Taking a closer look at the building we stop to read the inscription carved into the wall, now this is of interest, for where this building stands, once stood the Swindlestock Tavern.
It is here that on 10th February 1335 (St Scholastica's Day) that a squabble took place that would lead to violent altercations between Town and Gown.Animosity between Town and Gown was nothing new, in 1209 riots broke out when a student killed a townswoman with his bow and arrow, seeking retribution the townspeople lynched two students.
But back to our story - Students and townsfolk were drinking in the Swindlestock Tavern, the students made disparaging comments about the beer to the landlord. John de Beresford was both the landlord and the Mayor at the time, apparently he answered the students complaints with "stubborn and saucy language" resulting in one of the students throwing a quart pot at his head. Locals came to the aid of the landlord, with one of them running to the City Church and ringing the bell to call the townsmen to arms. The students responded by ringing the bell in St Mary's Church on the High Street to summon students to the fight. Mayhem commenced, with both sides using bow & arrows, knifes and cudgels.
The following day, the Mayor left Oxford to seek help from outside the City, resulting in two thousand men from the surrounding countryside marching into the City shouting "Havock, havock. Slea, slea. Smyte fast, give gode knocks". The rioting went on for two days leaving sixty-two students dead.
The Mayor petitioned King Edward to take the Town side in the dispute, but the King came down on the Gown side. The rioters were punished and thenceforth, the Mayor, his Bailiffs and successors had to attend mass each year on St Scholastica's Day with sixty-two townspeople to pray for the souls of the dead students.
The Town had to swear an oath annually that they would recognise the Universities privileges in the City. Hence each year, the Mayor and his Bailiffs, plus the symbolic sixty-two townspeople would make their way to St Mary's Church, here they would be met by the Vice-Chancellor of the University, the University Registrar and the Proctors. The Mayor would then hand over sixty-two silver pennies in compensation. This ceremony carried on until it was finally abolished in 1825, nearly 500 years after the quart pot was thrown at the landlord.
A sort of truce took place in 1995 with the Mayor receiving an Honorary Degree from the University, and in turn the Vice-Chancellor being made a Freeman of the City.
Tensions still arise today between Town and Gown, but that's another story for another day.
And the moral of this story? Should you visit Oxford, and should you visit one of the many taverns, and should you be dissatisfied with the quality of the beer - For goodness sake DON'T THROW ANYTHING AT THE LANDLORD.