Magdalen College was founded as Magdalen Hall in 1448 by William of Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester. It became Magdalen College in 1458. The founder's statutes included provision for a choral foundation of men and boys (a tradition that has continued to the present day) and made reference to the pronunciation of the name of the College in English.
Regarded by some as one of the most beautiful of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, Magdalen is also one of the most visited. It stands next to the River Cherwell and has within its grounds a deer park and Addison's Walk. Magdalen College School also lies nearby. The large, square Magdalen Tower is a famous Oxford landmark, and it is a tradition that the college choir sings from the top of it early on May Morning. The college's current president, Professor David Clary FRS, was earlier a Fellow and Senior Tutor at Magdalene College, Cambridge.
The college has large grounds, close to the city centre. They stretch north and east from the college, and are most of the area bounded by Longwall Street, the High Street (where the porter's lodge is located), and St Clement's.
In the 16th century, long before the introduction of the deer, the grove consisted of gardens, orchards, and bowling greens. During the Civil War, it was used to house a regiment of soldiers. At one point in the C19th it was home to three traction engines belonging to the works department of the college.
The Cloister or Great Quad was built in 1474-80 and has been altered several times since then. In 1822, the north side was in bad shape, and was knocked down while most of the fellows were away from college (only a small group of fellows were in favour of demolishing it). It was rebuilt shortly afterwards. In the early 1900s, renovations were performed, and it was returned to a more mediaeval character. Student rooms were installed in the (very large) roof space in the 1980s, and are some of the most sought after rooms in the college.
The New Building was built across a large lawn to the north of the Great Quad in 1733. Its spacious setting is due to the builders' intentions to create an entirely new quad, but only one side was completed. C. S. Lewis had his rooms in this building.
The college has four other quads. The irregularly shaped St John's Quad is the first on entering the college, and includes the Outdoor Pulpit and old Grammar Hall. It connects to the Great Quad via the Perpendicular Gothic Founder's Tower, which is richly decorated with carvings and pinnacles and has carved bosses in its vault.
The Chaplain's Quad runs along the side of the Chapel and Hall, to the foot of the Great Tower. St Swithun's Quad and Longwall Quad (which contains the Library) date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and make up the southwest corner of the college. The Grove Buildings are the newest, built in the 1990s in a traditional style.
The choir consists of twelve Academical Clerks who are students at the College, and sixteen boys aged seven to fourteen, all of whom have scholarships at Magdalen College School. The school was originally founded for this express purpose but has long since become an independent public school.
The choristers' day begins at 7:30, with an early morning practice before school. There is further practice immediately after school, followed by Choral Evensong six nights a week, in term; the Monday service is sung by the boys only, and the Friday service only by the Academical Clerks. On Saturdays there is an afternoon practice, while on Sundays there is a practice at 09:30 followed by Eucharist, then a further afternoon practice followed by Evensong which ends at 7pm. Most of the boys thus have a longer working day, and a busier weekend, than their parents.
The Choir has numerous College duties as well as a recording and touring schedule. Traditionally the Choir sings at College Gaudies and at other special events throughout the year, as well as performing on social occasions such as Carols by Candlelight before Christmas and the famous May Morning. On this occasion the Choir sings madrigals at 6am from the top of the college bell-tower to the assembled mass of students and townsfolk celebrating in the streets below.
In its long history the choir has had many well known organists, such as Daniel Purcell, Sir John Stainer and Bernard Rose, while past Organ Scholars include Dudley Moore, and past Academical Clerks include Harry Christophers (founder and director of The Sixteen) and Robin Blaze.
The choir records regularly and In 2005 was nominated for a prestigious Grammy Award for its CD, With a Merrie Noyse, of music by Orlando Gibbons. Other recent works include the BBC's Blue Planet and Paul McCartney's classical piece Ecce Cor Meum.
The current Informator Choristarum (the master and conductor of the choir) is the composer Dr Bill Ives, possibly better known as a former King's Singer. A disc of his music, Listen Sweet Dove, is amongst the choir's latest releases.
Centre for the History of Childhood, situated at Magdalen College, is the first institution within the United Kingdom that focuses on studying every interdisciplinary aspect of the history of children from the Greeks and Romans to the present day.
Magdalen held 'Head of the River' between 2004 and 2007. This means it has won the Summer Eights competition in each of these years. Summer Eights is the most prestigious university regatta held in Oxford. The Men's 1st Torpid became Head of the River in the 2008 Torpids having bumped Oriel out of first place on the second day of racing.