Brasenose Ale Revisited

On Shrove Tuesday each year the College observes its ancient custom of reciting verses in honour of Brasenose Ale. The origin of the Brasenose Ale Verses is unknown and only two survive from before the 19th century, both in secondary sources.

Like most large private institutions and households the College brewed its own beer, and every year verses would be written in praise of the brew with references to current events or members of College. By 1856 the Ale Verses were written by junior members and would be recited by the Butler on Shrove Tuesday. The performance would be accompanied by a special brew known as ‘Lambs Wool,’ a traditional recipe which involved heating the beer with sugar, spices and apples.

The May 1925 edition of The Brazen Nose notes the revival of this recipe in 1924 (p.50):

In 1924, when the Ale Verses were presented on Shrove Tuesday, they were accompanied, for the first time for many years, with the ancient loving-cup of ‘Lambs-Wool’, which is a preparation of beer, apples, and other ingredients. The only person who knew the old recipe was Henry Stannard, a college servant of long standing of whom we have a notice below. This year the same loving-cup was circulated and we trust that it will be continued in the future.

The brewhouse was demolished during the second stage of the erection of the New Quadrangle in 1886-1889, and the College stopped brewing its own beer. Between 1889 and 1909 no Ale Verses were produced, but in 1909 the poetic tradition (although not the brewing) was revived as part of the College’s Quatercentenary celebrations and continues annually today. In recent years the Verses have usually been set and sung to well-known songs. The majority of the Verses from 1815 onwards survive in some form in the College Archives. Collections were published in 1857, 1878 and 1901.

Authors of Ale Verses include Reginald Heber (Bishop and hymn writer), William Webb Ellis (credited with the invention of rugby football), Thomas Humphry Ward (author, whose more famous wife wrote as Mrs. Humphry Ward), Cuthbert John Ottaway (footballer), Frederic Edward Weatherly (songwriter), and Sir Arthur Evans (archaeologist).

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