A 45-year dream comes true

10 July 2024

The Great Tower is an integral part of life at Magdalen College. Its chimes ring out every fifteen minutes, and its silhouette is visible from nearly every corner of College. It also serves as the centerpiece of one of Oxford’s most cherished traditions: May Morning. Each year, the Choir of Magdalen College ascends the Towerto sing the “Hymnus Eucharisticus” and the Madrigal “Now is the Month of Maying” to large crowds gathered on The High. 

Magdalen’s Great Tower has stood on The High since its completion in 1509, but by the late 1970s the stone had become severely decayed and needed significant restoration. Because of this, the Tower was hidden under scaffolding between 1976  and 1981 while it was  repaired.  During this time the Choir was unable to celebrate May Morning from the top of the Great Tower, so instead, sang from the top of the Founder’s Tower which is much further away from the crowds and far less magical.  

a black and white photograph of The Choir in 1976 standing on top of the Founders Tower. there are maybe ten boys, and another ten men standing behind them singing together in white cassocks. They are led by conductor Bernard Rose also in a white cassock. Behind them, you can see the Magdalen Tower in Scaffolding.
May Morning 1976, the choir conducted by Bernard Rose. Photo Courtesy of David Costley-White

On Saturday 29 June 2024, Magdalen alumni who had matriculated between 1975 and 1978 returned for their Gaudy – an Oxford alumni reunion. Among them were the Academical Clerks (Magdalen students who sing in the choir) who never sang from the top of the Tower  during their time at College.  Mark Gutteridge (1976), arranged with the College for ten former Academical Clerks to ascend the Tower and, accompanied by three current Clerks, sing the “Hymnus Eucharisticus” together more than 45 years late for their own May Morning celebration.  

As they ascended the 144 feet of irregular stone steps, the late June sunshine turned Oxford blue and gold. “The ascent of the Great Tower was even more spectacular than I’d anticipated,” said Lawrence Wallington (1975).  

or most of the Clerks who came on Saturday, it was their first time up the Great Tower, and many of them were shocked to see how leafy Oxford and the College look from that perspective.  After a brief period of taking pictures, the Clerks gathered to sing.  

No hush fell on The High below and no chimes were heard from the Tower’s bells. The passersby below didn’t know that high above their heads, a 45-year-old dream was coming true.  They sang one verse of the ‘Hymnus Eucharisticus,’ and by the end, a chorus arose from the former clerks: “Shall we do another one?” “Oh, go on then!” 

To finally achieve this ambition after over 45 years was truly wonderful

Mark Gutteridge (1976)

“To finally achieve this ambition after over 45 years was truly wonderful,” Mark reflected. “It was such a memorable and remarkable experience, one we shall treasure for the rest of our lives.” Mark had been pivotal in ensuring all interested alumni could attend, liaising with the College’s Development Office to ensure everything ran smoothly. 

 “It was a supremely magical moment,” said Rob Hayward (1976). “Not just to be there with my dearest friends but to stand where my brother Peter did, and all those amazing alumni before me.”  

There really is something magical about May Morning. Even in the early afternoon of a hot midsummer day, it was very moving to see them sing together after all this time. More than just a nostalgic return to their former College; it was a testament to the spirit of the Magdalen community, and proved that even after 45 years, some traditions are worth the wait.  

Scaffolding seen from The High, 1976
Scaffolding seen from the Cherwell and Oxford Botanic Garden, 1975. The Oxford Mail, courtesy of Magdalen Archives