Oxford has its fair share of odd traditions, but not many can rival the strangeness of those which take place at Lincoln College on Ascension Day.
This Thursday began with students and the public hitting stones with sticks, and progressed to giving members of a rival college a deliberately disgusting pint of beer. At midday a large crowd watched a group of small children being bombarded with pennies.
As Lincoln JCR President Kevin Smith said, “Lincoln’s Ascension Day traditions are the kind of wonderfully bizarre curiosities one seems to only get in Oxford.”
The traditional Beating of the Bounds of the Church of St Michael at North Gate, of which Lincoln are patrons, is an ancient ceremony which defines the limits of the church’s parish by marking with chalk, and beating with willow twigs, the stones around its edge.
The ceremony pays no regard to modern development, with Wagamamas and Marks and Spencer both incorporated into the route
One second year Lincoln student who joined the procession said, “It is an interesting coming together of the old and new Oxford, although some of the shoppers did look slightly confused.”
Following the Beating of the Bounds, all members of Brasenose College are invited into Lincoln for a pint of beer, as pennance from Lincoln to Brasenose.
It has been suggested that during a town-gown riot centuries ago a group of Lincoln and Brasenose students were being chased by a bloodthirsty mob. Lincoln refused to admit the Brasenose students into the safety of the college, and they were subsequently beaten to death.
Another account claims that it was a duel between members of both colleges in which the Lincoln student prevailed.
Whatever the true origins of this tradition, the stream of Brasenose students making their way through the door connecting the two college, said to open only for these ten minutes every year, were happy to make the most of the beer on offer.
The beer is flavoured with ivy so that Brasenose are not encouraged to overstay their welcome, though one Brasenose student claimed that the beer did “not taste too bad”.
However, another seasoned Brasenose student commented, “You get good years and bad years. This is a bad year.”
With the peculiar taste of the ale still lingering, the majority of students progressed to Lincoln’s front quad to watch the third, and perhaps oddest, ancient tradition.
A group of children from nearby Combe Primary School came onto the pristine grass in the middle of the quad. The JCR committee at the top of Lincoln’s tower then proceeded to throw handfuls of pennies into the crowd of children, who scrabbled around trying to pick them up.
As more coins rained down, the throwers’ aims began to fail them as members of the crowd found themselves in the firing line.
Although one tearful young man also received a direct hit after an inspection from his teacher he was quickly back into melee.
The pennies used to be heated so that the children would burn their hands when they picked them up, thus warning them about the dangers of greed. Now there is no deterrent to the children picking up as many as they can.