Where money shows through

Gill Armer who runs the cafe at Gisburn Auction Mart.
Gill Armer who runs the cafe at Gisburn Auction Mart.
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Continuing her tour of the livestock markets, and meeting the people there, Sarah Todd pays a visit to Gisburn.

FIRST impressions of Gisburn Market are big – maybe even a touch flash – but very definitely a breath of fresh air.

There was a preconception at the beginning of this series, touring the county’s livestock markets, that most people met would be a) over 60 and b) male. Add to that the agricultural predisposition to pleading poverty and it’s easy to see why Gisburn, lost to Lancashire in the boundary shake-up of the 1970s, stands out from the crowd.

It has an air of affluence that sets it apart. Never before have so many brand new Range Rovers and double-cab pick-ups been seen in one place. Maybe this combination of old West Riding meets Lancashire, via the fertile Ribble Valley that runs alongside it, has bred a generation less likely to hide their wealth under a bushel. They looked to be getting out and spending it.

There was a noticeable younger element around the ringside. Throw in a handsome 20-something-year-old with his hands on the gavel and a lady auctioneer and there’s a hint of a perhaps slightly maverick – definitely go-getting – set up.

Watching 43 year-old Rachel “keep ’em coming” Capstick sell calves is an education.

“Spin it around,” she shouts down, without missing a beat. “Let’s have a proper look…”

This Lancashire lass – “living in exile married to a Yorkshire farmer” – has each animal expertly valued in her head before bidding starts. But let’s not tiptoe around, she’ll have had to have been sharper than many a good man to survive in this business.

She had loved public speaking in the Young Farmers’ Club and was always first to put her hand up and volunteer if there was a panto in the offing.

“I knew I could do it, the problem was persuading other people,” she said. “All credit to my boss, Richard Turner, who gave me a job. There wouldn’t be many – even nowadays – who’d take a chance on a 19-year-old girl.

“Another auctioneer once said I’d never be anything more than a clerk and that made me even more determined. I’m not a raving feminist, but knew I could do it and didn’t want to let Mr Turner down. I started selling little £1 items at farm sales and went from there.”

Now the mother of three sons aged 11, 10 and five, Rachel is particularly proud of the Saturday market and the pig sale she set up.

“There’s a super atmosphere,” she says. “You can’t move for people. Plenty of them hobby farmers; it’s a real old-fashioned day out.”

Rachel is pals from those Young Farmers’ days with Gill Armer, who runs the market café. Readers of the Farmers Weekly may well remember that she won the much-coveted title of Britain’s Best Market Café in 2003.

She’s up at 4am on market days, baking everything fresh. The best seller is the steak pie, with all meat being supplied by Cleckheaton wholesale butcher Richard France.

She remembers coming to the market 30 years ago with her farmer and dealer granddad and one side of the café being “really posh” with steak being served and cups of tea poured from the finest china pots. There are still tableclothes at this side of the café, with the other area far from scruffy. Another breath of fresh air is Gill’s mum, Dorothy, who looks like she should be waiting-on in Bettys tearoom, she’s so immaculately turned-out.

“You’ve caught me having a brew,” says the boss’s son, 26-year-old Jonathan Turner.

He went the traditional way of studying to be a chartered surveyor at Harper Adams but has returned home with none of the brogued pretentiousness that can creep in.

Perhaps because his dad – who sells the prime stock – had him selling bits and bobs at farm sales from the age of 15. Or maybe it’s just the confidence of being the “seventh or eighth” generation to do the job. It certainly doesn’t sound like he’s been spoilt.

“I got a job labouring for the builders who put up this shed,” he says as we admire the huge buildings that house the five sales rings. “I needed to raise some money to go to university.”

Fred Spurgeon was a farmer until he seriously damaged his back loading a bull into a trailer. Thinking outside the box again, young Jonathan’s father gave him a job as a fieldsman to try to increase the number of dairy cattle coming to the mart.

“He then suggested that I gave selling them a go,” says Fred, who like Rachel puts his gift of the gab down to the Young Farmers.

“I loved my dairy cows and it broke my heart to have to give up the farm,” remembers Fred. “But I had to have a major operation on my back and there was no way I could look after them any more.

“I’ve taken a bit of stick from the other farmers, but it’s all in good humour. I dread to think what would have happened to me if I’d not come here to Gisburn Market.”

Fred isn’t daft. He can see with his own eyes what struck this correspondent when first stepping across the threshold.

“There’s a new generation of farmers coming through,” he agrees. “I don’t know if that’s because we do a lot with the local young farmers’ clubs, because we’re a fairly young team of auctioneers, or just the way things have turned out. Whatever it is, it’s grand to see.”

Gisburn Auction Mart, Gisburn, between Skipton and Clitheroe on the A59. More information from 01200 441666 or visit www.gisburnauction.co.uk