Symonds & Sampson at War

Symonds & Sampson at War

Will Wallis and Adam Taylor were invited to speak at ‘A Dorchester Show’, an evening with guest speakers and historians discussing the county town during World War I organised by St Osmund’s School who are performing a play they have written called ‘When The Men Marched Away’ on the 27th & 28th March.

Symonds & Sampson were established back in 1858 and were in operation in the town during The Great War and Will and Adam were able to give a flavour of what was happening in farming and the firm.

Back in 1914, the firm were principally auctioneers selling livestock, chattels and property and were closely associated with agriculture. This was at a time when there were many more livestock markets than today including Blandford, Wimborne, Dorchester, Ringwood, Sturminster Newton (which closed in the 90’s) and Shaftesbury which is closing this year. 

During the war, livestock and wheat prices rocketed due to rationing. From 1910  to 1917 after the Corn Production Act was passed guaranteeing a minimum price for wheats and oats and a minimum wage for labourers the price per quarter had doubled from 25s 8d (£101 today) to 75s 9d (£302 today). During 1916 Britain only had a six week supply of wheat and the Government imported much of it from India demonstrating the enormous shortage of home grown crops. Livestock prices also increased due to a shortage of animal feed with a chicken costing up to £1.48s a whopping £53.63 today.

Other prices we achieved for livestock in 1918 included:

Fat Cattle - £45.00 (£2012 in today’s money)

The top price we achieved in the same week in 2018 was £1472

Barren Cows - £32 10s (£1453 in today’s money)

The top price we achieved in the same week in 2018 was £1305

Meat, butter, cheese and bread were a huge luxury during the war and it is clear that the war went on to shape the future of farming.

More than 170,000 (about a third) of farmers fought in the trenches and 500,000 farm horses were taken by the War Office. Due to the lack of labour, farmers had to adapt the way they worked which encouraged them to develop more efficient ways of production and to use every viable bit of land as reliance on home grown produce increased as German U-boats cut off trade routes.

98,000 women worked on farms and 66,000 soldiers were allowed to return from war to help with harvest.  In Dorchester, Prisoners of War at the Poundbury Barracks were also used as labour. The shortage of workers helped introduce the use of tractors and in 1917 the UK Government bought 400 tractors. By the end of the war 6,000 tractors were in use across Britain and more food than ever was being grown. The hard work of the wartime farmers and women helped ensure we were not starved into submission and unlike the Germans never faced famine.

However, where agricultural produce and livestock were so dear, houses were exceptionally cheap. In 1914 a house in Icen Way with a shop sold for £130 (£5,164 today) and similar houses in the town were let for around £66 per annum (£2,400 today), but during the war very little property was sold as moving house was clearly not at priority. Recently we sold a property in Icen Way for around £400,000 and have let one for around £10,000 per annum showing the exceptional increase in property prices.

Today Symonds & Sampson still sells livestock at Frome Livestock Market twice a week and until the 1990’s held the famous Dorchester May Sheep Fair selling around 3,500 sheep.  Although we still have an office in High West Street, Dorchester we now operate from 13 towns across Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire, but our roots are never forgotten.

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