Oxford and Cambridge - respectively named after a ford for Oxen, and a bridge that crosses the river Cam - are two of the most cultured cities in the world. And of course, they are also home to the UK’s two oldest, and most prestigious universities.

The relationship between the two universities is heavy with competition, both in a sporting and an academic capacity. The annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race has been taking place since 1829, with Cambridge having won the men’s race 85 times compared to Oxford’s 81. In the women’s race, Cambridge lead too, 45-30. The rugby league and rugby union varsity matches are also fraught with the tensions of pride and expectation.

On the grounds of academic prowess, both universities are entangled in a seemingly everlasting battle of ‘one-upmanship’. National university league tables are the battleground upon which each university displays their academic dominance; Oxford taking the lead on that front. Then there’s further taunting and jeering around which university has seen more of its undergraduates become prime minister. A competition which Oxford is leading quite substantially, having produced eight of eleven prime ministers counting back from Tony Blair.

University Challenge serves as another frontline for the two intellectual titans. Oxford University hold the title for highest score in a single game, and for most overall wins. Throw into that the notable alumni question - where Cambridge boasts great scientists like Darwin and Newton, and Oxford can claim writers such as CS Lewis and Martin Amis – and you’ve got some serious, albeit mostly harmless, competition.

The chest-beating competition that we see today could not have come to exist were it not for a vicious history of fighting between scholars and townsfolk. Throughout the 1200s there were frequent outbreaks of violence, in which students and citizens even went so far as to kill one another. Although the aggression reached its peak on St Scholastica Day - 10th February 1355, when fighting continued for weeks and many lost their lives – it is the story of the Oxford scholars who fled to Cambridge, that captures the public’s attention.    

Popular record has it that two Oxford scholars were hanged by the townsfolk following the mysterious death of a local women. Amidst the violence, in search of safety, a pioneering group of academics fled to Cambridge and eventually formed the University of Cambridge in 1209.

However, despite - indeed maybe because of - their long, long history of rivalry and competition, the two universities maintain a brotherly bond that is unmatched by any other academic institutions on the planet.



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