It’s a gem and remains at the heart of things. Sarah Todd continues our series on Yorkshire’s livestock markets at Northallerton.
Perhaps one day it will move to an out-of-town site, like so many before it, but for the moment this remains a gem, a beating agricultural heart in the middle of town.
Of course, there are problems with Northallerton mart. The two level crossings can cause havoc for those bringing stock in to go under the hammer.
But it would be wrong to paint an antiquated picture of this market. It has a new, young auctioneer and market manager, Giles Drew, 26 who has a sales patter that belies his tender years.
He grew up in Cheshire and was discovered selling at a livestock market in Worcester. Apart from some help from freelance auctioneer Willie Bramham he’s the main man.
Willie’s daughter, Alison Beauchamp, works in the market office alongside Helen Grainger.
They chat and deal with entries while, at the same time, arranging somebody to go and rescue a lorry that’s broken down on its way into market.
Tommy Hugill, chairman of the market’s board of seven directors, is called to show this visitor around. He farms cereals, beef and sheep – putting his money where his mouth is by bringing 10 to 12 cattle every week.
He’s a quietly spoken chap but, one would imagine, not daft when it comes to the value of the one-acre market site – plus a three-acre car park. If the market does ever move (a deal was once a cat’s whisker away from being done with a supermarket) they’ll only get one chance to get it right and it will have to be a very good one.
Tommy is proud of the way that young farmers are encouraged to become part of the market community, given the opportunity to become shareholders.
Customers had come from as far afield as Masham, Morpeth, York, Pateley Bridge, Harrogate, Whitby, Hawick and Ponteland.
“One worry for all markets at the moment is the amount of credit to give buyers,” explained Tommy.
“If you give them four to six weeks, they can soon have run up a heck of a bill which is trouble if they go bust. You have to give credit to get the buyers, but a lot of markets have been caught out. It’s a case of having to be fair but firm.”
Changing to a less gloomy subject, his eyes light up at mention of the market café.
“The gateaux is amazing,” he says.
Some customers are nursing sore heads after the annual Northallerton Auction’s Ball at the town’s Golden Lion Hotel.
Ann Newcombe delivers tea and sympathy across the café counter, helped by her mother Betty Boyes who was in charge before her.
Ann took over from her mother after she decided to retire following foot and mouth. She farms herself, at East Harlsey, with husband John.
Nothing is bought in – all the food here is homemade and much of the meat, including that in the steak pie, comes from her own farm. The chips are hand-cut and the mushrooms frying on the side to go with the “full English” are picked fresh from the fields.
Ann is a former winner of the coveted Farmers Weekly Market Cafe of the Year Award – the Oscars of the market cafes. She’s up at 5.30am to go around her own cattle before getting to the market. In common with market café proprietors across the country, the service she provides is about much more than food and drink (the best mug of tea tasted so far).
“It might just be a bit of a chat,” says Ann. “But for some of the farmers, especially the older ones or those living on their own, coming to market is about much more than buying and selling stock.
“It’s where they get a bit of advice – there’s usually somebody asking about some new Government form or other and how to fill it in – and just that contact with other people.
“Those from outside the farming community can have a very rose-tinted picture of what life is like. It’s hard and it’s isolated. Markets really are a lifeline.”
Time to take a look at the new auctioneer in action. Although not a farmer’s son, he kept a flock of 150 ewes before moving on to study at Harper Adams University.
He’s in charge of the day-to-day management of the market and was into horse riding in his youth.
Together with the senior procurement and field officer Helen Walton – a Hurworth farmer’s daughter with, according to those in the know, an excellent eye for fat cattle – spare time is spent drumming up new business for the market.
“It’s an exciting time for me,” says Giles. “There’s a great balance of existing customers but plenty for me to get my teeth into – building up on numbers.
“I’ve always loved the hustle and bustle of markets and Northallerton is no exception. It’s got a good, friendly feel about it.
“In my job you’re as good as the last pen of animals you sell, so the pressure’s always on – but that’s the way I like it. We’ve a good mix of customers, of all ages, but hopefully the market having a young auctioneer sends a positive message about the future to the next generation.”
Northallerton Livestock Market
The company secretary is Brian Weighell, who has worked for Northallerton Auctions since leaving school.
The firm was established in 1912 after J Todd’s handed over the Applegarth Mart from its first opening in 1907.
Fatstock is sold on Tuesdays, with store stock and cull cows being sold weekly on a Wednesday.
Northallerton Auctions Ltd, Applegarth Mart, Northallerton. 01609 772034 or visit www.northallertonauctions.com