Jul 192014


I’m going to England in two days and then to points unknown. So it seems a good time to celebrate “The Roast Beef of Old England,” an English patriotic song whose popular tune was written by Richard Leveridge (pictured) who was born on this day in 1670. Leveridge (or Leueridge) was an English bass singer of the London stage and a composer of baroque music, including many popular songs.

“The Roast Beef of Old England” was originally written by Henry Fielding for his play The Grub-Street Opera, first performed in 1731. The lyrics were revised over the next twenty years. The song increased in popularity, however, when given a new setting by Richard Leveridge, and it became customary for theater audiences to sing it before, after, and occasionally during, any new play. The Royal Navy always goes in to dine at Mess Dinners to the tune.

The song provided the popular title for a 1748 painting by William Hogarth: O the Roast Beef of Old England (The Gate of Calais).


Here’s a popular version as still sung today in England – in fact, I sing it myself.

If you cannot play this (or won’t), here’s a sample:

When mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman’s food,
It ennobled our brains and enriched our blood.
Our soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good

Oh! the Roast Beef of old England,
And old English Roast Beef!

But since we have learnt from all-vapouring France
To eat their ragouts as well as to dance,
We’re fed up with nothing but vain complaisance

Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England,
And old English Roast Beef!

Our fathers of old were robust, stout, and strong,
And kept open house, with good cheer all day long,
Which made their plump tenants rejoice in this song–

Oh! The Roast Beef of old England,
And old English Roast Beef!

There are plenty of recipes for modern English roast beef, which you must serve with Yorkshire pudding (see https://www.bookofdaystales.com/big-brother-is-watching/). We need a recipe that is more contemporary with the song’s founding. Here’s one from Robert May’s Accomplish’t Cook (1660). This roast would have been done in an open hearth with a spit turned by a small boy, as pictured — who would have been at this hot exhausting labor for 6 hours.


To roast a Chine, Rib, Loin, Brisket, or Fillet of Beef,

Draw them with parsley, rosemary, time, sweet marjoram, sage, winter savoury, or lemon, or plain without any of them, fresh or salt, as you please; broth it, roast it, and baste it with butter: a good chine of beef will ask six hours of roasting.

For the sauce take straight tops of rosemary, sage leaves, picked parsley, time, and sweet marjoram; and stew them in wine vinegar, and the beef gravy; or otherwayes with gravy and juyce of oranges and lemons. Sometimes for change in saucers of vinegar and pepper.

I make a gravy with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (which I call Scarborough Fair sauce — homage to Simon and Garfunkle). It’s a very good combination along with beef broth and drippings from the roast.