five hundred, others about two hundred) of them went immediately with Clubs to Heddington, and committed such strange disorders, as have hardly been heard of. They broke almost all the windows in the Town (pulling down the very window bars), got into Houses, opened Chests, beat & bruiz 13 several people in an intolerable manner, were going to break all the windows of the Church, and they would have proceeded to worse mischief had not Mr. Newland the Proctor of Magd. Coll. been sent for, who coming in the evening, with great difficulty put an end to this unhappy Riot. Tis said, that fifty Pounds will not make good the glass, to except the other Damage, wch is very great, & Heddington looked very strange after this disaster. Some of the Inhabitants, upon approach of the Scholars, run away, others hid themselves, the rest that staid and were found suffered much”

Diary of Thomas Hearne, Thursday 6 April 1727

and the bread riots of 1867, when the university was getting bread in greater quantities and at a lower price while locals starved.

this tension also occurs at an institutional level- the university consistently lobbies the council and stops/ overturns decisions it doesn’t like:
until recently the post-pub night life was non-existent, i suspect because the university didn’t want its students venturing out of their college bars, thus losing them valuable income and the new ‘said business school’ was funded by blood money and involved moving a listed part of the old station despite much local opposition.

such instances lodge deep within the psyche. the local population of oxford remain peasants under a long lost feudalism. after all, for hundreds of years what the university wants, the university gets.

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