(Nowadays, I believe the little ‘ragamuffins’ simply hurl themselves into the river)

Taken from ‘Little Folks a Magazine for the Young’ dated 1890.


‘Every May-day morning, at five o’clock, a Latin hymn is sung on the top of the beautiful tower of Magdalen College, Oxford, by the men and boys of College Chapel. after the grace, as the hymn is also called, the bells ring out a merry peal. Hundreds of sightseers are attracted to the spot. Hearers they cannot be called, for the urchins of the city cause such a din in the street by the blowing of small horns that the music aloft is heard only now and then above the tootle-tootle of the penny trumpets. It is not easy to tell how this May-day custom arose. Music of some kind, it is believed, has been sung on the tower top every first of May morning since the year 1498. There are those who say that by the early part of this century the climbing of the tower for the singing of the catches and other light music had become only an excuse of the choristers to annoy the folk below by pelting them with eggs and other missiles. The choir and horn boys have been at feud for many years, the latter having defied all the efforts of the police to bring about peace. Some authorities trace in this quaint ceremony an allusion to the feast of the goddess Maia of classic times; but others hold that, since the month is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the celebration was devised in her honour.’