In the Hilary term of 2023, Oxford was whipped into a frenzy. The trend of the term is what could you get away with stealing from a college formal hall. Whatever the appeal student thieves have been reported stealing things as little as forks to still-lit candle sticks. The fad got so bad that colleges such as Magdalen and Balliol allegedly sent emails in order to put a stop to the stash stealers. Magdalen offered amnesty to the dish delinquents claiming that they “are giving you the opportunity to return these items before the end of term with no blame attached.” A cheeky Oxfesser captioned the email screenshot “If anyone is after Magdalen stash…JCR dining room on Friday… [smirk emojis]”. Balliol, in a similar manner, branded the silverware swindlers as “incredibly selfish” after 20 cups were stolen from Hall.
Cherwell has obtained an exclusive anonymous interview with a professional college stash thief. Branding herself as the “Crockery Crook”, in this interview she explains her reasoning behind her thievery, her tactics, and what she plans to do with her growing stash of stolen goods.
Going straight into it I asked her the question that has likely been on all of our minds: “Why do you steal from colleges?”. Her reply was slow, as she thought long and hard about her reasons for doing something that had almost become a habit. Finally answering she claims that “I just like having the stuff. I think it’s kind of cool. It’s a nice little souvenir”, she then goes on to justify her actions “I don’t see it as being that big of a problem. I’m not taking that much.” She explains that “It’s just a thing. We’re all a part of like taking something from each college, it’s like a sort of game. And I just felt like doing it.” It’s a different image of the “selfish” image Balliol paints of these thieves. Is it more accurate to view the trend as a sign of teen spirit? A mischievous game played together by the students? Perhaps. The Crockery Crook reflects on the first time she interacted with a fellow thief “My college mum had a collection of placemats. And I was like, ‘Ooh, let me do that as well.’ She had about five and I was just thought that’s kind of cool.”
Her answer gives a different perspective on how stealing from colleges brings together students, and in the face of all the wealth that these colleges have amassed over hundreds of years, is a couple of placemats and cups really a serious crime? However, what happens after university, I ask, what will you do with this stash once university is over? “I want to keep them,” she answers, “I’m quite a sentimental person, on my wall I’ve got random little bits and bobs that I got when I was at this or that event. It’s a memory thing.” She explains that they’re currently on her shelf at the moment. Along with a collection of other random bits and bobs that she’s got at various events. Though eventually a lot of her stolen hoard will be thrown away, it’s a nice way to remember her time at university.
While this is all nice and mushy, I want to know about the thief persona of the Crockery Crook. “How many colleges have you visited with the intent of stealing?” I ask. This time her answer is quick “Every time I go into a college there is the intent of stealing.” Intrigued, I ask her if she’s ever been caught or close to being caught. Another quick reply “No, I’m too good at my job” she jokes, “I have five placemats, one from Exeter, Balliol, two from Wadham, even one from the Wadham High Table, and a Sommerville one. A wine bottle with the Teddy Hall name on it. Some napkins and some menus, but I’m probably going to get rid of them. I have a Magdalen plate and a Wadham plate.” I ask her if there are any colleges she aspires to add to her collections, stating that “I don’t think I care particularly about the college, but I just want to get little things from the colleges I go to,” though she claims that there aren’t any she aspires to steal from, she aspires to up her game and aim to take home one of the coveted candlesticks from formal hall as she recalls a rumour of someone stealing a still lit candlestick from hall, and another brave soul supposedly stealing a whole chair.
The Crockery Crook is a woman as well as an ethnic minority, I ask her whether her acts are an act of rebellion, taking down the patriarchy and white supremacy that Oxford represents. But she rejects this “I don’t think of it as like, oh I’m rebelling. But I do justify it in that these people have money. It’s not like these colleges are going broke because people are stealing plates.” Though it’s not for some grandiose reason like rebellion, for she’s no Robin Hood she claims, the Crockery Crook emphasises that the trend is more like a tradition and criticises the colleges for suddenly taking issue with it “It feels like how trashing was a whole Oxford tradition. And then all of a sudden, they change their mind and are now like, that’s bad. I feel like this has been a thing for ages, people have been doing it for years.”
The cutlery criminal tradition may be an attested custom imbedded in the forever bizarre Oxford student culture, but what is the Crockery Crook’s final message to those who aspire to be like her? “Just do it. It’s actually not that hard. No one really notices. Bring a tote bag, and slip it in. There’s genuinely no real skill to it. That’s it. That’s my whole advice.”
The Crockery Crook’s words are resounding. Whether you steal from colleges because you want a little souvenir, or because you’re a rebel, you’re part of a collective, a tradition created by Oxford students, for Oxford students. Will silverware stealing suffer the same fate as trashing? It’s likely. But that’s the beauty of Oxford’s weird traditions. Some last hundreds of years, and some are short-lived, only to be revived by future generations looking for some excitement to brighten up the dreary daily life of academia. Maybe what’s important is to live in the moment, no matter what.