Vast crowds celebrated May Morning in central Oxford on Sunday amid a heavy security presence. The Magdalen College Choir sang hymns from the tower at 6am in a tradition dating back five centuries, with morris dancing and other performances continuing well into the day.
The crowds stretched back as far as Queen’s Lane and the Cowley roundabout, swollen due to the weekend and the fine weather. One paramedic estimated the numbers at up to 30,000, although an Oxford City Council report put the figure at 18,000.
Oxford Police Commander Superintendent Amanda Pearson, said: “We are pleased that people in Oxford were able to enjoy the traditional celebration of May Morning peacefully and safely.” One first aider described the revellers as “good-humoured” compared with previous years.
The authorities had been concerned that attempts would be made to leap from Magdalen Bridge and attempts to prevent a recurrence of 2005, when 40 were injured, were highly visible. One attempt to jump off the bridge was made, despite large signs warning that the driest March in 50 years had left the river more dangerously shallow than normal, and an email campaign by colleges. The student made it to the edge but was quickly restrained and escorted away.
A steward on the bridge commented on the pointlessness of spending years of study only to be paralysed, while the Dean of University College condemned one of “the most grotesquely stupid ways of maiming oneself that even a hyperactive Oxford undergraduate could devise”.
The sides of the bridge were inaccessible and many officials were on hand, some of whom had been drafted in from Brighton and had travelled through the night to be there.
One resident expressed concern that the measures in place had funnelled people into a narrow gap, causing children to be pressed against the steel fences.
No serious injuries were reported, although the ambulance service reported that they “responded to seven incidents with one patient, who had fallen off his bike, being transported to the John Radcliffe Hospital A+E department”.
For several hours the choirs at other colleges climbed their own towers and spectators gathered to hear them and watch morris dancers perform across Oxford.
There were reports of people carrying white heads on poles above the crowds. After more than 500 years, May Morning has become one of the biggest events on the Oxford calendar – for those who are awake to see it, at least.