Town looks back on Banbury's famous cattle market on the anniversary of its closure 25 years ago

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Banbury has been looking back on Banbury's famous cattle market, 25 years since the final hammer went down on the ‘Stockyard of Europe’.

Midland Marts ran the mart from 1925 – when it moved to a ‘new’ site next to the railway station from Bridge Street, known then as Cow Fair – until June 4, 1998.

The cattle market was the largest in the UK and one of the largest in Europe. Many people were shocked at the disappearance of the mart. An alternative venue near the M4- at Huscote Farm was announced.

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In an article for the Banbury Guardian, historian Brian Little said: "At the time rumours abounded. These focussed on possible financial difficulties and failure to secure the chosen new site.

Bloxham cattle breeder Thomas Smith receives the trophy for the best beast in the Fatstock show from champion boxer Henry Cooper. Holding the Limousin bull is Peter Smith and behind him Tommy SmithBloxham cattle breeder Thomas Smith receives the trophy for the best beast in the Fatstock show from champion boxer Henry Cooper. Holding the Limousin bull is Peter Smith and behind him Tommy Smith
Bloxham cattle breeder Thomas Smith receives the trophy for the best beast in the Fatstock show from champion boxer Henry Cooper. Holding the Limousin bull is Peter Smith and behind him Tommy Smith

“Nine years earlier Midland Marts Limited had issued an information sheet detailing their activities in the town. Their key statement highlighted the fact that every year they auctioned in excess of 600,000 head of stock of all classes with a money value of over £85,000,000.

"Their weekly programme was compressed into Wednesday and Thursday but Tuesdays were reserved for special sales held under the auspices of societies such as those concerned with British Charolais Cattle and British Limousin Cattle.”

The cattle market was a huge part of farmers’ lives. Livestock was brought to Banbury from all over England and Wales and farmers were able to socialise with each other over lunch and a pint once their animals were sold. There was a bank on site so they could collect payments and stock up with supplies from John Underwood’s store.

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The mart was the brainchild of Alexander Patrick McDougall of Prescote Manor. On April 2, 1925, Edward Wood, Minister of Agriculture officially opened the enterprise.

Auctioneers at Midland Marts with Jim Watson in charge of proceedingsAuctioneers at Midland Marts with Jim Watson in charge of proceedings
Auctioneers at Midland Marts with Jim Watson in charge of proceedings

In 1950, McDougall said he was convinced ‘a really great market means so much to the citizens of Banbury’.

Midland Marts was perfectly placed to make a success of opening shows and sales of Jersey, Shorthorn and Friesian cattle. Corn merchants were accommodated and sales of furniture – the latter to ‘benefit the housewives of Banbury borough and rural district areas’.

McDougall’s third and last enterprise was the grading of stock on days other than Market Day.

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One of the biggest days of the year was the Banbury Christmas Stock Show, attracting entries of the highest quality from all over the country.

Livestock of all kinds - cattle, pigs and sheep - were brought to Banbury from all over the countryLivestock of all kinds - cattle, pigs and sheep - were brought to Banbury from all over the country
Livestock of all kinds - cattle, pigs and sheep - were brought to Banbury from all over the country

When closure came Farmer’s Weekly quoted director Jim Watson saying: “It is financially impossible to continue in our current situation. We had hoped to move to our new site at Huscote Farm, but planning approval has been called in by the Secretary of State for the Environment and it could take at least two years to get a decision.

"At the same time we are being beaten by the huge rent, rate, water and effluent overheads that go with the Banbury site as well as the fall in commission income due to the regional decline in cattle numbers and livestock prices. We have been put in a corner in which we can do nothing else because it is financially impossible to continue by renewing the lease."

Huscote Farm won planning consent but the Secretary of State was left to decide whether green belt regulations and out-of-town development codes had been breached.

Colour photos by Jonathan Humbert.

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