TRADITIONAL PATTERN OF EVENTS
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 Eucharistus 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. 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 Whirly by God it's Early 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. After the singing from Magdalen Tower, Horns of Plenty - Oxford's community street band - entertains the crowds proceeding up the High Street. Also on the High, Brazilian rhythms come courtesy of Sol Samba, an exotic percussion and dance troupe who tend to hang back from the main parade so that their drumming does not overwhelm the morris music.
And a Jack-in-the-Green can be seen in the city centre. He appears with the morris men gathered at Magdalen Bridge. After the Hymnus he 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.
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).
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 above.
The Anchor pub on Hayfield Road has traditionally been open from 6am, and there is morris dancing outside from 6-7.30am.
For about 20 years a May Ox made its appearance on Aristotle Bridge. It was created by sculptor Michael Black (who restored the Emperors' Heads outside the Sheldonian Theatre) and was wheeled down the bridge bearing a maid decked with garlands. The Ox
no longer appears, but more low-key celebrations continue outside the Anchor, Headington Quarry Morris appearing in 2017.
‘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.
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…'
For a brief video clip, see www.follybridgehouse.co.uk/the-story-so-far.html