CHEERFUL crowds filled the width of a city landmark for one of Oxford’s oldest and most treasured traditions.

About 13,500 people fell silent in Magdalen Bridge today as the Great Tower bells chimed at 6am, before listening to the ethereal sound of Magdalen College’s choristers.

Choirboys sung Hymnus Eucharisticus and Somewhere Over the Rainbow, then the throng of spectators moved further up High Street for Morris dancing, folk music and lively performances from Sol Samba and Horns of Plenty.

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Oxford Mail:

People gathered on the River Cherwell this morning to watch from the water. Picture by Katia Vastiau

The centuries-old celebration saw thousands wake before sunrise to celebrate the arrival of spring - including legendary actor Sir Ian McKellen, who turned up at the college’s post-event May Morning breakfast. 

ALSO READ: Live coverage of May Morning in Oxford

Oxford Mail:

Pic: Richard Cave

Rachel Capell, city events officer at Oxford City Council, which hosts the ceremony, 

said: “Looking out at the audience I saw lots of smiling faces.

“The reverence in the moment before the choir sings is really beautiful.

“There were families, groups, people who came on their own, people who came internationally who made a beeline for May Morning, as well as the local people. 

“It’s a great snapshot of how incredibly diverse our city is.”

Oxford Mail:

Miss Capell said the May Morning festivities are ‘very distinctive’ to the city and ‘quintessentially Oxford.’ 

She added: “People are really renewing the tradition in their own way - they have flowers in their hair or dress in green.

“I think if we weren’t here [to organise the event], it would happen anyway.”

The number of attendees exceeded the council’s expectations of between 5,000 and 10,000, as well as last year’s total of 12,000 people. 

Some avoided the crowds by populating the River Cherwell instead, bobbing on canoes below the bridge.

Many dressed up for the occasion with spring-themed headgear and green costumes.

The Staff family from Blackbird Leys wore flower crowns, jingling bracelets and flashing gum shields.

Oxford Mail:

They said they come to May Morning every year and always stand in the same spot below the tower. 

One person dressed up head-to-toe as a tree, while Jack Pritchard sported an elaborate green crow outfit, which he wears every year with a different handmade mask. 

The 32-year-old, from Iffley, said: “It’s Oxford on May Morning - you’ll always regret it if you don’t go.”

Oxford Mail:

There was an eclectic mix of early risers and revellers pulling all-nighters, all united in the spirit of the event.

Student Samara Santos said: “It is a really nice tradition. There are so many people here - it’s vibrating!”

Oxford Mail:

As bells rang out across the city, marking the end of the choral singing, a merry mass of people partied on into High Street, following the sound of Sol Samba drummers.

The festivities soon moved to Broad Street where a crowd, including green campaigners from Extinction Rebellion, jumped around to music - with a raucous response when Come on Eileen rang out. 

Paula Redway, cultural development manager at the city council, said: “May Morning is a uniquely Oxford tradition.

“It is one of the highlights of living in our beautiful city, and I am delighted that so many people were able to take part and enjoy it.”

The council organises the event with partners including Thames Valley Police, Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, South Central Ambulance Service, Oxfordshire County Council, Magdalen College and Oxford Direct Services.

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The latter deployed 12 staff and three sweepers from 4am, to keep the streets clean. 

Simon Howick, Oxford Direct Services’ managing director, said: “It’s great to be part of such a long-standing event like May Morning. 

“Although our staff start one hour earlier than usual, they have pride in setting the scene for revellers to enjoy this special event, and equally reducing the impact on people not partaking.”

No-one was reported to have attempted the dangerous move of jumping into the river. 

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May Morning 2019

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