Jolly good ale and old: an evening of drink, history, and song
By Dr Angela McShane, Head of Renaissance and Early Modern Studies in History of Design for the joint V&A/RCA History of Design, and a Co-Investigator of Intoxicants and Early Modernity.
Originally featured on the Intoxicants & Early Modernity blog.
Dr Angela McShane talks about combining her interests in early modern drinking and song in the organisation of a convivial evening of beer, ballads, and banter at the venerable railway station watering hole The Sheffield Tap, for Being Human 2015.
Over sixty locals with an insatiable thirst for historical harmonies and past drinking cultures joined us in the Tap’s sold-out function room, a stunning Edwardian space converted from the station’s former First Class Dining Rooms (and featuring a working microbrewery). Here, aided by a songbook created especially for the event, early music expert and special guest star Lucie Skeaping of BBC Radio 3 and The City Waites led us in rousing renditions of eight seventeenth-century drinking ballads and catches, including: Joan’s Ale is New, a celebration of ‘the mother drink of England’ set to a ‘pleasant northern tune’; A Pleasant New Song in Praise of a Leather Bottel, a paean to the benefits of the humble leather bottle over new-fangled drinking vessels such as pewter tankards and glasses; and The Trooper Watering His Nag, a fantastically bawdy ditty involving the heavily euphemised interaction between a soldier and a barmaid.
Rendition of ‘A Pleasant New Song in Praise of a Leather Bottel’
The musical interludes were interspersed with roundtable conversations in which seven scholars – David Beckingham (Cambridge), James Brown (Sheffield), Kate Davison (Sheffield), James Sumner (Manchester), Alex Taylor (Sheffield), Tim Wales (Sheffield), and myself – informally tackled some of the big questions in drinking studies and fielded excellent questions from the barstools. Historian of science James Sumner also delighted the audience with a demonstration of the chemical adulteration of the Victorian pint (a progressively more disgusting process which involved, inter alia, vinegar, Tabasco, and various sulphates).