A key institution and the beating heart of the farming community for the last 130 years is celebrating 50 years at its latest site, an eight acre plot in Wyresdale Road, Lancaster.
While better known locally, archives reveal that months after opening, Lancaster’s purpose-built cattle mart, complete with ring, pens, restaurant and pub, was visited by a group of African MP’s from Tanzania.
Fifty years on, Lancaster Auction Mart’s pivotal role within the rural economy may seem obvious, providing a transparent and open market for livestock, but celebrations will also acknowledge its wider community remit.
“Auction marts are not just about livestock; they’re also about people,” said John Hughes, who has been working at the mart for more than 40 years.
“We are a vital meeting point for farmers where they can meet like-minded people, share problems and high points.
“Whilst games of draughts no longer take place in the restaurant, the spot is still a popular destination with diners on sale days.
“And at Christmas the farming community also come together for the sell-out concert which has raised thousands of pounds for local charities over the years.”
John added: “Those at the start of their farming careers are also encouraged, through a young handler initiative now in its fifth year.
“Of increasing importance, it is also a place where professional advice can be found and the latest changes to affect the industry debated.”
Over the last 50 years, those involved with Lancaster Auction Mart have had a ringside seat on the impact of changes and challenges facing the local farming sector.
One of those is local farmer John Drinkall.
The chairman of the L&K Group plc which owns the mart, John runs a large dairy and sheep farm on the Abbeystead Estate near Lancaster with his three sons.
He’s a regular face at Lancaster Auction Mart and is totally committed to the auction mart business.
John was instrumental in bringing the businesses of Lancaster Auction and Kendal Auction together in 2005.
John, whose ancestors were original shareholders, said the mart provided a vital service for the north Lancashire farming community.
“Despite the changes in farm size and methods, the old-fashioned way of selling animals hasn’t changed since markets were established,” he said.
“The farmer still brings his stock to the market, and we’ve seen some of the finest animals in the rings here, and they are still paraded around.
“People like to see what they are buying and, so far, nothing can beat this tried and tested way.”
Quernmore’s John Hughes, who started as trainee auctioneer in 1972 and who now heads up the NWA’s professional advisory team, has seen the business respond to many challenges in the last 50 years.
Recently he says the business of farming has become increasingly complex.
He said: “Farmers need to keep up with new funding formulas and legislative requirements, be on the look-out for diversification opportunities, find ways to increase productivity, manage the environment and respond to development approaches and potential.
“It’s a business that depends on input from a wide range of professionals from planning and land experts to surveyors and arbitrators.”
John also describes how the sheer number of animals passing through it directly impacts on income raised through commissions. Adding that the other big change has been how the animals are transported.
Originally they were driven to market on foot, sometimes arriving by train, the next development was the haulier, who would collect livestock from the surrounding farms. Today farmers usually bring in their own animals.
John added: “As a business the last 50 years has seen us go from strength to strength.
“With the exception of a few lean years, we’ve been able reward our loyal shareholders with reasonable dividends.
“The fact that we are one of the area’s few remaining marts is testament to our success in overcoming challenges such as Brucellosis, BSE and two outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease.
“We are also keen to support the next generation of professionals working here, like our latest trainee Katie Grieve, who came here at a very young age with her grandad.
“And we were delighted to hear in January that William Alexander, 24, a fieldsman and trainee auctioneer, received the Dick Harrison Trust Award for being the best first year student in his course at Harper Adams.”
The final word must go to the chairman John Drinkall: “Looking to the future, those involved in the mart certainly hope it will be around for another 50 years but for that to happen we will need to face new challenges including the need to reinvest in premises.”
Two anniversary sales have been held to mark the 50th birthday, with further events planned for later in the year.