"the tower of Magdalen, its rightful bride"
Magdalen College's Tower
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMagdalen College's Tower - Credit: Steve Daniels

Magdalen Great Tower, which is reminiscent of Merton College’s tower, was built between 1492 and 1509, during the reign of Henry VII (1457-1509). The bell tower’s appearance is characteristic of late medieval gothic architecture.


In part due to its height, the tower, which was designed by William Orchard (fl. 1468-1504), is one of the most famous structures on the Oxford skyline. Since its earliest days, the tower has been the site of traditional May Morning celebrations, which begin at 6 a.m. on 1 May with a service from atop the tower.  


Magdalen College, named for Saint Mary Magdalene but pronounced “Maudlyn,” was founded in 1458, but its architecture is representative of many different periods. The college is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful. Unusually, the extensive grounds include a deer park.


Magdalen College is often mentioned in novels that feature Oxford. The fictional characters of Bertie Wooster from the P.G. Wodehouse novels, Tibby from E.M. Forster’s Howards End (1910), and Bridey from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945) all studied at the college. The writers Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) and C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) are also associated with Magdalen College.


Magdalen College, Oxford is sometimes confused with Magdalene College, Cambridge, but the name of the later differs in spelling and pronunciation. The names of several of the colleges at the two universities are similar or the same. Both universities have a Trinity College, a St John's College and a Jesus College.