Paul belongs in the Holmfirth sales ring

Paul Dixon is happy to be back auctioneering at Holmfirth, a small but successful market.  Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Paul Dixon is happy to be back auctioneering at Holmfirth, a small but successful market. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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When talk gets around to the closure of livestock markets in Yorkshire it is assumed they cannot have been doing well, but that was not the reason for the demise of either Huddersfield or Penistone, according to Paul Dixon who currently plies his auctioneering skills selling sheep every week at Holmfirth.

Paul took over the reins in the family auctioneering business William Sykes & Son when he was 29-years-old in 1983 after his father Vernon died of leukaemia at 59.

The company has sold livestock in Huddersfield, Penistone and Holmfirth and Paul has been a familiar face at all three having first attended Huddersfield aged seven. He started working at Penistone when he was 16 and auctioneering at 18. It was all he ever wanted to do.

William Sykes & Son is currently celebrating 150 years. William instigated it and his son Herbert followed on. Herbert’s nephew William Sykes Shaw took over from him before Vernon Dixon bought the business in 1959-60 having worked for the company since 1951. Paul tells of how times have changed over the past 30-odd years.

“In 1983, 90 per cent of our trade was through livestock markets and work attached to those who attended. Today it’s completely the other way around and only accounts for 10 per cent as the business is more about the residential property market, but I have remained with the agricultural sector. It’s where I’ve always belonged.

“Huddersfield livestock market closed in March 1996 and Penistone closed in 2004. Neither of them was doing badly at all. I was asked to start selling sheep at Holmfirth in 2008.

“The outbreak of BSE wasn’t the main cause for Huddersfield going. The market definitely wasn’t on the slide. It was mainly a fatstock market held each Monday and attracted healthy numbers of cattle and sheep. We also had a tremendous number of pigs. In the 70s we would have 1,000 pigs at Christmas. A stores market was held monthly on a Wednesday. The reason for its closure was down to the council. They wanted the land for redevelopment into a retail park.

“Penistone was a different story. It reopened after foot and mouth had closed all livestock markets in 2001. Barnsley Council wanted it back up and running but then Tesco wanted the site and that was the end of that. On the last day every pen was full.”

Paul recalls his father’s sage-like advice on how to stock a livestock market.

“He always said ‘don’t get too many head of cattle or sheep because there are only so many that the customers can afford’. He was right too. I used to tell him that my target was to fill every sheep pen at Huddersfield and we achieved it, but then when I tried it with pigs his words came right back to me. I could’ve just done with one more buyer at that point.

“Holmfirth is doing unbelievably well for a little market and the current mart chairman Anthony Hobson is doing a marvellous job. It has its own charm and although there aren’t the little butchers around in the numbers they used to be it still attracts a decent number of buyers. Our busiest time for sheep is in October when we will reach around 600-700 throughput. Texels and anything with a white face are now the main type of fat lamb through the sale ring.”

Paul’s father used to sell in Holmfirth Mart many years ago but despite William Sykes & Son being based in the town throughout its 150 years, the relationship with the livestock market hadn’t seen the Dixons as auctioneers since Paul was three-years-old.

“It is good to be back auctioneering in a livestock market. I work hard at making sure stock is in good supply and the right buyers are around. I’ve always tried to be the farmer’s and the butcher’s friend.”

Paul hopes that his farming friends will join a special evening celebration at Yummy Yorkshire Ice Cream Parlour at Delph House Farm, Denby Dale on the evening of September 7.

“It would be great to see everyone who has either worked with me or come to the markets with livestock. It will be a great night with entertainment and we will also be raising funds for RABI.”