May Morning Oxford is an ever-changing celebration and there is no fixed programme. What follows is the general pattern of events...
5am: around this time, crowds start assembling on Magdalen Bridge.
6am: as the sun come up the Magdalen College choir sing the Hymnus Eucharisticus from the Great Tower. After a brief service there are more short choral pieces. Then bells ring out for some 20 minutes.
As soon as the choir finishes, there is a procession from the Bridge up the High Street to the city centre. Horns of Plenty - Oxford's community street band - entertains the crowds while Brazilian rhythms come courtesy of Sol
Samba, an exotic percussion and dance troupe.
After the Hymnus too, a Jack-in-the-Green proceeds up the High Street to feature in displays in Radcliffe Square, Broad Street - and at a concluding rendition of 'Bonny Green
Garters' outside St John's College on St Giles around 8.30am. For more on the Oxford 'Jack' see The Morris in Oxford.
Morris dancing begins around 6.20 am in Radcliffe Square, and continues for nearly
three hours at various locations including Broad Street, Catte Street, under the Bridge of Sighs, in front of St John's College on St Giles and on the forecourt of the Ashmolean Museum.
Around 6.20 am also, the tumultuous,
green-themed Hurly Burly by God it's Early Whirly Band starts playing traditional dance tunes from the steps of the Clarendon Building on Broad Street. Expect bagpipes, fiddles, squeezeboxes, drums - and delirious dancing crowds.
Meanwhile, Highland dance can be seen in Radcliffe Square, just outside All Souls, and others contribute in impromptu fashion to the revels.
Things quieten down for a bit around 9am as the massed morris retire for a private breakfast
at St Edmund's Hall. But they start up again around 10am as dancing resumes outside the Ashmolean Museum.
At noon, May Day celebrations continue at North Parade (see below).
The Jack proceeds up the High after the singing from Magdalen Tower, May Morning 2016 . The tune is the classic Morris processional, 'This is it and that is it, and this is morris dancing...' Notice the sword-bearer walking ahead of the Jack. The sword has carried fertility cake - already distributed (video Tim Healey).
A garlanded May Ox, bearing a maiden, was trundled for many years over Aristotle Bridge in North Oxford. The May
morning celebration was devised by sculptor Michael Black who restored the Emperors' Heads outside the Sheldonian Theatre. Michael Black died on St Valentine's Day 2019 but his Ox, escorted by the Eynsham Morris, appeared on May Morning 2019 in a special celebration
commemorating the sculptor.
The Ox did not appear on May Morning 2022, and it remains to be seen whether the tradition will will be revived in future years.
The Ox on Aristotle Bridge, May Morning 2019 (photo Tim Healey)
May Morning Oxford 2019: the May Ox appears outside The Anchor with comical effigies of the Emperors' Heads mounted on poles (video Tim Healey)
North Parade 2016 (photo Tim Healey)
When the shenanigans die down in the city centre there is a drift to North Parade. This short shopping
street runs off Banbury Road and lies about half a mile north of St Giles. 'May Day is Midday at North Parade' runs the slogan. The street is closed to traffic between about 12 noon and 2pm, when there is morris dancing
in the street and sessions in the Rose & Crown.
For more on these events, click on North Parade in the Menu at top of page.
May Garland on the Hurst. Photo by courtesy of Mark & Debbie Roberts
‘Up the Hurst!’
A May morning celebration is held on The Hurst, a wooded hill near Cumnor. At ‘Botley May Morning’ crowds assemble in the Arnold’s Way car park around 4.30am and make their way to
the Hurst where there are readings, songs, dances, fire-jumping and a decoration of the May Staff. The celebration, organised by local morris side Armaleggan, ends around 7 am. It has been held since 1999.
Folly Bridge House (photo Tim Healey)
On May Morning in 2013, singers appeared at dawn on the crenellated roof of Folly Bridge House in South Oxford. They sang madrigals and part songs to welcome the spring, rivalling the choir on Magdalen College Tower.
The tradition is now established, but the organisers are pleasingly laid-back in their approach:
'I think our singing will probably remain a spontaneous gathering of friends that may or may not happen in any year, a serendipity for anyone who chances
to pass by at the moment…'