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The Strangest Traditions and Rituals of Oxford University

Oxford University has some wonderful but very weird traditions and ceremonies. Here are some of the most odd!

Ascension Day

Colleges: Lincoln and Brasenose

Every year, on ascension day, Lincoln college serves the students of Brasenose each a pint of beer that has been poisoned with Ivy. After the drinking, students gather to watch as heated pennies are dropped from the college tower rooftop onto a group of primary school aged children, who pick them up with bare hands.

WHY?

Brasenose and Lincoln share a long-standing rivalry. It is not uncommon for colleges in close proximity to each other to be rivals, but an interesting story accompanies this one. A couple of centuries ago, it is said that in a “town versus gown” riot, a student of Brasenose and a student of Lincoln were being chased by a mob through the city. The students ran for cover in the nearest university building they could see – Lincoln College. At the gate, the Lincoln student was allowed entry and refuge in the college, but the door was slammed upon the Brasenose student, leaving him to the mercy of the mob. He was killed.

Now, all these years later, the beer is served to Brasenose members as an apology and repentance. The door that links the two colleges is opened for only 5 minutes each year, at midday on ascension day, for this to take place. The beer is poisoned though, to prevent the Brasenose students from enjoying it too much and taking advantage of Lincoln’s hospitality.

The penny throwing at children exists as a lesson to them, in the dangers of greed. Today though, the coins are no longer heated, so there is no reason not to pick them up.

Image via Wikipedia

The Time Ceremony

College: Merton

Students dressed in formal academic dress (sub-fusc) walk backwards around the fellows quad drinking port.

WHY? 

It is said that the purpose of this, performed each year during the transition from British Summer Time to Greenwich Mean Time, is to maintain the integrity of the space-time continuum. It is less of a tradition though, being established by students as recently as 1971, as both a mockery of other Oxford ceremonies and a celebration of the BST experiment (Britain had been permanently using BST all year round since 1968, an unsuccessful move).

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  1. Cyni1106

    On August 14, 2011 at 9:13 am


    That was a cool article, neat the different traditions, thanks.

  2. CHIPMUNK

    On August 14, 2011 at 10:27 am


    Incredible write up

  3. Farzeela Fee Faisal

    On August 14, 2011 at 10:58 am


    That\’s really interesting, well written!

  4. erwinkennythomas

    On August 26, 2011 at 4:59 pm


    good to learn a bit about Oxford! I had to take the GCEs through Cambridge and London when I lived in Guyana. The tests always asked about things British. Imagine how I felt as a Guyanese. V. good share!

  5. Kristie Claar

    On January 12, 2012 at 5:46 pm


    good article

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