The Mystery Ram
Visit Oakwell Hall Country Park and the odds are you will see some young person astride the beautiful carved stone ram either posing for the family album or just for fun. He's given enormous pleasure to countless youngsters throughout the time he's grazed on the front lawn of the Hall - and long may he continue to do so.
Whilst he attracts children like a magnet, adults are more curious about his origins and there's no end to the number of visitors who enquire about him - "Where did he come from?", "Why is he at Oakwell?", "How old is he?", "Who carved him?". Unfortunately, at the moment, we can't positively answer any of these questions and his origin seems destined to remain a mystery.
Friends have always had an interest in researching the ram's history but to date we haven't been very successful in obtaining any form of documentary evidence. All we do have is different stories and beliefs from people - we have no idea who is right or who is wrong - and we leave you to draw your own conclusions from the information we have.
One of our first enquiries was to Jane Glaister who was the curator at Oakwell when the Hall was re-opened to the public. Jane was unable to throw much light on the matter as the ram was already in place when she arrived at the site. She was told that the ram was "rescued" from a mill building in Dewsbury but had no other information. She was, however, able to give us another contact.
So we duly wrote to Geoff Farnell, who at the time was Principal Landscape Architect for Kirklees. He replied as follows:
"I received your letter with a wry smile. I haven't visited Oakwell for a while and was discussing my recollections of the origins of the ram with a colleague on the day of receipt. It is my recollection that the ram, which I knew as the "Dewsbury Ram" was relocated to Oakwell in the late 1970's as part of the refurbishment of the Hall externals. It had been languishing in the Building Services Depot at The Combs and it was thought Oakwell would provide a good home. It is certainly popular with young children. I have checked with colleagues involved in the project at the time but am unable to offer any further enlightenment as to its origins. If you ever find out more I would be interested to know."
We also discovered that a local paper at the time - The Weekly News - ran a Landmark Competition featuring the ram. Only one of the replies we've been able to obtain is dated - the letter is dated 13th June 1985 and refers to the competition in the issue dated 13th June 1986. Which year is the typing error we don't yet know!
From Mrs Anne Bland -
"The landmark is the ‘Thornhill Ram' and stands in the grounds of Oakwell Hall. I was once told that the ram had belonged to Newsome and Spedding Limited, formerly woollen manufacturers in Dewsbury. Newsome and Spedding's trade mark was a golden fleece rather than a standing ram. Whether the company had any connections with Thornhill I do not know".
From Timothy Prest -
"The ram you have shown is situated on the front lawn at Oakwell Hall Country Park. The ram was only brought to Oakwell Hall in 1982."
From Mrs H W Speak -
"I can give you a little information about the Ram. My husband was foreman bricklayer at Dewsbury was given the job of taking the ram down from a building in Dewsbury which he says was the old wool market. He says the ram was over a door but was dangerous as it was pulling down the wall it was attached to. He got it down with the aid of a rope and crane and it was taken up to Combs Pit until a suitable place could be found to put it."
From Mrs J Rodwell -
"The landmark is the Thornhill Ram and it is to be found in the grounds of Oakwell Hall. I am interested myself in it's history but beyond remembering it mentioned in a book about old Thornhill some 30 or more years ago I only think there was once a ram in the local coat of arms."
From Mr W Shires -
"The name of the well known Birstall landmark is ‘The Thornhill Ram'. It can be found grazing on the front lawn of Oakwell Hall, Birstall. I don't know much about it's history except there is supposed to be another one somewhere in the district."
From Mr Terry O'Shea -
"The ram is on the front lawn of Oakwell Hall. It was brought there about eight years ago from Crows Nest Park, Dewsbury. We were told it was one of a pair that came from a mill in Low Moor when the mill was demolished. The two rams were gateposts for the mill gate. During the Jubilee day celebrations at Oakwell Park the ram was knocked down and a local farmer got it upright with his tractor. The ram is called ‘Crows Nest Ram'."
Then we have a report from Chris Aldred who talked to Mr K Hartley of Mirfield -
"I met Mr Hartley when he attended a talk I gave to Mirfield Probus Club (5.12.85). He is a retired depot manager at Combs Pit, Thornhill. He remembers his men carrying out some demolition work at a warehouse on Wood Street, Dewsbury. The area had been purchased by West Yorkshire MCC for new road developments. This was in 1976.
The sculptured ram was removed from the warehouse where it was positioned at the apex of a gable. To the best of his knowledge there was only ever one ram. The County Council had no use for it, neither had Kirklees at that time. It was removed to Mr Hartley's depot where it remained until 1979. (Hence the name ‘Thornhill Ram'). During this period there were several enquiries from people who wanted the ram, notably from Derby County Football Club whose emblem is a ram.
"Mr Hartley remembers several suggestions being made for the use of the ram within Kirklees, notably at Crow Nest Park and in front of Dewsbury Town Hall. However, he thinks it was eventually moved to Oakwell in 1979 on the instructions of the Kirklees Leisure Services Committee."
The latest information we have comes from Mrs Dilys Smith who recently talked to Ranger Emma:
Dilys and her husband used to farm at Nova Lane but since her husband's death four years ago, Dilys has moved to Birkenshaw. She told Emma that it would be sometime between 1985 and 1988 that her husband was asked to bring the ram to Oakwell and she believes it came from Lister Mill in Bradford. She came to Oakwell to see it arrive and their son Richard brought his tractor and forklift to help with the placement. The work was done free of charge.
So - there you have it. Different dates, different names, different locations - some facts match whilst others contradict.
The only other clue we have is the name carved on the back of the ram - G H Rostron SS - Low Moor. We understand there was a stone sculpture business of this name near Shelf, Halifax but initial research has not unearthed any details.
Research is on-going - though extremely slow. We contacted Derby County Football Club to see if they have any record of trying to purchase the ram but are still awaiting a reply and we have delved into the history of Lister Mill at Manningham, Bradford - once the largest silk factory in the world and now partly redeveloped into luxury apartments - but cannot find any reference to a ram sculpture or any pictures of the building which include anything remotely resembling a ram.
There's still a great deal of research that needs to be done:
- We need to look at the company of Newsome & Spedding
- We need to establish what industries were undertaken at Wood Street, Dewsbury and indeed whether Newsome & Spedding were located there
- We need to look at stone carvers / masons in the Shelf area
- We need to establish the exact date of the Landmark Competition in The Weekly News
There must be a record of the ram's origin somewhere and we need just that little bit of luck to find it. If you have any information / recollections of anything to do with the ram, please let us know. We don't offer any prize for unearthing the true story of the ram but hope that some of you might be intrigued and inclined to trawl through our local archives.
In the meantime our mystery ram remains - mysterious..........
(Unless of course, you know different!)