There’s a tradition in Oxford dating back almost 150 years, and that’s May Morning, where thousands of revellers gather on Magdalen Bridge to hear the Magdalen College Choir sing from the top of the Great Tower.

Events at the top of the tower last for around fifteen minutes, but there’s a lot of preparation that goes into those fifteen minutes, which enables those on the ground and across the City to be able to hear what’s happening.

Radio Cherwell have been providing the PA system for May Morning for as long as I can remember, but what I do know is I have been working on this prestigious event for the past three years.

The views from the top of Magdalen Tower are stunning, and every year I feel privileged to be able to go to the top, do the work required for the PA, then take some photo and video footage of Oxford’s forever changing skyline.

It will be interesting to see this skyline in a years time, hopefully with a few less cranes, and Oxford’s new Westgate Shopping Centre a welcome addition.

The set-up the day before usually takes three hours, we lift our six heavy duty speakers up the spiral staircase to the bell ringing room, along with heaps of XLR and microphone cable. It’s no mean feat!

On the day of May Morning itself, our team arrives on site at around 04:30, before thousands of revellers descend on Magdalen Bridge. This year, they estimate around 27,000 people were on the bridge, and judging from the photos, I can easily see how that might be true!

The atmosphere is electric, you can feel it, even inside the college, which is also bustling as choristers, dignitaries and invited guests climb the steep steps to the top of the tower.

05:59, the bells chime, that electric atmosphere outside the grounds, along the bridge, turns silent. It’s surreal, you could literally hear a pin drop. The choir sing, they receive a resounding round of applause after the first hymn. Prayers are read, more hymns are sung, and the whole event lasts around fifteen minutes, followed by 45 minutes or so of bell ringing.

It’s a tradition that’s been around for years, and with every year that goes by, we’re adding a little bit to the history books.


You can view my video of May Morning, including views from the top of Magdalen Tower, here.

Same time again next year?

Ian Pinnell

Ian Pinnell is an award winning broadcaster & creative from Oxfordshire. He currently serves as a Trustee for two charities, and Publicity Officer for Radio Cherwell, hospital radio in Oxford.

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