Oxford May Morning and Jack-in-the-Green

'Bonny Green' in Radcliffe Squarec6.20am, 2010 (Photo: Andrew Morgan)
‘Bonny Green’ in Radcliffe Square c6.20am, 2010 (Photo: Andrew Morgan)

Jack-in-the-Green only appears in Oxford on May Morning and is usually first seen near Magdalen Tower just before 6am. After the choir has finished and the blessing given, Jack leads an informal procession up ‘The High’ to Radcliffe Square, accompanied by the Morris musicians & dancers. It is here that he is at the centre of the first dance of the day: “Bonny Green” from Bucknell, usually at about 6.25am.

OUMM introduced Jack-in-the-Green to their May Morning festivities in 1951 and at that time they were unaware of earlier incarnations. Roy Judge went on to research further and produced one of the definitive texts: “The Jack-in-the-Green.” Folklore Society. ISBN 0 903515 20 2 and so it was discovered that Jack-in-the-Green was a common sight in and around Oxford in the 19th century. The earliest reference cited is a report in the ‘Oxford University & City Herald’ of 3 May 1928 of the death of one of the attendant sweeps when a horse & carriage “plunged into the crowd” in Blackfriars’ Road.

The current custom is for ‘Jack-in-the-Green’ to accompany the Morris displays in Radcliffe Square, New College Lane and Broad Street, concluding with a massed ‘Bonny Green Garters’ outside St. John’s College in St. Giles around 8.30am. After breakfast the University & City Men usually take Jack to a display for the children of St. Ebbe’s school when May Morning falls on a weekday. Dancing then continues outside of the Ashmolean Museum, and on North Parade from around midday.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Jack-in-the-Green did not make an appearance in 2020 & 2021. However, foliage was photographed and conveyed via the ether from all corners of the world and then assemble into a virtual ‘Jack’. Here they are seen with Lobby, the Ancient Men’s mascot.

Here is a rather different view on our May Morning festivities (written by a bear).

Other Jack-in-the-Green traditions around the country: