Kingsteignton Ram Roast, DevonEvery year the inhabitants of what used to be the biggest village in Devon, but since the start of 2009 has become a town, roast a whole ram, continuing a long tradition. Quite how long is open to debate: sceptics say the thing is probably just a nineteenth century survival; romantics claim it dates from the Middle Ages; and those with the best imaginations push it all the way back before Christianity arrived in the county.
The story goes that at one time the spring that supplied – still supplies in many cases – the settlement all but dried up. The romantics link this to a baptism, when the drought meant there wasn’t enough water to wet the baby (the shade of a Devonian Marie Antoinette seems to be crying let them use cider then), but both they and their imaginative friends say that it was decided to sacrifice a ram in the hope of appeasing whatever it was that had stopped the spring’s flow. If they were pre-Christian they were appealing to their gods; if Christians they were making an each-way bet.
As soon as the ram was killed in the dried-up stream bed the water started to splash forth again, and the then village was saved.
The stream used to be diverted to accommodate the sacrifice, but these days a field suffices. And once upon a time the roast was the excuse for a solid day’s drinking and consequent misbehaviour, now largely replaced with entertainment for the children of the place. Even the date has changed – it was formerly a Whit Tuesday event and now takes place on Spring Bank Holiday. Whatever the changes, the event is important to the locals to this day – even the Kingsteignton Athletic football team is nicknamed The Rams, identifying them with this important custom. Long may it continue – any event that involves large quantities of roasted meat and something to wash it down should be given our support.
More British Folk Customs?