A History of Freshers

[Shelby Loasby | News Sub Editor]

There’s often a joke said about Freshers’ week, that no one can ever remember what happened, so you can imagine how hard it is to find anything about its origins. All we can be sure of is that Freshers’ Week is a rite of passage for any new student to a university and must have always existed in some form or another.

Although our ancestors may not have had the typical drinking games of beer pong and ring of fire to play, they still managed to entertain themselves with various games, sports, societies and of course alcohol.

Edward Bradley, a famous English novelist in the 1800s, created a semi-autobiographical comic strip about a ‘freshmonne’ at the University of Durham. The comic is a satirical view of a freshers first few days at University and even shows the young student finding his halls, meeting girls, and getting so intoxicated that he has to be carried home, and is found ‘passed out’ the next morning. Not much change there then.

The comic formed the basis of Bradley’s book, “The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford Freshman,” in 1853. The book builds on the comic strip and shares stories that have a surprising resemblance to a fresher’s university life today.

Just like today’s students, Green complains about the size of his room and the amount of money he has to spend on his ‘scholar’s gown’ and books.  He also finds himself being shown around town and going out with new acquaintances to parties that are filled with ‘glasses of wine’, ‘jugs of buttery beer’ and people having a ‘great consumption of tobacco.’ Green also meets a man with several golden tassels on his cap which he explains are ‘badges of intoxication.’ There are many points in the book where alcohol is mentioned and shows that getting drunk at University is no new thing.

The story goes on to show the different activities and sports that Green can take part in at the University. These include; rowing, archery, cricket, billiards, fencing and boxing. However, Green fails to grasp any of the activities and grows weary of all the drinking and partying and decides to ‘terminate his existence as an undergraduate.’ Fortunately, today’s students do not tend to drop out of university after the first week!

So it seems that Freshers’ in the 1800s was all about making friends, trying new things and getting drunk. This sounds extremely similar to freshers in the 2000s, the only difference being the entertainment available. The modern perspectives of freshers’ week with club nights and big acts is relatively recent and probably began in the late 20th Century.

A freshers’ guide for the University of Glasgow in 1994 shows several ‘discos’ and ‘pubs with jukeboxes’ where students can go for a night out. Luckily now we have well-known acts performing at universities, making freshers even more memorable. We also have freshers’ fairs, sports fairs and day and night-time activities to adjust new students to university and to hopefully make their time here as enjoyable and worthwhile as possible.



A History of Freshers