One of Oxford University‘s most popular events, the Tortoise Fair takes place in late May and early July at Corpus Christi College. And what’s its main event, you ask? Well, undoubtedly the hotly contested Tortoise Race!
Wait... Why Tortoises?
Tortoises are the most popular pets for Oxford Colleges. In fact, several of them keep tortoises. For example, Christ Church, Corpus Christi, St Peter’s College, and Wadham all have theirs. Each academic year, a student is typically given the role of caring for the tortoise.
More recently, several colleges have decided against keeping them on animal welfare grounds. Magdalen College, for example, appointed instead a student as a human tortoise. This person, titled Oscar d’Tortoise, participates in the races every year. And it seems the college is not happy taking things this far; they need to go further. So, at each general meeting, Oscar has to eat lettuce. This is mandated by constitutional amendment, and there is a lettuce allowance of 60p per meeting.
What is the Oxford Tortoise Fair and its Race?
The Tortoise fair holds one of the University’s most anticipated events: The Oxford Tortoise Race. Several Oxford colleges have their own Tortoise pets (and keepers). The race gives them a chance to prove themselves against their historical opponents. The Oxford Tortoise Races date back to about forty years ago. Many competitors return each year, which is not surprising considering tortoises can live between 50 and 100 years!
How do the Oxford Tortoise Races Work?
The Oxford Tortoise Races have clear rules. The racers and their keepers first assemble in the centre of a large circle – one made of lettuce. The tortoises face outwards, as their main aim is to reach the edge of the circle. The fastest tortoise to do so wins the prize.
What Other Events Are There at the Tortoise Fair?
As exciting as the races can be, they are also a great excuse to meet up and enjoy music and refreshments. The Corpus Christi fair has a great selection of entertainment, and all money raised goes towards a charitable cause. For example, in 2022, the Tortoise Fair raised over £7,000 for the DEC Ukraine HUmanitarian Appeal.
Why do Balliol's Tortoises have Marxists Names?
Although their students belong to a number of political persuasions, Balliol College has a long-standing association with left-wing politics. So references to its former reputation are not uncommon. One is the name of their college tortoises, which are named after famous Marxists. Their longest-living tortoise (which went missing in 2004) was named Rosa Luxemburg. The student that has the task of caring for the tortoises is called… Comrade Tortoise.
When and Where are the Tortoise races?
The fair and its races take place on the 6th Sunday of the Trinity Term (you can learn more about the University Terms and what they mean here!). In 2022, the race was on Sunday, May 29th. The event welcomed over 1,5000 testudinal fans on a beautiful summer afternoon full of activities.
To learn more:
Tortoise fair reports: http://www.corpusjcr.org/clubs-and-societies/tortoise-fair/