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Headington riot of 1727


From the Diary of Thomas Hearne

“Heddington looked very strange after this disaster”

Thursday 6 April 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.


Notes on the people mentioned in the above diary entry

The Senior Proctor

George Newland, who saved Headington from “worse mischief” was the younger son of Sir George Newland of London. He was matriculated at the University of Oxford from St John’s College on 26 July 1709 when he was 17. He was a demy of Magdalen College from 1711 to 1720, and a Fellow there from 1720 to 1738. In 1726 he was appointed Senior Proctor of the University of Oxford, and was thus responsible for enforcing university discipline and sanctions. Just before the riot, in February 1727 when he was 35 years old, he was appointed University Reader in Moral Philosophy.

In 1727 Newland resigned his post as Reader and was Professor of Geometry at Gresham College from 1731 to 1732, and was also a governor of three London hospitals: St Bartholomew’s, Bridewell, and Bethlehem (Bedlam). He was then Member of Parliament for the rotten borough of Gatton in Surrey from May 1738 until his death on 22 October 1749.

The two scholars

Thomas Hearne names the two scholars whose behaviour with the cat started the above riot and who were subsequently carried back injured to Oxford in chairs as “Walters” and “Laun”, both of St Edmund Hall (which became a full college of the University in 1957)

William Walter, son of George Walter Esq. of Westminster in London, is probably “Walters”, as he is the only man with the surname Walter or Walters listed in Alumni Oxonienses as being at St Edmund Hall at the relevant time. He was 15 when he was matriculated on 12 November 1722, making him about 20 at the time of the riot. He obtained his BA on 25 February 1725/6 and his MA in 1729, and is probably the William Walter who was ordained Deacon at St Giles-in-the-Fields on 21 December 1729 and who subsequently became Rector of Arlington in Devon in 1735.

Francis Lacon, son of John Lacon of Buildwas in Shropshire, is almost certainly “Laun”, whom Hearne describes as a “Civilian” (someone studying Roman civil law) who had recently transferred from Hart Hall to St Edmund Hall. Lacon was matriculated at the University of Oxford from Hart Hall on 5 May 1722 at the age of 19, making him about 24 at the time of the riot. He obtained his Bachelor of Civil Law degree at St Edmund Hall in 1729.

The Diarist

Thomas Hearne (1678–1735) took his degree at St Edmund Hall, where he spent most of his life studying and writing. His interest in the Headington riots probably arose from the fact that the scholars involved were at his hall and he would have known them personally. He kept a diary for thirty years, filling 145 volumes.


Below: St Andrew’s Church, whose windows were not broken in the above riot

St Andrew's Church

© Stephanie Jenkins

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