For at least two centuries, the Ram has been the symbol of not only the City of Derby, but also its football team and local regiment.
Brian Spencer attempts to discover the story behind this magnificent beast.
If you walk from Derby’s Westfield Centre towards the Assembly Rooms at the junction of East Street and Albion Street, you will come to the statue of a huge ram, a street sculpture by Michael Pegler and ever popular with the children who like to scramble up on to its back. This is the Derby Ram, symbol of not only the city, but also Derby County Football Team, and still hanging on despite numerous mergers, the Derbyshire portion of the Mercian Regiment.
Where the story of the Ram came from seems vague, but folk memory in the nineteenth century mentions a ram of such colossal proportions that it was almost impossible to shear its wool, or when the time came, to butcher its carcass. The story was put to music and the song, then reputed to be at least a hundred years old, is mentioned in Llewellyn Jewitt’s Ballads and Songs of Derbyshire, written in 1867. By some accounts the first President of the United States, George Washington, once sang ‘The Derby Ram’ to the twin sons of Oliver Ellsworth while staying at their family home at Hartford, Connecticut. As Washington died in 1799 aged 67, he must have known the song from much earlier in the 1700s, which confirms Llewellyn Jewitt’s comment about its age. Since then various versions of the song have been taken up by a number of groups associated with Derby.
Derby County FC was founded in 1884 and in the 1890s adopted the black and white colours the club still uses in home games at Pride Park. It was around this time that they appropriated the nickname The Rams, in tribute to its links with the then 1st Regiment of Derby Militia.
From its earlier links with the city, the local regiment took on The Ram as its mascot, something which has been carried forwards despite the frequent mergers with other Midlands’ Regiments. In 1858, the 95th Derbyshire Regiment was stationed at Kotah in India during the time of the mutiny and the Commanding Officer noticing a magnificent fighting ram tethered in a temple yard, ordered one Private Sullivan of the Number 1 Company to take the ram and have it slaughtered. Unfortunately for the officer, Private Sullivan and The Ram seemed to hit it off and it followed him contentedly, marching some 3000 miles throughout Central India with the Regiment. He was present with the 95th during their engagements in six actions, as a result of which, in 1862 along with the rest of the Battalion on parade at Poona, he received the ‘India Medal with Central India Clasp’. This medal can be found in the Regimental Museum Gallery in Nottingham Castle.
Known officially as Private Derby, each subsequent Ram has been held on the official strength of the Regiment. He has his own individual system of numbering – beginning with No 1 to the present 29th. In addition as he is on the ration strength, he is given his own regimental number – currently M/4970029 – and draws his rations like any other soldier, albeit he tends to favour a much different diet.
It is on record that Private Derby 1st as he became known fought in thirty three fights with other rams and was never defeated. Unfortunately, he came to a sad end when he jumped over the wall of a well at Hyderabad Sind in 1863 and was drowned. Since that time there has followed a succession of fine Rams, each inheriting the title of ‘Private Derby’ followed by his successive number. The earliest replacement rams were presented to the Regiment in whichever part of the world they were serving at the time. However, since 1912 it has become tradition with only the occasional departure for the Duke of Devonshire to present the Regiment with a Ram from the Chatsworth Swaledale Flock.
When on parade ‘Private Derby’ wears a coat of scarlet with Lincoln green and gold facings, the whole emblazoned with the Regiment’s main Battle Honours. Also on his coat is to be found a replica of his Indian mutiny Medal and in addition he now wears the General Service Medal1962 with the Clasp for Northern Ireland for he has been stationed there several times over the years. On his forehead is to be found a silver plate suitably embossed with the regimental Cap Badge while a pair of silver protectors are fitted to the ends of his horns. These are not as might be imagined to protect the horns, but rather to protect the clothing of the Ram Major, Ram Orderly and visitors, of which he receives in great number each time he appears in public.
‘Private Derby’ has two handlers whose duty is to look after him at all times. The senior handler carries the rank of ‘Ram Major’ whilst the other has that of ‘Ram Orderly’. It is the Ram Major’s responsibility to prepare Private Derby for all parades and the many other appearances he makes from time to time. They also escort Private Derby when he is on parade by standing, one on either side, leading or controlling him with two white ornamental ropes which are attached to his leather collar.
The Ballad of the Derby Ram
(As set down by Llewellyn Jewitt in ‘Ballads & Songs of Derbyshire’ 1867)
As I was gong to Derby, Sir, All on a market day,
I met the finest Ram, Sir,That ever fed on hay.
Daddle-i-Day, Daddle-i-Hay, Fal-de-Ral, Fal-de-Ral, Daddle-i-Hay
The Ram was fat behind, Sir This Ram was fat before,
This Ram was ten yards high, Sir, Indeed he was no more.
The wool upon his back, Sir, Reached up into the sky,
The eagles made their nests there, Sir, For I heard the young ones cry.
The wool upon his belly, Sir, It dragged upon the ground.
It was sold in Derby town, Sir, For four thousand pound.
The space between his horns, Sir, Was as far as man could reach,
And there they built a pulpit, Sir for the parson there to preach.
The teeth that were in his mouth, Sir, Were like a Regiment of men,
And the tongue that hung between them, Sir, Would have dined them twice and again.
The Ram jumped o’er a wall, Sir, His tail caught on a briar,
It reached from Derby Town, Sir, All into Leicestershire.
And this tail so long, Sir, T’was ten yards and an ell,
They made a goodly rope, Sir, to toll the market bell
Daddle-i-Day, Daddle-i-Hay, Fal-de-Ral, Fal-de-Ral, Faddle-i-Hay