Oxford Inscriptions: Site of Swindlestock Tavern

Swindlestock Tavern




This inscription is on the outside wall of Marygold House on the south-west corner of Carfax.

On Tuesday 10 February 1355 (St Scholastica’s Day) some students and priests who were drinking in the Swindlestock (or Swyndlestock) Tavern at Carfax complained about the quality of the wine. The landlord (John of Barford or de Bereford, who just happened to be Mayor at the time) is alleged to have responded to their complaint with “stubborn and saucy language”; whereupon a student threw a quart pot at his head. Local people came to his aid and had the bell at the City Church (St Martin’s at Carfax) rung to summon the townsmen to arms; the University retaliated by having the bell at the University Church (St Mary’s in the High Street) rung to rouse the students to the fray, and battle commenced, with both townsmen and students making good use of their bows and arrows.

The next day (Wednesday) the Mayor rode to Woodstock to seek the support of the King, and meanwhile about 2,000 men came in from the country to help the town, crying as they advanced, “Slea, Slea…. Havock, Havock…. Smyte fast, give gode knocks.” They broke into academic halls, killing scholars, and this continued on the Thursday. In all, 62 scholars were killed.

The rioters were severely punished, and thenceforth the Mayor and Bailiffs had to attend a Mass for the souls of the dead every St Scholastica’s Day thereafter, and to swear an annual oath to observe the University’s privileges. The Mayor and Bailiffs (together with 62 citizens representing the number of scholars slain) had to march to the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, where the Vice-Chancellor of the University awaited them with the Vicar of St Mary’s, the Proctors, and the University Registrar. The Bailiffs then had to hand over sixty-three pence, usually in small silver coins.

Marygold House was sold by Oxford City Council to the Abbey National Building Society (now the Abbey Bank) in 1988.

  • St Scholastica (sister of St Benedict) founded a nunnery at Plombariola in Italy. She died in AD 543 and is buried in her brother’s famous monastery at Monte Cassino. Her feast day is on 10 February, and because the blackest day in the history of the struggles between Town and Gown in Oxford took place on St Scholastica’s Day 1355, her peculiarly appropriate name was given to the massacre.
Stephanie Jenkins