Generous portions of friendly atmosphere

Ralph Coward the Market Chairman checking on some sheep  at Selby Livestock  Auction Mart.
Ralph Coward the Market Chairman checking on some sheep at Selby Livestock Auction Mart.
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In our occasional series investigating the state of Yorkshire’s livestock markets, Sarah Todd reports on the warm welcome she received on a visit to Selby.

The popular Yorkshire Post columnist Bernard Dineen opened the new Selby Market getting on for a quarter of a century ago.

Judging by the size of the greeting this correspondent received, he must have been treated like a king.

Retired farmer John Rockliff, a former chairman of the mart, was waiting outside to extend a warm welcome.

We moved on to gather our thoughts in the café where John Sissons, maker of one of the finest steak pies in the country, was straight over with a cuppa and a big smile.

He was beaming even broader when, a little later in the day, he walked over with his mobile phone.

“There’s a call for you Sarah,” he announced.

After much giggling and telling him not to tease, the mobile was passed over and at the other end was retired auctioneer and rostrum legend Robin Screeton.

“Just checking you’re being looked after dear,” came the voice at the other end.

Robin retired back in 2005 and for a not especially tall man he left incredibly large footsteps for his replacement Richard Haigh to follow.

Earlier in the year Richard was rewarded for his success with the position of managing director.

Like all Scottish-trained auctioneers he can rattle through selling livestock at a remarkable rate of knots and has that in-built sense of knowing a good ’un when he sees one.

During my visit, while Richard was busy selling the cattle, which were of real quality, his colleague Chris Clubley finished on the pigs and began tucking into a plate of sandwiches and cakes being handed around by Sylvia Swift.

A farmer’s son from Kiplingcotes, he started out working for Cundalls, the Malton-based firm of auctioneers.

When the firm was taken over by the national estate agency chain Nationwide he took the plunge and started on his own.

“I went to see Robin Screeton and he asked if I’d come and help sell at Selby Market,” remembers Chris. “Although I now have four estate agency offices in my own name there is still something special about coming to Selby. I love it.

“It’s the highlight of my week – such a friendly atmosphere.”

Chris’s firm, Chris Clubley & Co, also supplies the third auctioneer – Jonathan Wood.

Buyers at the ringside include locals such as Alec Traves and current market chairman Ralph Coward, but also those from as far afield as Sleaford and Boston in Lincolnshire, Blackpool, Aberdeen and Hull.

Sellers bring their stock to the Bawtry Road market from all corners of the county, as well as a good number from the Newark area.

With the combination of regular customers, regular trade and regular buyers normal numbers through the sale ring are up to 600pigs, 1,200 to 1,700 sheep a week, plus 400 to 500 cattle.

Chris Clubley had worked with Sue Cropper at Thirsk Market and she came over to the office at the same time.

Joan Lancaster, from Ackworth, works in the office every Tuesday and knows what she is talking about after a long career as a buyer for butchers.

Even nowadays that’s a job you wouldn’t see many women doing.

Jane Southwell joined the office team with Josie Robinson when Doncaster Market closed.

Anne Stark completes the team, all of whom are from farming backgrounds.

“Although it’s hectic on market days we all love working here,” says Sue, who lives near Barnsley and will be better-known by readers in the Thirsk area by her maiden name Sue Armstrong.

“A lot of the work is computerised now but we could all manage with pen and paper if we had to.”

Liz Wilson stamps the cattle as they come out of the sale ring, identifying who has bought them. She’s a director and vice chairman of the market.

Her family used to farm in the Selby area but moved out to Boroughbridge.

“All our local markets have closed,” she reports. “Boroughbridge has gone, plus Ripon, Panel and Wetherby so we ended up coming back over to Selby to sell our stock.”

This writer’s chaperone, John Rockcliff, of Camblesforth, was doubtless itching to hear how his cattle had sold.

His son, Ian, was sending them through the ring. The family put around 400 a year through the Selby sale ring.

But instead, he insisted on making sure this report made proper mention of the Bartle family, who owned the original market in Selby.

“Brian and Philip Bartle continue to be at the heart of the market, maintaining a family connection going back at least 90 years,” explains John, who remembers visiting the old Selby Market as far back as the 1930s.

“Philip Bartle has been our highly regarded company secretary for the last 32 years and Brian is still involved on a weekly basis.”

Selby received its market charter in 1324, when the Abbots of Selby Abbey were Lords of the Manor.

Livestock was sold in the streets for the next five centuries. A new market was opened on James Street on July 27, 1896.

Journalist Bernard Dineen came along to open this new Bawtry Road market on January 22 1988.

Before we’re done here, John introduces another former market chairman – Reg Makin, from South Milford.

“This man played a huge part in improving the quality of the cattle sold here at Selby,” enthuses John.

“He used to buy the very best animals out of South Wales and when they were ready bring them here to sell.”

If only we’d bumped into Peter Cornforth, whose son Stuart runs an animal feed and supplies company on the site, all four who have held the post of chairmen of the current market would have been met.

Come lunchtime and John Sissons modestly comes to the conclusion that a market café is only as good as the livestock trade. “You need plenty of buyers and sellers – it’s being busy that makes a market.”

On the catering front, this series of features has reported on cream cakes at Ruswarp mart and on sponge puddings and custard the length and breadth of the county. But here at Selby there’s not much appetite for desserts from the market throng.

“We’re too blooming generous with our main courses, they don’t have a lot of room left come pudding time…”

So, rest assured Mr Screeton, just like the dinners the welcome here at Selby was as generous – and warm – as ever.

Selby auction market facts

Fat Stock Sales: Gates open 5.30am every Wednesday. Pig sales start at 9am, sheep at 9.45am and cattle 10.30am

Store Stock Sales: Gates open 6.30am alternate Saturdays. Pigs sales get under way at 9.45am, sheep at 10.15am and cattle 10.45am

Fur and Feather Miscellaneous: On alternate Saturdays to store stock days. Gates open 6.30am, sale starts 10am. Fur, feather, plant and sundries with trees and shrubs in season at 10am.

For further details call 01757 703347 or visit