The Winslow primestock show and sale celebrated its 150th year with the annual event in the town’s market square on November 25. Clemmie Gleeson reports.
For supporters of the Winslow primestock show and sale, the annual event heralds the start of Christmas and, being the only remaining livestock market in Buckinghamshire, it is an important date in the business calendar too.
Now in its 150th year, the show and sale is held in the town’s market square, but it has not always taken centre stage.
There is evidence cattle were sold in the market square in 1823, with the Christmas fatstock show and sale being added some years later.
But with the introduction of motorised vehicles, the square became busier and the decision was made to move livestock sales to a site behind the Bell Hotel.
It stayed there until the site was sold for development in 2007 and the organisers moved the event to Foscote, some 20 miles away.
It continued each year as the ‘Winslow at Foscote’ Christmas primestock show.
Then, in 2014, the news came that the Foscote market site was to be closed too, and the future of the Christmas primestock show and sale was in doubt. A committed group of producers put their heads together and realised there was still a huge support for the sale.
Pauline Claridge, secretary of the show and sale committee, says: “We wanted to keep it in Winslow and bring it back to the market square.”
Pauline and her husband John, who is chairman, have 250 suckler cows and 400 breeding ewes on their farm at nearby Claydon, and had been showing and selling livestock at the show for many years.
Although there was a lot of passion for the show, Pauline admits she was not sure the plan to bring it back to the town centre would be possible.
She says: “We were very against it going away in the first place and never thought we would get the go ahead to have it in the square. But we did and everyone loves it.
“I work in the bank on the market square and people are always popping in asking about it.”
Not only is the market important for the couple’s business, but for the bigger picture too, she says.
“We are promoting livestock. There are plenty of individuals and companies against meat production, so we have to promote ourselves and this is an important part of that.”
Richard Fountaine farms near Milton Keynes and was also involved in bringing the show back.
He says: “I have done a lot of showing and think the atmosphere here is great because of the involvement of local show people and it has the support of the town. We can get 500-1,000 people here. It is one of the nicest shows we go to.”
Committee member and steward at this year’s show, Tommy Dancer, who produces beef and sheep at North Marston, says he was also sad when the market moved away from the town.
He says: “I have known Winslow all my life. It was so sad when the market ended, so it was great when John and Pauline started the committee to get us all together. It is important for local people to see.”
Once permissions had been obtained from the town council, the organising committee approached the team at Newark livestock auction.
Pauline says: “We said we wanted them to work on our behalf and we thought they would support us, and they absolutely have.
“It is a lovely range of people from young to old. We work really well as a team.”
Most of the producers bringing livestock are from Buckinghamshire, but it also attracts people from nearby Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire.
John and Pauline often have to sell deadweight at Rugby or Newark, but that is not their ‘preferred way to do it’ and they ‘want to sell at livestock markets’.
The event will never be a huge event, due to the size of the market square, she adds. But they can have a total of 105 pens of lambs and about 25 cattle.
The support of the town council and Aylesbury Vale council was vital in getting the show back in the market square, says committee vice-chairman Richard Haynes.
He says: “We started with nothing in the market square, but with the committee being so enthusiastic, we designed the rostrum in the first year and, in the second year, we put a roof on it. Then in the third year we made our arch.”
With this year being the 150th year, the committee decided to give all exhibitors a commemorative whisky tumbler. All sheep hurdles and other equipment have been purchased by the show through sponsorship and fundraising.
“It is wonderful how much support we get,” says Richard.
The show has great support from local businesses as well, says Pauline.
Sue North, of the Farm Deli, just off the market square, says the market helps connect local people with food production.
She says: “It connects people to the whole process of producing food, caring for animals and how it gets to their plate.
Obviously from a high street retail perspective, it is something unique and different and it brings people to Winslow.
“When the market was behind the hotel, it brought a different community into town and, since it left, we have lost that.
It is wonderful to have it back, even if it is just once-a-year.”
Judge Chris Bustance, Lincolnshire, chose a Limousin cross heifer from Littlewood Blues and Commercials as his champion, and later was the highest bidder for the heifer, which sold for £4,200.
The 680kg heifer was shown by 16-year-old Josh Geary. She was purchased at the J36 North West auction earlier this year. Bred by A.R. and B.J. Thompson, the heifer was purchased on behalf of Josh and his family by Paul Gentry.
In reserve was a home-bred Limousin cross heifer from Frank Page.
The lamb championship was won by John and Pauline Claridge, with a pen of four Texel cross lambs. These later sold for £260 to Mark Parrott of Whitchurch-based Parrott Bros butchers.
The Winslow show and sale is ‘the start of Christmas’, says John Gent, of Newark Livestock Market.
He says: “It is very important to keep small markets going. It keeps the community together. There is always a really good atmosphere here.”
Setting up is a joint effort with the committee, Newark staff and even local businesses getting involved.
John Gent says: “We get our electricity supply from an estate agent on the square, but by 6pm it will all be gone, and the town is back to normal and you would never know it was here.”
So, for another year, the town is back to normal business, but the team behind the primestock show remains determined the event will live on for the benefit of their businesses and the community for many years to come.