Howard calls time on mart career after decades at Otley

Howard Marshall has been yard foreman and drover at Wharfedale Mart for over 30 years.Howard Marshall has been yard foreman and drover at Wharfedale Mart for over 30 years.
Howard Marshall has been yard foreman and drover at Wharfedale Mart for over 30 years.
Running down Otley Chevin might seem an ordinary activity to today's fitness brigade of Lycra-clad athletes but it was once a weekly occupation for Howard Marshall, three times in a day with cattle, as he brought them down to market firstly as drover and latterly yard foreman.

Last Friday the man who has been a mainstay of Wharfedale Farmers Auction Mart in Otley for the past 34 years, and who has witnessed first hand both the glory times and dark days of livestock markets since the 1980s, was brought from the shadows of his ‘office’ to centre stage in the cattle ring as a presentation was made on his last day in charge. He was a somewhat reluctant hero.

“I think there’s a bit of a conspiracy going on today,” he uttered with a grimace and just the slightest of twinkles in his eye.

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“People keep wishing me a happy retirement but I keep telling them I’m not retiring I’m just giving up this job and doing my own thing. The lad taking over from me is Colin Boulding. He’s worked here with me for a while and I wish him well, but I won’t be coming here getting in the way otherwise he won’t be able to run things properly.

“I’ve said I’ll come down for the swilling down when there’s nobody about, that’ll do for me.”

Howard has seen it all in his time. He’s a born and bred Otley lad and his father Angus once worked at what was once the town’s other livestock market Bridge End.

“My granddad on my mum’s side Billy Slater used to buy cattle and other livestock for butchers in Leeds. My uncle Ernest Morris was a farm manager to a Mr Avison in Hampsthwaite near Harrogate.

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“I used to go to Bingley Auction Mart with Granddad Billy from being nine-years-old and in the early 1960s I would go to help Mr Avison. He’d promised me a job on the farm when I was old enough and had a bit of experience and so I started working for Fred Greenwood livestock hauliers when I was 15.

“Mr Avison was killed in a car crash and my world fell apart for a while. I remember crying my eyes out because I couldn’t go back to the farm, but time jogged on and after three years as a book man sorting out sheep for Fred Greenwood’s I started here on a six-month trial as a drover on £7.50 a week in 1970. No-one’s ever told me if I was any good or not but I could have done with a rise.

“Working on livestock haulage had been a real help for what I was to do here because I already knew how to load a wagon and what to do with an awkward pig or cow. Animals are only like you and me, they get frightened and you’ve just got to get inside their heads.”

Having tried out a different career from 1979 to 1982 when he worked in the kitchens of High Royds Hospital in Menston he came back into the mart fold in 1982 as mart foreman to auction mart manager and auctioneer Ben Atkinson. It was also the year he married the lady who he felt deserved the presentation just as much as him. There’s the briefest of trembles to his bottom lip.

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“I met a wonderful woman called Jean Asquith. This is where I get a bit emotional. She’s absolutely fantastic and whatever we’ve done has been together. She’s a lot younger than me and she’s been my rock. We have two brilliant kids who are both involved in farming. Kev has land and his own sheep. He clips and showers sheep for other farmers. Gillian milks sheep for the Heslops of Spofforth. They’re both great. Jean is a star.

“Ben and I talked about everything we did and in 17 years we only had a couple of ‘moments’, but I don’t argue with anyone because I always say that when you argue you say something you don’t mean. He was the best auctioneer I ever worked with. The best I ever saw away from here was Tom Lister. He never got flustered and would just keep on going. He’d always say thank you for your custom and saying thank you is something I’ve always said to my team.”

Howard’s inspiration for teamwork and leading came via his love of Liverpool Football Club who he has followed since 1971.

“Bill Shankly once said ‘you don’t play for Liverpool football club, you play for them’ and that’s how I have felt with my team. My policy has always been that the customers come first as they bring the stock that keeps the mart alive, then my team come next. I’ve always made sure that they’ve had something to eat before we start selling. I’ve always been there for them and thanked them. If there are things that have needed saying they have been done to one side not in front of others.”

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The year 2001 was the worst Howard ever experienced. It was when Foot and Mouth Disease closed every auction mart in the country.

“It affected everybody. I was on Teletext every day checking on where it had reached. It took out friends’ farms and a local farmer took his own life. Other things took hold too and it got on top of me. I remember crying my eyes out and Jean saw how hard it had hit me, but the mart kept going and it is still here today.

“It’s nothing like the numbers we had every Monday in the 1980s when we used to have 560 fat cattle, 1300 sheep, 400 pigs and 400 calves. Those were the days and we’ll never see them again but I have to say that if I had my time again I’d be here and I’d marry the same woman. Whether she’d have me is another matter.”


Howard’s lasting memories include running cattle down the Chevin; seeing York cattle market at its height; and a man who cared more for his cows’ appearance than his own.

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“The best sight I ever saw was at York where The Barbican Centre is today. Every pen around the castle walls was full of Irish cattle. It was simply amazing.

“We had one farmer who would come with a milk cow, wash it for an hour and it would look spotless. He’d walk into the ring looking as mucky as hell himself. Come to think of it we’ve had a lot like that!

“I’m now looking forward to spending time with my grandkids.

“Now I have William and Ben two hours at the mart and I’m absolutely jiggered!”

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