Nottingham Ale: Origins of the song

by Joe Earp


The famous Nottingham Ale ballad has been sung for many generations and now is even sung as far away as America. The ballad tells the tale of Nottingham’s famous ale and boasts about the tasty liquor in all its glory.

The song was written by an officer of the navy, simply referred to as ‘Gunthorpe’. It is said he wrote the song in praise of a barrel of Nottingham ale which had been sent to him by his brother, who kept the Punch Bowl which was located in Peck Lane.

It first appeared in print as far back as 1752, when it appeared anonymously in the Gentlemen’s Magazine. It was sung to the tune of ‘Lilly Burlero’, a tune which was very popular at that time. “Nottingham Ale” was very popular during the  eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Both the famous Nottingham writers Blackner and Briscoe reprinted the ballad in their books.

Below is the complete original song:

Fair Venus, the goddess of beauty and love, Arose from the froth which swam on the sea; Minerva leapt out of Cranium of Jove, A coy sullen dame, as most authors agree, Bold Bacchus, they tell us, The prince of good fellows, was a natural son- pray attend my tale; But they that thus chatter, Mistake quite the matter, he sprung from a barrel of Nottingham Ale. 

Chorus- Nottingham Ale, Boys, Nottingham Ale, No Liquor on earth like Nottingham ale.

And having survey’d well the cask whence he sprung, For want of more liquor, Low spirited grew!, He mounted astride, And away to the gods and goddesses flew, But when he looked down, and saw the fair town, To pay it due honours, Not likely to fall, He swore that on Earth, ’twas place of his birth, And the best and no liquor like Nottingham Ale.


Ye bishops and deacons, priests, curates and vicars, When once you have tasted you’ll own it is true. That Nottingham ale is the best of all liquors; And who understands the good creature like you?, It speaks every vapour-save pen, ink and paper; And when you’re disposed the pulpit to rail, ’twill open your throats-you may preach without notes, When inspired with a bumper of Nottingham ale.


Ye doctors, who do more execution, with powder and bolus, with potion and pill; Than hangman with halter, or solider with gun, Than miser with famine; or lawyer with quill; To dispatch us the quicker, you forbid us malt liquor, Till our bodies consume, and our faces grow pale; But mind it, What pleases, and cures all diseases, Is a comforting dose of good Nottingham ale.


Ye poets, who brag of the Helicorn Brook, The rector of gods, and the juice of the vine; You say none can write well, Except they invoke the friendly assistance of one of the mine, Here’s liquor surpasses the streams of Parnassus, The nectar ambrosia,  on which gods regale, Experience will show it nought make a good poet, Like quantum sufficit of Nottingham ale.

Chorus- Repeated twice.

About nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam

Originally formed in 1965 to try to save or at least record before destruction the cave sites continually discovered during the major redevelopment of the City that took place in Nottingham in the 1960′s. Almost every day new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was notified; last thing they wanted was someone telling them to stop what they were doing; TIME is MONEY. The word HIDDEN in the Team’s title is because a lot of what was being invisibly lost in the redevelopment was our early history in the caves, they are under most, if now all, of Nottingham. In the 80’s and 90’s the Team conducted with the help of Dr Robert Morrell and Syd Henley, research and work on Nottingham’s history, folklore and local archaeology. The Team published quarterly magazines on their findings. The Team lapsed for a few years after the death of Paul Nix who was the team leader for thirty plus years. The Team has reformed and is now back working on Nottingham local history. On this blog you will find a series of history, folklore and archaeological related articles and information. Most of the material published will be specifically related to Nottingham/shire local history.
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