Singing a load of nonsense in a pub at 11am may be standard behaviour for many students but one group in Leeds say they just followed in the footsteps of the great J.R.R. Tolkien.

Academics and students from Leeds University’s English department gathered in the city’s historic Whitelock’s Ale House last week to sing a rare song by the famous author of The Hobbit.

A page from The Root of the Boot manuscript.A page from The Root of the Boot manuscript.

Alaric Hall, lecturer in medieval literature, said a later version of the song – called The Root of the Boot – appeared in The Lord of the Rings book, recited by Samwise Gamgee.

The manuscript for the song, neatly handwritten in tiny ink script by Tolkien, is part of a collection of the author’s writings which has been acquired by the university.

Hall said: “It’s a ridiculous tale about a troll who is turned to stone and is mistaken by a passer-by.”

He said Tolkien would take students to pubs as part of his Viking Club, where they would have sung songs as the club’s successor – the Old Norse Reading Group – did.

“He and his students and his colleagues would read old Norse sagas together and then go to pub and hang out, which we still do,” Hall said.

Hall was joined by colleague Catherine Batt, senior lecturer in medieval literature, and students from the Old Norse Reading Group and the University’s School of Music to perform The Root of the Boot. Tolkien taught at the university in the 1920s before he moved to Oxford.

Now, it has acquired a collection of his letters, poems and prose which will form the Gordon-Tolkien Collection.

In Eric Gordon, Tolkien found a kindred spirit as well as a colleague, one who shared his delight in the study of medieval philology

They provide insight into the close friendship between Tolkien and Eric Gordon, who joined him in the English department at the University of Leeds in 1922.

The six letters, 11 manuscripts and two books include a copy of the extremely rare Songs for the Philologists, penned by Tolkien, Gordon and others, and a first edition of The Hobbit dedicated by its author to Gordon, his wife and young children.

An undated handout photo of Tolkien.An undated handout photo of Tolkien.

Tolkien began his academic career at Leeds, joining in 1920 as Reader in English language, aged 28, before being promoted to a newly-created post of Professor of English Language in 1924.

By the time he left in 1925 to take up the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professorship of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, he had established the university as a UK leader in Old Icelandic language and literature.

Gordon and Tolkien began working together almost immediately, most notably on their translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which was published in 1925, which would become for many years the standard translation of the poem.

“In Gordon, Tolkien found a kindred spirit as well as a colleague, one who shared his delight in the study of medieval philology [the study of ancient languages and literature],” said Hall.

The Gordon-Tolkien collection was acquired by the university’s Special Collections thanks to support from the Brotherton Family, Friends of the National Libraries and the V&A Purchase Fund.

Writing to Gordon’s wife after his old friend’s funeral, Tolkien wrote: “I have never been quite so happy since Leeds and the parting (too far) of our ways.”