Five Unusual Oxford Traditions

When looking for hotels in Oxford, you’ll want a convenient location and staff that know all about the city.

Here in our most recent blog, we will be sharing the most unusual Oxford traditions…will you experience any for yourself?


No women allowed

It might come as a surprise to learn that women weren’t fully embraced in all the colleges of the city until 1974. Built in the 13th century, the first Oxford colleges didn’t admit women until 1878, and even then, women then had to wait until 1920 to be awarded degrees! This is one tradition we are glad to see the back of.


Merton College Time Ceremony

This once shrouded in secrecy tradition is both jovial and comical. Dating back to 1971 and held on the last Sunday in October, the tales state that only Merton College students are permitted to attend and that they must be ready for the ceremony to begin at 02:00 BST. Waiting at the sundial on the lawn in the quad, they will then walk backwards for a full hour in full academic dress. By the time they have finished it will be 02:00 GMT. Confused yet? As well as enjoying a splash of port, they believe they are stabilising the time-space continuum.


Beating the bounds

Boundary stones are often overlooked, but this annual tradition of marking the stones by hitting them with willow sticks is much looked forward to in Oxford; a procession of clergy and dignitaries follow an ancient route around the city’s landmarks. You can expect to hear chants of “Mark! Mark! Mark!” that will resonate for a long time – after all, there are 29 boundary stones in Oxford that mark the parishes of St Michael at the North Gate with St Martin’s and All Saints. Dating back more than 600 years, this ceremony is all to do with when parishes set different taxation rates, and gives visitors a heads-up to leave before the tax was due!


May Morning

At 06:00 BST sharp, the college’s choir will take to the top of the tower to sing. Thousands will gather on Magdalen Bridge to hear them, even when the origins of the tradition are not clear. On the first of May you will also come across other festivities around the city including live music, Morris dancers and other ad-hoc performances.

Up until 2005, it was a common sight to see people jumping off Magdalen Bridge but due to health concerns the bridge was closed each May Day from 2006 until 2011. Our hotel is one of the most convenient places to stay near Oxford to take part in May Morning – if falling on a weekday, the event will attract up to 6,000 people but if it falls on a weekend it can be as busy as 15,000 revellers.


The Corpus Christi Tortoise Fair

Held for charity and to the delight of all those who attend, the Corpus Christi Tortoise Fair will see a Tortoise Race take places in the heart of Oxford. With entrants from competing colleges, the creatures will dash to the edge of a ring in search of lettuce. It’s thought to have been started in the 1920s, and will certainly make for some interesting holiday photographs!


Where these five Oxford traditions what you expected?

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