‘The Derby Ram’ or ‘Old Tup’ is a widely collected traditional song, found all over the English-speaking world. As with all traditional songs, it exists in numerous versions, including bawdy ones, but it always describes, in hyperbolic terms, a wondrous ram or tup:This ram it had two horns, sirThat reached right up to the moonA man went up in JanuaryAnd he didn't come down till June.The song also describes how the ram was butchered and how the parts of his body were used.
In the vicinity of Sheffield, however, the Old Tup was more than just a song, as there they had a Christmas visiting custom which included someone impersonating the Tup and a dramatic performance. The Tup's construction varied according to the age and abilities of the performers. At the most sophisticated end of the spectrum, a wooden head (or sometimes a real sheep's head) was fixed to a pole which was carried by a man hidden by a sack or a cloth. The head could have real ram's horns and boast other attributes such as a red tongue. But at the most amateur end the animal could simply be made by a boy wearing a sack which had its corners tied to resemble ears, over his head. The Tup was accompanied by a group of four to six, who sang the song and in the simplest versions he merely jigged about in time with the music. In the more developed versions they enacted the killing of the Tup, and added characters such as Little Devil Doubt and Beelzebub, borrowed from local versions of the mummers play. The earliest references to the custom are from the mid-19th century, although the song is much older, and the custom is still not quite extinct.
Compare OLD HORSE. See also hobby horses.
Cawte, 1978: 110–17;P. S. Smith, L&L 1 (1969), 6–8.