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Shaftesbury’s last cattle sale ends a Dorset way of life

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AT 3.15pm exactly on Thursday 10 January 2019 auctioneer Iain Soutar’s hammer came down at £1,445 on the sale of Colin Mitchell’s magnificent Angus steer to Sherborne farmer Mike Dibble,
reports Richard Thomas

It was the last animal to be sold at the last livestock market in Dorset, ending a hundreds years-old tradition. Shaftesbury market is now closed and will shortly be demolished to make way for a supermarket.

When the farewell applause had died down and Mr Soutar had said his goodbyes, the crowd of local famers from all over the Dorset and beyond who had gathered at Shaftesbury market for Southern Counties Auctioneers’ last sale slowly dispersed and went their separate ways.

Only a small number of them had come to the market to buy and sell. The majority had come to witness an extraordinary piece of history in the making and to meet up again with old friends, some for perhaps the last time. The market on this, its final, site had opened when they were barely teenagers.

The final market started late and went on far beyond its allotted time. It was that sort of event. But all agreed the day had a special buzz and atmosphere as befits such a weighty occasion. Shaftesbury market had always been popular among the farmers of Hardy’s ‘vale of dairies’.

The subsequent sale of motley market equipment, of gates and hurdles, weighing machines and pens, mostly for scrap, was something of an anticlimax by comparison but it underlined the finality of it all.

A cattle market run along almost exactly the lines experienced by today’s farmers had been held in Shaftesbury for at least 150 years and probably before that on different sites in the town. So today’s end held a special poignancy for those who understood the history of it all – for it marked the end of a social tradition and way of life the like of which is unlikely ever to be seen again in the county.

Cattle market Shaftesbury
A last day of trading at Shaftesbury’s cattle market.

No one said a prayer today for that lost way of life, at least not out loud, but you could feel the emotion in the air as tangibly as you could see and hear and smell the 200 or so wild-eyed cattle that bellowed and mooed and slithered their way through the metal stalls and clanging gates and the straw-strewn sales ring to new owners and new homes, urged on by the shouts and banter of the market stewards wielding their sticks. It must always have been thus.

In a few months nothing on that site will remain. But the ghosts of the farming history it represents will surely linger in the folklore of the town and the vale around it.

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