Oddities from the archives: Derby Ram struck by lightening

When ploughing through the archives, I sometimes come across bizarre news reports, images, and snippets from other sources that (from a superficial reading) defy categorisation: some are intriguing, others plain silly. So I’ll just occasionally offer them up for delectation on Fridays – alternative headings or captions welcome! Today’s curiosity concerns the ‘Derby Ram’.

The Derby Ram


The legendary Derby Ram in action (from here)

This character has been a familiar figure to Derbians for some time, his fame captured in the folk song ‘The Derby (or Darby) Ram”, recorded by the antiquarian Jewitt recorded in the middle of the 19th century (see below). However, the origin of the song is uncertain; it certainly dates back to before the 1820s. Until recently, an enormous scapula (of a whale) was on display in Derby Museum, one side reading ‘Ye Derby Ram‘, which (according to the inscription on the other side – which relates to its use as a pub sign) might date back to the early 17th century (although I’m unaware of any attempt to accurately date the artefact). But the subject of this post relates to the Ram as mascot of the Derby Militia (subsequently 95th Derbyshire Regiment).


The Derby Ram mascot ‘Private Derby’, late 19th century (from here)

According to Jewitt (see below), the regiment began using a ram for their mascot in 1855. The first live mascot was reputedly captured while on campaign in India, and brought back to chilly Derbyshire (although this campaign predates Jewitt’s assertions). A news report from 1858 tells us that ‘Private Derby’ (as he was named) lived on a Derbyshire country estate (close to the border with Staffordshire), the seat of 2nd Baronet Sir Henry Cavendish, MP of an Irish constituency. The newspaper records that (though he escaped the spit), he met an untimely end by drowning, perhaps after being struck by lightning:

THE DERBY RAM. Many persons will have noticed with surprise the absence, from the head of the militia, of the fine ruin which used to occupy so important a position in the regiment during its embodiment. Surprise will be turned to regret when they learn that the rain is no more. After the militia was disembodied he remained under the care of Lord Waterpark, by whom he was entertained at Doveridge in a manner becoming his rank. In June last, after a heavy thunderstorm, ha was missed, and not again heard of until sound in the river, at Tutbury, drowned. It was conjectured that he was either struck by the lightning close to the waters edge, or by the arm of a tree which was struck near the river, and under which he was probably sheltering himself from the severity of the storm. (Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal, 22 October 1858)


Doveridge Hall

Doveridge Hall, prior to demolition in 1938 (from here)

Ramifications [couldn’t resist…]: Derby and the Ram


Cover from the 19th century publication “The Derby Ram” (from here)

The Derby Ram seems to have provided an icon for political movement, with a mid 19th-century periodical named after the local woolly celebrity. But he is now perhaps best known as the mascot of Derby Football Club), but his legendary status is also recognised on the streets of Derby, in the form of a recent stone sculpture (at the junction of East Street, Exchange Street, and Albion Street); he is also used as a logo for Derby City Council. He may be better known outside Britain in the folk song (sung across the Western world!). Many renditions of the song are available – I’ve just picked a suitably English folksy one:

For those who may fancy a Friday sing-along, Llewellynn Jewitt’s 1867 The Ballads and Songs of Derbyshire provides the lyrics:

Jewitt ram 1

Jewitt ram 2

Jewitt ram 3

Jewitt ram 4

Jewitt ram 5

I’m not sure what or when the next curiosity will be, but I’ll tag it under ‘Oddities from the Archive’.

1917 ram

Derby Ram as bedtime reading for children, 1917 (from here)


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