The Way Things Were

If you think that the student regulations enforced today by the College or the University are unreasonably overbearing, then take a look at some rules from earlier times.


King Henry III (at the request of the University of Cambridge) forbade tournaments, tiltings, justings or other warlike games in Cambridge or within 5 miles thereof.


Complaint was made against the clergy and students on account of their extravagance in dress and "the gay and unclerical appearance of their garments ... disdaining the tonsure ... they wore their hair either hanging down on their shoulders in an effeminate manner, or curled and powdered ... they were attired in cloaks with furred edges, long hanging sleeves not covering their elbows, shoes chequered with red and green, and tippets of an unusual length"


King Richard II granted to the University the custody of the assize of bread, wine, and beer, the oversight of weights and measures, and "power to inquire and take conusance of forestallers and regrators, and of putrid, corrupt, and unfit flesh and fish, in the town and suburbs, and to make punishment thereupon"

[These powers continued in force until the Cambridge Award Act 1856].


King Henry VI granted powers to the University:

"That the Chancellor should have power to banish from the University for four miles circumjacent, all prostitutes and immodest and incontinent women within the University or the precincts of the same, notably delinquent. So that no such woman so banished should presume to dwell within four miles around the University"

"That if any woman so banished, should dwell within four miles around Cambridge, the lord of the place or his deputy should .... imprison her, and after her imprisonment expel her from his demesne."

[The University retained powers to arrest prostitutes until 1894].

[Before 1547]

Ceremony for the creation of a Master of Grammar:

When the Father [Praelector] hath arguyde as shall plese the Proctour, the Bedyll in Arte shall bring the Master of Gramer to the Vicechauncelar, delyvering hym a Palmer with a Rodde, whych the Vicechauncelar shall gyve to the seyde Master in Gramer, & so create hym Master. Then shall the Bedell purvay for every master in Gramer a shrewde Boy, whom the master in Gramer shall bete openlye in the Scolys, & the master in Gramer shall give the Boye a Grote for hys Labour, & another Grote to hym that provydeth the Rode and the Palmer &c.


Fencing and dice prohibited. Cards prohibited except at Christmas.


University regulations regarding student dress:

"That no scholler doe weare any long lockes of Hayre uppon his heade, but that he be polled, notted, or rounded after the accustomed manner of the gravest Schollers of the Universitie under payne of 6s 8d"

"gownes, first not to be of any Stuffe but cloth, secondly not to be faced with silke of playne Taffitoy untuffed, Sarcenet, Silke Grogram futher than the coller and halfe yarde downe the brest, only MAs, LLBs, MBs and upward, and no hoodes to be worne abroade in the towne to be lyned with sylke excepte for Doctors and STBs being heads of houses and the orators, thirdly gownes not to be made of any other fashion but that commonly called the Priest's gowne, or else of the fashion of the playne Turkey gowne with the round falling cope and the Trunke gowne sleves etc not of any colour but black"

"That no scholler shall weare any Barilled Hosen, any great Ruffs, and clocks with wings etc"


Queen Elizabeth I willed and commanded:

"That no manner of person, being the head or member of any college ... within this realm, shall ... have or be permitted to have within the precinct of any such college, his wife or other woman to abide and dwell in the same, or to frequent and haunt any lodging within the same college."


The Statutes granted by Queen Elizabeth:

"No one .... shall go forth from his College, except that he be clad in a gown ... and a hood befitting his degree ... a fine of 6s 8d shall be imposed on any one who disobeys in this respect"

[A requirement on students to wear a gown when out of College after dusk survived until around 1965, when it was abandoned because it was making students a too obvious target for assault].


The Vice-Chancellor decreed that if any scholar "should go into any river, pool, or other water in the County of Cambridge by day or night to swim or wash" he should (if under the degree of BA) be "sharply and severely whipped publicly in the Common Hall of the College in which he dwelt" in the presence of all the Fellows and undergraduates, and whipped again on the following day in the Public Schools by one of the Proctors on behalf of the University. If he was a BA, he was to be fined 10s and placed in the stocks for a whole day in the College Hall. On a second offence, the penalty was expulsion.


The Masters of Colleges complained to the University:

"none in all the University do more offend ... than the two proctors, who should give best ensample" ... they ... "doe not only go verye disorderlie in Cambridge, waring for the most part their hates and continually verye unseemly ruffes at their hands, and great Galligaskens and Barreld hooese stuffed with horse Tayles, with skabilonions and knitt netherstockes too fine for schollers; but also most disguysedlie theie goo abroad wearinge such Apparell ... in London ... that a great sort of godly men and such as bear good will to the universitie are greatlie offended to se such unsemlie goinge of schollers, and especially of Proctors and ministers (through whose lewde ensample and behaviour the universitie is evill spokenn of and poor schollers lesse respected)"


A decree of the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and Heads of Houses forbade "hoses of unsemely greatness or disguised fashion", "excessive ruffs", "apparrell of velvet or silk"


The Vice-Chancellor issued regulations for the conduct of students:

"Hurtful and unscholerlike exercise of Football" was prohibited "except within places severall to the Colledges, and that for them only that be of the same Colledge"

"Batchelors of Arts and Inferior Students" were to "give way to their betters"

No "Fellow or Scholer of any Degree being of any Colledge" was allowed to "keep any Doggs either within Colledges or without".

Students were not allowed to "walke upon the Market Hill or sitt upon the Stalls or other places thereabout, or make any stay at all in the said Market place or elsewhere within the Town longer than they shall have necessary cause, being appointed by their Tutors to dispatch some necessary business"

Students were not allowed to "resort unto victualling Houses and Taverns, and especially upon Fryday or other fasting nights" without a Tutor's permission.

Students were not to carry guns or crossbows or to "use or resort to Bull-bayting, Bear-bayting, Common bowling-places, Nine-hoals, or such like unlawful games."


The Town of Cambridge complained to the University "that the Proctors deputie after nine of the clocke at night and divers with him holdinge naked swordes in their handes, entered into the howse and bed-chamber of Roger Findlinge to search for flesh"

[see the entry for 1382 for an explanation of this]


Dominus [i.e. a postgraduate student] Henry Pepper, having appeared at a play or interlude "with an improper habit, having deformed long locks of unseemly sight, and great breeches, undecent for a graduate or scholar of orderly carriage" was ordered to "procure his hair to be cut or powled" and suspended from his Degree.


King James I "for the better maintenance, safety, and quietness" of the University and its students "and to remove, take away, and prevent all occasions that may tend either to the infecting of their bodies or minds, or to the withdrawing or alienating the younger sort from the courses of their studies there intended" authorised the University to prohibit "all and all manner of unprofitable or idle games, plays, or exercises [within the radius of 5 miles of Cambridge] especially bull-baiting, bear-baiting, common plays, public shews, interludes, comedies and tragedies in the English tongue, games at loggets, nine-holes, and all other sports and games whereby throngs, concourse, or multitudes are drawn together, or thereby the younger sort are or may be drawn or provoked to vain expence, loss of time, or corruption of manners"

[Confirmed by charter 1605]


Decree issued against the keeping by students of greyhounds for coursing "to the destroying of the game and misspending their time" & against "excessive drinkings, foul drunkenness, and taking tobacco in taverns and shops" .... "to the dishonour of God, great scandal of the University at home and abroad, waste of expence besides hurt of body and mind, and evil example from those that profess learning and sobriety"

"it was further enordered" that no student should "take tobacco in St Mary's Church at Commencement time, or in the Schools in the Lent Acts, or at any other time of exercise of learning in the said Schools, in any dining hall of Colleges, or at any other time and place of comedies or publick University tragedies, shews, or assemblies"

[penalty: fine of 6s 8d]


The Vice-Chancellor "prevented the expected pastime" at the Gog Magog Hills "where bowling, running, jumping, shooting, and wrestling were to be practised for a month or six weeks, under the designation of the Olympic Games".


The Vice-Chancellor and Heads of Colleges made a decree, reciting that,

"contrary to the ancient statutes of the University and Colleges, within a few years, boys and men ignorant of letters, and altogether unapt to make any progress in the studies of the University; and women besides, had crept within the college walls, to do those works which used to be done by indigent students to help bear their charges; from whence great damage had accrued to poor scholars, and scandal to the University at home and obloquy abroad."

To prevent which evils, it was therefore decreed:

"That for the future, no boys, or men, so ignorant of letters, by any means, or pretext, should be permitted to reside or wander about any college, or in any manner, or by any pretext, intrude to do those sort of works; unless they were either Ministers of the College, or peculiar servants, who only do their own master's work.

That for the future, no woman of whatever age or condition, dare either by herself, or being sent for, be permitted by others, in any College, to make any one's bed in private chambers; or go to the hall, or kitchen, or buttery, to carry any one's commons, bread or beer to any scholars chamber, within the limits of the college; unless she were sent for to nurse some infirm sick person.

That the nurses of sick persons, and all laundresses, should be of mature age, good fame, and wives, or widows, who themselves should take the scholars linen to wash, and bring the same back again when washed.

That young maids should not be permitted, upon any pretence whatsoever, to go to students chambers.

That if it should be necessary to cleanse any college, the alms people, or old women of at least 50 years of age, should be permitted to perform the work.

That if any other women than were allowed by this decree should frequent colleges, they should be admonished to desist and be prohibited by the Masters, Presidents or Deans, or if being prohibited they should not desist they should be brought before the Vice-Chancellor, when on conviction of contumacy they should as incorrigible persons be banished from the Town of Cambridge and all towns within four miles distance therefrom, according to the charter granted to the University by King Henry the Sixth [see the entry for 1459].

[The wording of the decree suggests that the concerns of the Vice-Chancellor and Masters were somewhat wider than those confessed in the recital. It remained an offence punishable by expulsion of the student for a woman to be found to have stayed overnight in a male student's room - does anyone know when the last such expulsion was? I recollect a case in the late 1960s at St Catharine's College, but his offences were allegedly greater than just having had a woman in his room].


Ordered that "no scholar or student do wear any long or excessive hair hanging over their foreheads ... "


It was complained that:

"Certain Disorders in Cambridge .... the Clericall Habit appointed for Students [is] generally neglected" ... undergraduates wearing ... "the new fashioned gowns of any colour whatsoever, blew or green, or red or mixt" ... and their other garments ... "light and gay [with] round rusti Caps, if they weare any at all" ... "fair Roses upon the Shoe, long frizled haire upon the head, broad spred bands upon the Shoulders, and long large Merchants Ruffs about the neck, with fayre feminine Cuffs at the wrist"


The gates of Colleges were to be locked shut at 8pm in winter and 9pm in summer.

[The students were inside by then of course. Gate Hour regulations continued in existence until around 1968-1972, but by then had relaxed to midnight or thereabouts].


Scholars were forbidden to join the disorderly assemblies upon Market Hill, drawn thither on Shrove Tuesday by the prospect of cock-fighting.


"all persons whatsoever who shall for gain in any playhouse, booth, or otherwise, exhibit any stage play, interlude, shew, opera, or other theatrical or dramatical performance, or act any part, or assist therein [within the radius of 5 miles of Cambridge] shall be deemed rogues and vagabonds"

[Penalty: one month's imprisonment with hard labour]
[Repealed by the Theatres Act 1843]


Orders and Regulations made by Senate:

No person in statu pupillari was allowed to keep a horse "except it be for the sake of his health and with the express consent of his parents"

Any person in statu pupillari found at any "coffee-house, tennis-court, cricket-ground, or other place of publick entertainment" between 9am and midday was to be fined 10s.

No tavern-keeper or coffee-house-keeper was to serve any person in statu pupillari with "wine, punch, or any other strong liquor" after 11pm.

No person in statu pupillari was to be "suffered to go out of town on horseback or in any wheel carriage whatsoever without the express consent of his Tutor or the Master of his College"

Any person in statu pupillari "appearing with a gun or keeping or procuring other persons to keep sporting dogs for his use during his residence in the University" should be liable to a fine.

No person was allowed to play at dice within the precincts of the University, nor at cards "except for small sums"

Students found out of College after 11pm were to be fined 6s 8d for a first offence, 13s 4d for a second offence, "publickly admonished" for a third offence, and expelled for the fourth.


The Vice-Chancellor and Heads of Houses issued a decree against the carrying of lighted torches in the streets.

[An early precaution against fire].


The Vice-Chancellor issued a notice prohibiting the shooting at marks with pistols as "an exercise which obviously tends to introduce and promote the dangerous and impious crime of Duelling"


Scholars were forbidden to drive carriages "particularly in the streets, to the great danger of order and discipline"

[This still survives in the regulation forbidding students to keep cars in Cambridge without a Proctor's License]


Order made by Trinity and St John's Colleges:

"that students appearing in Hall or Chapel in pantaloons or trousers should be considered absent"


Townsmen were discommuned for "suffering persons in statu pupillari to resort" to their houses "for the purpose of playing at billiards".

[Being discommuned meant being forbidden to trade with members of the University, a quick route to bankruptcy for a Cambridge tradesman].


"tandems and four-in-hand carriages" were forbidden.


It was made an offence "to be found resorting to or having any communication whatever with any professed teacher of the art of boxing, or be found attending any prize fight"

Pigeon-shooting banned.

Robin Walker - updated 1997 April 8. Contributions welcomed.