It may not look much but it does a vital job. Sarah Todd reports from Hull as we continue our series on Yorkshire livestock markets
“HE’S a very good after-dinner speaker,” a lady at the ringside reveals about Ralph Ward.
It doesn’t take much to imagine Hull Market’s auctioneer working a black-tie audience just as successfully as he works a flat-capped one.
Thinking about it, we weren’t “at the ringside”, we were just bunched up against some pens of sheep.
Ralph had warned, “don’t be looking for anywhere flash – it’s just a roughish farmyard,” and he was right.
“It’s not a Thirsk or a Skipton to look at,” he laughs. “But we get the job done just the same.”
Hell would have had to have frozen over before this visitor ventured into the grotty looking “portaloo” in the market car park.
There’s no market café, just a burger van. But no market will have a prouder history than this set-up in Dunswell, between Beverley and Hull.
It’s run by the company Frank Hill and Son, of which Ralph is now managing director.
It was established by Frank Hill in 1924 and livestock was sold at the old Hull Market.
Then, in 1986 the firm relocated to new premises, still in Hull, then moved again because of rising rates into Beverley Market in 1996.
That closed after Tesco bought the site in 2001.
Foot and mouth then caused chaos. All markets were closed for a year and the blow was so devastating three in East Yorkshire never opened again.
Driffield Market closed, and according to Edward Cayley – whose family were one of several auctioneering firms based at the old Hull Market – “old Mr Hill was in his 80s but he promised that he’d build a market – but that it would be up to us lot to keep it going.”
The auctioneer left his old folks’ home behind to perform the grand opening ceremony that March. By the August, by which time he had died, the promise had been fulfilled.
Edward would have been about seven when he started helping out his father, Peter Cayley, at the old Hull Market.
Sheep were housed on the top floor of the building and he remembers herding them onto the scales and up a ramp to the selling pens.
Sometimes there were as many as 10,000 lambs. The quantities of livestock coming through Hull in these halcyon days is beyond belief.
The rail and sea links made it one of the busiest markets in the country.
It suddenly strikes me that the next generation should be told the story of Hull’s great livestock trading history.
Perhaps there could be a display somewhere? Maybe people wouldn’t be interested, but they should be told
“Of course, everywhere seems bigger when you’re a child,” remembers Edward. He travels over to help on market days from his home in Stamford Bridge to keep the family connection going.
“But the old market was a colossal place. So busy, such an atmosphere.
“There were a number of different auctioneering firms, Cayleys being one of them, and they’d take it in turns to get ‘first turn’ selling. There were thousands of animals.”
In the office – more a lean-to really – are Chris Riley, Liz Ashley and Ruth Mathison.
They good-naturedly joke about their accommodation, revealing Ralph has promised to buy them a new building.
“It will have a lot number on it,” says Liz. “He’ll come across one at a sale somewhere …”
They miss the old Beverley market as the farmers’ wives often liked to come along for a day out.
“There was that extra bit of banter and atmosphere. We manage here though and make the most of it.”
Philip Mortimer, a local farmer’s son, helps with the auctioneering and the professional work.
He has a firm handshake and looks like he knows good stock from bad stock.
Tim Fussey, a retired butcher from Patrington, greets everyone with a friendly word.
Ralph’s wife Diane can often be seen helping out. The couple live in Welwick and have a son, William, who is farming, and a daughter who works away in Manchester.
Ralph is from a farming family – his brother Dickie Ward from near Thornton Dale is well-known in cattle showing circles.
As well as the immediate area, customers come from Lincolnshire – as far over as Market Rasen – with buyers travelling from as far afield as Selby and Doncaster.
There’s even a pig buyer from Essex.
“This market’s providing a service, filling a gap that was left by the closures of Hull, Driffield and Beverley,” says Ralph.
He is helped on the day of our visit by 19 year-old David Hill. A name that breaks the traditional moniker, held by his father, of Charles Hill.
The one good thing about spiralling fuel costs is that it might make those who were lost to the likes of Selby and York consider staying local.
“I make no bones about it,” says Ralph. “Our facilities are not the best. They’re not the prettiest.
“But we’re providing a service, keeping a market open.”
Hull Livestock Market at Dunswell, near Hull. 01964 630531 or visit www.frankhillandson.co.uk
Every Monday at 10.30am Sale of Fat Cattle, Sheep Pigs & Sows
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