Lord Mayor of Oxford to participate in first city boundaries ceremony since 1984

Published: Thursday, 30th September 2021

A 14th century civic tradition will return next week, with the first re-enactment of the riding of the franchise ceremony since 1984.

The event, which will be taking place on Monday 4 October, will see the Lord Mayor of Oxford, Mark Lygo, leading the boundaries ceremony, known as the ‘riding the franchise’.

Traditionally organised by the Freemen of Oxford, the ceremony will take the Lord Mayor along a section of the boundaries of the city of Oxford, joined by the Freemen of Oxford.

A modern riding of the franchise

This year, in the first riding of the franchise since 1984, the Lord Mayor will be walking to a boundary stone in North Hinksey - following a section of the ancient boundary (also known as the franchise or liberty) which has remained unaltered for centuries.  

Originally, the 14th century ceremony consisted of a 10-mile route, and was carried out on horseback. However, due to the expansion of the city’s boundaries, the ceremony was later carried out on foot and by boat.

A key aspect of the event will have a modern update. Following tradition, the Lord Mayor will first travel by boat to the Free Water Stone above Iffley Lock. Here he will meet ‘King of the Sclavonians’ - a meeting which marked the extent of the city’s fishing rights.

Traditionally, the ‘King of the Sclavonians’ was a male representative of the Freemen who were also Watermen of the city.  However, for the first time in history, the Lord Mayor will this year be met by a ‘Queen of the Sclavonians’, Councillor Susanna Pressel – an appropriate update to reflect the changing character of modern society.

The riding the franchise event is being held to celebrate the re-opening of the Museum of Oxford on 11 October 2021 after a £2.8 million, 3-year refurbishment.

The Museum of Oxford is the only museum in the city that tells the story and history of the town and its inhabitants from prehistoric times to today.

The event also celebrates the publication of an illustrated booklet by local historian Mark Davies: What a Liberty! Memorable Moments along Oxford’s Ancient Ridden Boundaries – which explains the history of the event, and will also be featured in the museum.

Oxford’s boundaries

The city’s boundaries have expanded over the years beyond its river-defined boundaries, especially in the north, east and south of the city. 

The route first included St Clements in 1835 and eventually expanded to Headington Hill. It also saw a significant extension to Summertown in the north and to Boundary Brook in the east and south in 1889. The areas of Cowley and Headington were included in 1929.

As the size of city’s boundaries expanded, the ceremony was carried out less frequently, with the last recorded ceremony taking place in 1984. 


“I am thrilled to be attending this special riding of the franchise re-enactment in celebration of the Museum of Oxford reopening in October, and that this occasion has been modernised to reflect our world today. Oxford has a rich history and is full of unique events. I am delighted that I will be taking part in the return of this civic tradition.”
Lord Mayor of Oxford, Councillor Mark Lygo