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It's about time!

The Merton Time Ceremony

What is Oxford's greatest contribution to the world? Penicillin? Public museums? The Oxford English Dictionary?

Mighty achievements these may be, but they pale beside the work of Merton College Oxford. Because we have Merton College to thank for the maintenance of time.

Merton Traditions

It all started in secret, in the dead of night. In late October, five undergraduates stole into the Fellows' Quad of Merton College.
As you may know, the Fellows' Quad is only for teaching faculty and they had no business being there. So they climbed the walls and removed the lamps. Under cover of darkness, but for the candles they held in glass jars, the ceremony began.

The Ceremony

Wearing their scholar's gowns and mortar board hats, they fortified themselves for the cosmic task ahead by swigging port wine.  

At the appointed hour, 2am on Sunday 29th October 2017, they began solemnly walking backwards around the quad. For an hour. All the time drinking quantities of port. In so doing, they preserved the stability of the Universe as we know it.
Merton students have performed this ancient and vital ritual every year since, on behalf of us all. Except, it's not all that ancient.  
And as for being vital, perhaps the Universe could struggle on without the help of Merton undergraduates too.  

Some history

In 1968, the British government began a 3 year experiment to keep the country on British Summer Time over winter.  
As the experiment drew to a close in 1971, a group of Merton undergraduates asked the unthinkable question. What if time had become stuck and refused to move back to Greenwich Mean Time? 

That was when they realised that the Universe needed them to get drunk and walk backwards around a quad. Starting at 2am and ending at 2am, an hour later.

A tradition grows

From that small beginning, the secret ceremony grew in popularity. As more students joined in, the college accepted the ritual as part of its calendar.  
But one thing has not changed: only Merton students (past and present) can take part. Of the five founders, three survive at the time of writing. One of them, Barry Press, attends every year. He takes the title Keeper of the Watch, and it is his task to start proceedings by proposing three toasts.
“To a good old time!”, “Long live the counter revolution!” and “o tempora, o more!”.
Hear hear. And though we can't get you into the Time Ceremony, we can show you around Merton College.
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