Going, going... for 100 years

THE farming community are looking forward to a summer of celebrations this year as Bentham Auction Mart celebrates its 100th anniversary.

The auction mart, to the rear of Main Street in Bentham, was founded in March 1903 by Bentham-based auctioneers Richard Turner and Son. The first sale was held in July 1903 and the auction still remains at the heart of the district's rural economy.

The auction mart had 77 shareholders from across the farming community when it was first set up, and some of those original names are still familiar today with the Butterfields of Bank Head in Bentham, Thomas Marshall of Bentham, the Blacows of Lowfields in Burton-in-Lonsdale, J.W Smith of Whinneymire, Henry Slinger, John Ellershaw of Clapham, John Morphet or Nether Lodge, Thomas Wilcock of Mount Pleasant and John Taylor of Botton Head among the families still involved in farming in the area to this day.

Richard Turner and Son auctioneers and valuers also still remain as secretary and auctioneers, and through the years have seen the business grow from strength to strength.

The senior partner, Richard Turner, said: "My grandfather was a founder of the auction mart company and my father was the first secretary.

"My grandfather was evidently friendly with William Mitchell, the Lancaster brewer, who owned the Royal Oak Hotel and the land behind it. It was William Mitchell who agreed that he would build an auction mart on the land behind the Royal Oak and rent it to a limited company if my grandfather would organise the foundation of the company.

"We then bought the site from William Mitchell for 4,500 on December 6, 1947."

The auction mart has seen many changes through the years, one of the major ones being the sheer number of animals passing through its gates.

Auctioneer Steven Dennis, said: "When the auction mart was first established, it said in the minutes that provision had to be made for 200 sheep and 30 cattle.

"Back then farming methods meant there wasn't as much stock in the area but now we have had to increase the size of the building and the autumn sales can see up to 1,200 cattle and in the larger sales we can see up to 12,000 sheep."

As well as the increase in the number of animals at the auction mart, the business has also enjoyed financial growth through the last century.

Richard Turner said: "The turnover for the first year was 29,189, 12 shillings and 6 pence. This figure grew to 116,020, 12 shillings and 6 pence during World War One but in the recession it crashed down to 40,403 and 2 pence and only started to rise back to the 100,000 mark in 1937-8.

"From then on it has gone from strength to strength and we are weathering the storm better than most markets. We have kept our heads above water and the auction mart actually made a profit last year, unlike most markets."

One of the reasons why the company has become so successful lies in the fact that the auction at Bentham has remained resilient in the face of agricultural crisis.

Mr Dennis continued: "Back then each town would have its own auction mart. However, a lot of the auction marts have been closed for example at Hellifield, Carnforth, Kirkby Lonsdale and Long Preston and so now more people are bringing their stock to us.

"When Bentham auction mart first started the stock came from a very local area and the stock was herded into the auction by foot for miles and then either walked back to a different farm or taken away on the train. However, now the animals are being waggoned from a much bigger catchment area from places such as the Lakes, Blackpool and Blackburn.

"Things really have changed quite a lot. In the middle of the last century it was not uncommon to see 200 newly calved cows in the market, but Brucellosis, Mad Cow disease and latterly Foot and Mouth have reduced the newly calved cows to a handful of 20 or 30 in a week, but in place of that we see the growth of the store cattle and store sheep trade, particularly the store and fat sheep where each Wednesday we now see an average of 2,000 sheep come through.

"Some of the changes have occurred because farming methods have changed and farms have grown in size, small farms in the area of about 50 or 60 acres each were common, whereas now they are well up in the 100s of acres."

However, despite the changes in farm size and methods, the old-fashioned way of selling animals hasn't changed since the market was established.

Mr Dennis said: "The auction was out of operation for a year because of foot and mouth, but people came flocking back.

"The farmer still brings his stock to the market and the animals are still paraded around the ring.

"People like to see what they are buying. It is a tried and tested way and they haven't found a better way yet.

"For Bentham it is important that the auction has done well and maintains the business of a market town on a Wednesday."