Custom demised: Holne Ram roasting on May Day.

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 In 1853, the curate of Holne in N. & Q. 1st S. vol. vii. p. 353 records a curious:

“At the village of Holne, situated on one of the spurs of Dartmoor, is a field of about two acres, the property of the parish, and called the Ploy (play) Field. In the centre of this stands a granite pillar (Menhir) six or seven feet high.”

Now folklorists have seen some significance with the association of the custom with a menhir suggesting an ancient custom and as such the following is of considerable interest. The author continues: 

“On May-morning before daybreak the young men of the village used to assemble there, and then proceed to the moor, where they selected a ram lamb (doubtless with the consent of the owner), and after running it down, brought it in triumph to the Ploy Field, fastened it to the pillar, cut its throat, and then roasted it whole, skin, wool, &c. At midday a struggle took place, at the risk of cut hands, for a slice, it being supposed to confer luck for the ensuing year on the fortunate devourer. As an act of gallantry the young men sometimes fought their way through the crowd to get a slice for the chosen amongst the young women, all of whom, in their best dresses, attended the Ram Feast, as it was called. Dancing, wrestling, and other games, assisted by copious libations of cider during the afternoon, prolonged the festivity till midnight.”

The custom appears in Black’s Guide to Devonshire who records:

“PLOYFIELD playfield where the ram feast is celebrated every May day a lamb being caught slaughtered and roasted and old games following the banquet.”

When it  died out is unclear. However, it is thought that the custom moved to July the 6th and involved catching ram from the moor,  dressing it with roses and leading to the Plat Park’ where it was slaughtered and then roasted. The meat was then apparently sold off and a day of games continued. In the end a ram was provided for the roast with little ceremony and in its final entity became the village’s fete which apparently still continues it a sanitised format today.

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