Oxford being a city of pranks, the ornamental cannon fronting Caudwell’s Castle presented an irresistible temptation to excitable students from nearby Christ Church in search of a wizard jape.
So it was scarcely a surprise when, in the early hours of 26 June 1851, Joseph Caudwell opened his bedroom window to discover a group of inebriated young men in dinner jackets tying a rope around one of his field-guns with the aim of dragging it into the river.
Enraged, he reached for a pistol and fired, hitting one of the miscreants. He was subsequently charged with having ‘unlawfully and maliciously shot at Alexander Henry Ross, Esquire, an undergraduate of Christ Church, Oxford, with intent to do him some grievous bodily harm’.
Caudwell’s lawyer put up a powerful defence, painting a lurid picture of the night in question, and accusing the students of bringing it upon themselves: ‘After luxuriating at a cricket supper at the Maidenhead,’ he fulminated, ‘smoking cigars and drinking beer, these four young men sallied forth, and, in order to fill up or rather kill time, they proceeded to a man’s house for wanton mischief, and to despoil his premises, for the sake of gratifying a morbid and wicked disposition.’
His rhetoric proved persuasive. The jury were sympathetic to the defendant and Caudwell was acquitted.
As far as we know the castle was never again besieged – and the cannon are sadly no more. Perhaps they ended up in the river after all?