Meet the family who have been running Yorkshire livestock auctions for 100 years

Hills are not one of the East Riding’s most commonplace features, especially over in Holderness, but one hill that has made a considerable impact on rural and farming life for 100 years is Frank Hill who, having served in the Army, began auctioning livestock in Hull in 1924 and there will be a special Show & Sale at Dunswell Mart to mark the occasion.

Frank Hill & Son, which came about when Frank’s son Charles Biglin Hill joined his father, has been synonymous with the area’s livestock markets providing rural and agricultural services to farmers and landowners throughout the decades and continues today with the third Hill generation represented by Charles Francis Hill, a director and shareholder who farms at Skeffling.

Day-to-day management of Frank Hill & Son in its Patrington office, and the running of the livestock market, located for the past twenty-two years at Dunswell between Hull and Beverley is conducted by directors Ralph Ward and Philip Mortimer who have been joined in recent years by local farmer’s son James Buckton from the village of Rise.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Ralph was born in Thornton-le-Dale and started his career with DDM in Lincolnshire. He has seen many changes to the East Yorkshire farming landscape in his 48 years with Frank Hill & Son.

The Cattle Market,  Skidby Ings, Hull, East Yorkshire. Phil Mortimer selling sheep at the auction.The Cattle Market,  Skidby Ings, Hull, East Yorkshire. Phil Mortimer selling sheep at the auction.
The Cattle Market, Skidby Ings, Hull, East Yorkshire. Phil Mortimer selling sheep at the auction.

“When I started we were operating three days a week in the livestock markets in Hull and Beverley,” says Ralph.

“The two markets were amalgamated into one at Beverley and when our lease was terminated in 2001 we found a new home in Dunswell where farmer Geoff Rawson sold us a small acreage.

With the closure of Driffield livestock market, that also took place in 2001, Dunswell Mart, often referred to as Hull Livestock Market, became East Yorkshire’s last market standing.

Ralph says the livestock market continues to hold its own.

Auctioneers James Buckton,  Phil Mortimer and  Ralph Ward at Hull livestock marketAuctioneers James Buckton,  Phil Mortimer and  Ralph Ward at Hull livestock market
Auctioneers James Buckton, Phil Mortimer and Ralph Ward at Hull livestock market
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We sell one day a week now, each Monday, selling cull sows and fat pigs and sheep. We sell store cattle and calves fortnightly. Issues are there are fewer purchasers of stock and fewer farmers actively involved in rearing stock. We’ve seen big changes particularly in the pig industry, it’s a numbers game and we’re principally in an arable area.

“I was more concerned about the market’s future in our first five years at Dunswell than the past seventeen years. Our bread and butter when we started was cull sows. There aren’t as many as there once were, in terms of vendors, but those who’ve stayed in pigs are keeping more and we have found good support from those with medium to bigger herds selling cull sows and fat pigs.

“Sheep numbers come and go at times, there are always people coming into the sheep sector and most new entrants and some bigger ones are supporting us.

“We’re also getting support from livestock men and women over the Humber Bridge in North Lincolnshire. We’re getting cattle and sheep from there, which is good for our business. We hadn’t anticipated we would get some of the share of Newark livestock market’s business when it closed, but that’s what has happened. People who come from further afield say they come because they like the way we operate.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

James came back to his home livestock market having initially started his career at York Auction Centre and says that last year was the best in terms of livestock throughput at the mart in his six years.

“It was the best result since I’ve been here. One of the big frustrations we have is that although there are so many pigs in the area, many are not available to us because they are owned by bigger pig companies and those who keep them are now purely looking after them on bed and breakfast arrangements, but we are keeping our numbers up overall.

It is the changes to farming in Holderness and the East Riding, that Ralph has lived through in the past half century, that have defined the services Frank Hill & Son offers and the shape of today’s livestock market.

Ralph says the popularity of growing oilseed rape contributed to a move away from mixed farming to arable farming.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Oilseed rape coming in as a break crop brought a major change. It has been a tremendous break crop in the region and transformed what were mostly mixed farms until then into going over to being almost purely arable farms.

“When I started in 1976 the majority of our clients had breeding sheep, a few breeding pigs and fattening cattle but with the advent of oilseed rape most grasses were ploughed out and temporary grasses used for sheep were not sown again. It became very much arable cropping of oilseed rape, winter wheat, winter barley rotation for 40 years but there are big changes happening again now with the lack of chemicals available to use, particularly for the growing of oilseed rape and we are seeing the crop being abandoned.

Ralph also points to energy supplies, whether gas, electricity and lately wind power all being important aspects of advice and work that Frank Hill & Son has been at the centre of in helping farmers.

“Our work has been with the rural community from the sale of livestock, property and machinery, advice on Government schemes and infrastructure for power supplies.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We’re in a corridor down to the east coast that saw us originally working on such as gas pipes, but now electricity supplies coming from offshore windfarms including inland converter stations, underground work to the coast, feeds into the National Grid. We have a lot of expertise that way, including at Saltend and at Easington. There are lots of planning stages for all these things.

Ralph says that it is probably too early to say what the new SFI schemes will do for farmers in the Frank Hill & Son area but that recent weather conditions and another disaster for many with oilseed rape may accelerate involvement.

“The amount of rainfall we’ve had and the fact that most of this year’s oilseed rape crop has failed has meant people looking a lot more seriously at SFI than they were doing a year ago.

James has just completed what became a five-year course as a result of Covid, as Best Graduating Livestock Auctioneers Association Student through Harper Adams; and Philip, who has his own farm, became elected as vice president of the East Riding Valuers Association part of the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, of which Ralph is a past-president, in January this year.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Philip sells the sheep and pigs,” says Ralph. “I sell the store cattle, and James is on the calves. It’s James who has brought us into the 21st century at last with online auctions and is our principal for all things electronic auctioneering.

Frank Hill & Son will be celebrating 100 years with a special Show & Sale day at Dunswell Mart on Monday May 20 starting at 9.30am

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.