Brasenose Ale Verses

The College still observes a custom on Shrove Tuesday every year which goes back to the days when the assembled company was gathered around braziers in Hall, with smoke floating around in the open timber roof. Like most large private institutions and households the College brewed its own beer and each year an undergraduate would write verses in praise of the new brew of Brasenose Ale, usually well sprinkled with topical references to current events and to members of the College. The verses were recited by the Butler on Shrove Tuesday when he presented a brew of warmed beer with spices and apples. The verses came to an end when the College brewhouse was demolished in 1889, but the custom was revived in 1909, although the beer was no longer home made. The oldest surviving verses date from the early 1700s and the sequence is almost complete from 1815.

Undergraduates of the College who wrote ale verses include Reginald Heber (Bishop and hymn writer), William Webb Ellis (credited with the invention of rugby football), Thomas Humphry Ward (whose more famous wife wrote as Mrs. Humphry Ward), C.J Ottaway (cricketer), F.E. Weatherly (songwriter) and Sir Arthur Evans (archaeologist). In recent years the verses have usually been set (and sung) to well known tunes.

The full text of Brasenose ale. A collection of poems presented annually by the butler of Brasenose college on Shrove Tuesday (1878) is available online.



Traditions and legends

From Ale Verses to a visit from the Devil, browse some of our quirky traditions and legends

College history

A concise history, with detail on our coat of arms and our name

Famous Brasenose Names

More information on historical figures connected to Brasenose

College buildings

An architectural history of our buildings


Click here for more information about the Archives