I’ve driven past the old – and now fairly derelict – Ram Jam Inn on the A1 many times, and have always been intrigued by the name (largely because I can’t ever see the inn without hearing Black Betty by Ram Jam in my head!). But, I’ve never looked into the history of the Ram Jam Inn until now when it popped up during research into the old Great North Road.
Next time I travel past, instead of singing Black Betty, I’ll picture the notorious eighteenth-century highwayman Dick Turpin galloping into the inn yard for it turns out that he was a frequent guest there at the height of his ‘fame’.
The Great North Road linked London to Edinburgh, via York amongst other towns, and in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries the mail and stage coaches regularly drove up and down its length. Now the A1 (the longest numbered road in the UK) has replaced the Great North Road, in places taking a slightly different route and bypassing most of the smaller towns and villages where the old coaching inns were to be found. But not all…
The Ram Jam in Rutland is one of the few coaching inns which can be seen by the side of the A1. Standing at Stretton, midway between the market towns of Stamford and Grantham in Lincolnshire, it was originally known as the Winchelsea Arms, named for the Earls of Winchelsea who were local landowners. By 1802 however, it was unofficially known as the Ram Jam House.
There are many stories detailing how this unassuming inn in sleepy Rutland acquired such an unusual name. One version has it that Dick Turpin himself was the root cause. He taught the landlady, a Mrs Spring, how to draw mild and bitter ale from a single barrel, telling her to “ram one thumb in here whilst I make a hole… now jam your other thumb in this hole while I find the spile pegs…”. Turpin then made off without paying his bill while the unfortunate landlady was stuck with her thumbs fast in the barrel. A slightly different version of this tale has the landlord trapped by his thumbs while the trickster, Dick Turpin or otherwise, escorts the landlady upstairs to the bedroom.
A sign which hangs outside the inn – now very weatherworn – depicts the unfortunate landlady. However, a correspondent to the Grantham Journal newspaper, writing in 1878, revealed that this may have been a relatively recent addition to the frontage.
It may be worth noting, that the sign of ‘The Ram Jam’ has never appeared on the front of the house, until September last; and the old sign, painted with the full coat of arms of the Earls of Winchelsea, remained up to last June, when it was replaced by a new sign-board, on which was painted (without the heraldic devices) ‘The Winchilsea Arms’. The sign only remained up for a few weeks, when it was repainted with the words ‘The Ram Jam Inn’ for the first time in its history. By the way, it was generally known as ‘The Ram Jam House’ and not ‘Inn’.
Grantham Journal, 26th October 1878
The most likely reason for the unusual name is a little less prosaic, however. Charles Blake was the landlord around the turn of the century, certainly by 1802, and he developed either a spirit or liqueur which he sold in bottles packed in small hampers for the convenience of the stagecoach passengers who alighted at his inn while the horses were changed. This drink he named Ram Jam, but again there is disagreement as to why. Some claim it is a variant of an Indian term for a table servant which the English soldiers in India corrupted to Rum John or Rum Johnnie. Others clearly thought differently.
The word is properly Ramzan, derived from Ramazan, the name of the month of fasting in the Mohammedan calendar. The custom among the natives of India, as well as in the case of the English people, was to pronounce the ‘z’ as ‘j’, hence the name became ‘Ramjan’. The change of the final ‘n’ to ‘m’ was an accident or a piece of fun to bring it into easy rhyming form. We can reasonably assume that the liqueur sold to travellers brought to the house the like celebrity enjoyed by the Bell at Stilton for the cheese that was to be purchased there.
Grantham Journal, 15th May 1937
Blake had, it is suggested, picked up the term during an earlier career as an Indian Army Officer’s batman. With the death of Charles Blake in 1810 however, the recipe for Ram Jam was lost, but the inn retained its moniker.
On the 4th November 1810, at Stretton in Rutland, Mr Charles Blake, gentleman, was buried.
While Ram Jam of Black Betty fame, despite the name, have no association with the inn, the soul singer Geno Washington named his backing band the Ram Jam Band after it. As this is a blog dedicated to the Georgian era, I won’t treat you to a rendition of Black Betty, even though it is now firmly lodged as an earworm after writing this. Instead, enjoy the legend of Dick Turpin as performed by the Horrible Histories gang!
Cary’s New Itinerary: Or, An Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads, Both Direct and Cross, Throughout England and Wales; with Many of the Principal Roads in Scotland, 1802.
Inns and Inn Signs of Leicestershire and Rutland by Eric Swift.
waymarking.com: Ram Jam Inn – A1, Stretton, Leicestershire, UK