Important Day In Dorset History As Shaftesbury Cattle Market Closes

Shaftesbury Cattle Market closed today. ThisIsAlfred.com’s Keri Jones was there.

Shaftesbury Cattle Market was busy this lunchtime. The seating terraces were full of spectators, looking down on the livestock in the arena. People were standing on the stairs and four-deep in doorways, many of them snapping the scene on smart phones to capture this moment in Dorset history. “It is a very historic day, being the last market in Dorset,” said Sedgehill farmer, Dave Stopford.

Soon bulldozers will take the place of bullocks. This site, off Christy’s Lane, is likely to become a Lidl. This market facility opened in 1955 after relocating from Bell Street and a site now part-occupied by another supermarket building, which stands empty.

Dave and his family are going to miss the cattle market. “We certainly are. We’ve been bringing our own cattle here and now we’ll have to trail up to Salisbury,” said Dave. It’s always been part of Dave’s life. So, for this last sale, he wanted his one-year old granddaughter to come along.

Dave Stopford and granddaughter Olivia

Of course, Olivia won’t remember the occasion and Dave can’t recall his first visit. “I’d probably be the size of this one,” he said, raising Olivia. “So I can’t remember.” But Dave wants Olivia to know that she witnessed the end of an era. “Dorset had its own livestock market and it’s very sad times, when Dorset is such a good agricultural area, that we have not got a livestock market anymore,” he said.

One farmer jokingly told me ‘if it was as busy as this every time, they certainly wouldn’t be closing.” In reality, many people had made a special trip for this final midday auction. I spoke to farmers from Oxfordshire and another who had set off at 8am from near Towcester in Northants.

Bruce Horn farms in Hampshire’s Meon Valley. “It’s the last market in Dorset. We’ve lost all our markets in Hampshire. We had one at Fareham, Winchester and Petersfield in my memory and they’ve all gone.”

Bruce has a longstanding connection with Shaftesbury Cattle Market. “I first came here with my dad when I was a school boy and I came on my own in 1963 and bought some calves,” Bruce recalled. He’ll now use Salisbury’s Cattle Market, which is operated by the same auctioneers, but he’s concerned that there won’t be a Dorset sale anymore. “We’re having to take cattle further afield. It’s a welfare issue really, where cattle have to travel so far to be sold,” said Bruce.

Bruce blames the supermarkets – not because they’re buying the site but because of their purchasing policies. “They won’t buy cattle that have been through a lot of stock markets. They like to buy them direct. And if we lose all the markets, then the price of beef and lamb will collapse because the supermarkets will dictate the price and that will be the end of it all. But at the moment, because there’s livestock markets, the supermarkets have to base their prices on the average selling live,” Mr Horn said.

Retired Wiltshire farmer Maurice Baker made the trip from Trowbridge to see the market one final time. He was philosophical about the challenges faced by livestock markets. “Life moves on, doesn’t it? The number of livestock cattle that are sold during their lifetime is a lot less and so economics dictate that. That’s markets,” Maurice said.

Aside from economics, the market forces people together. Long-lasting friendships have formed here and Bruce will miss that. “It’s a big thing – the social thing, having a chat and winding one another up. A lot of these people come to Salisbury so I will still see some of them but there’s obviously one or two that I probably won’t see again, unless they go to the Wessex Machinery sale. I see a lot of them there,” said Bruce.

Some organisations are also worried that farmers and rural workers will feel cut off now they’ve lost another place to meet and chat. And that’s why one man was milling amongst the crowd, trying his best to stand out against a sea of green waxed jackets and muted fleeces in his burgundy bodywarmer.

Richard Kirlew is the Church of England’s Rural Chaplain for Dorset. “I’m given the opportunity to meet so many farmers. Nowadays with the problems that farming has of TB, isolation, mental health issues and rural payments, it’s good to have somebody to talk to. It’s where the church comes in. And it’s a much wider base than just one person, of course. It’s the whole church,” said Richard.

Rev Richard Kirlew

Richard’s role within the Diocese of Salisbury means he’s chaplain to Salisbury market too. And that’s where many Shaftesbury market attendees will choose to go in the future. Richard is worried that, without this market, friends will lose contact. “Social inclusion means being involved totally, fully, in society. And farmers work on their own an awful lot. It’s all too easy to just become isolated and not to get involved with the community,” said Richard. “The Church, of which there’s a representative in every parish, can offer the opportunity for them to be involved with the community.”

So when the site is cleared, Maurice believes whatever stands here should benefit the town, although he also knows it has become a controversial issue. “If it’s not going to function as a market, it should function for the good of the town, whatever it will be. But I don’t wish to get involved in the local politics, ” Maurice Baker laughed.

And while the talk about what could or should happen continues, Richard urges anyone who feels a sense of loss by today’s closure to avoid bottling up their feelings. “Talk to somebody. Talking is very, very important,” Richard advised.