The Divide: Town vs Gown

Matthew Harris 26 February 2017

It’s a conflict for the ages. 

Recent scholarship has found that even in the 1200s, Cantabs would steer clear of the pub on a Saturday night (this is not true). Students were right to be wary: back then it did not take much to turn an argument into a full-on bar brawl. ‘Danger tavern’, as they called it, could prove fatal.

Back in the day, students were often unable to speak the dialect of local townspeople. Instead they would speak Latin – the communal language of medieval Europe. Unfortunately, this would often alienate the less educated locals.

With their exotic culture, strange ways of behaving and general arrogance, students did not make many friends with townspeople. Tensions ran high.

In 1209, for example, after a confrontation with townspeople, a number of scholars were forced to leave Oxford. They would go on to found Cambridge University. In 1355, a bar fight in Oxford broke down into a city-wide brawl which lasted two days and claimed dozens of lives.

The relationship has admittedly improved since those early days.

But with the rise in general dislike for Cantabs in post-Coyne Cambridge, tensions between town and gown have become more heated than ever.

It is time to settle our differences and try to bridge the gap between us.

The easiest way to do this would be for the university to start listening to residents’ complaints. What is the biggest issue that angers locals? Colleges have been buying up land in order to expand their accommodation in recent years, raising prices and forcing Cambridge residents to move to the outskirts of the city.

According to the Cambridge News, the recent announcement that the university planned to build more student accommodation on Newmarket road was met with ‘fury’ from local residents.

With the high rates of homelessness in Cambridge, it is harder than ever to justify the decision to use vital space in the city centre to build student accommodation instead of social housing or even homeless shelters.

The result of all this is that locals feel pushed out of their own city. They, quite rightly, ask how the city in which they grew up, worked, and paid large amounts of council tax could force them to live on the outskirts while students, who only stay for a few years, are given preferential treatment.

The town/gown divide has clear solutions. Let’s start with stopping the university from pushing the locals out of their own town.