Magdalen stands next to the River Cherwell and has within its grounds a deer park and Addison's Walk. The large, square Magdalen Tower is an Oxford landmark, and it is a tradition, dating to the days of Henry VII, that the college choir sings from the top of it at 6 am on May Morning.
Magdalen College was founded in 1458 by William of Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor. 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. The college received another substantial endowment from the estate of Sir John Fastolf of Caister Castle in Norfolk (1380–1459). Another unrelated college named Magdalen Hall adjacent to Magdalen College eventually became part of Hertford College.
Magdalen's prominence since the mid-20th century owes much to such famous fellows as C. S. Lewis and A. J. P. Taylor, and its academic success to the work of such dons as Thomas Dewar Weldon. Like many of Oxford's colleges, Magdalen admitted its first mixed-sex cohort in 1979, after more than half a millenium as a men-only institution. In 2015, Magdalen topped Oxford's Norrington Table of college undergraduate examination results, and its average score over the 2006-2016 period is the best among the colleges.
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.
This large meadow occupies most of the north west of the college's grounds, from the New Buildings and the Grove Quad up to Holywell Ford. During the winter and spring, it is the home of a herd of fallow deer. It is possible to view the meadow (and also the deer) from the path between New Buildings and Grove Quad, and also from the archway in New Buildings.