When Blandford had a livestock market
As you wander down Blandford you might notice a small street called ‘Sheep Market Hill’ that leads down from the Post Office to the centre of town. Although there would be few who would remember it, Blandford was once home to a thriving livestock market.
Of course, it is still well known as a market town but there is no longer an animal in sight. However, its economic mainstay for many years was its livestock and wool trade and these markets continued weekly until 1930. You have no doubt enjoyed spending time near to where the market used to be as you sip a Badger beer in Crown Hotel garden with the old market site just meters away.
Sadly the cattle trade seemed to have been lost after this time as Sturminster Newton Market (which shut in the 1990’s) and Shaftesbury market (closing this year) grew. However, the annual sheep fairs continued on this site until 1939 and Saturday sheep markets thrived on the aptly named Sheep Market Hill and you may be surprised to know that these ran in the town until 1977.
As I was clearing out some old papers in the office over Christmas I found a small booklet detailing the statistics from both the Blandford Fairs and the Sturminster Newton markets where we were the auctioneers. They started in February 1938, with some weeks missing due to the foot and mouth outbreak at the time.
Whilst Sturminster quickly became Britain’s largest calf market selling a total of 7,644 in 1938 alongside 19,667 pigs it is still the Blandford Fairs that fascinates me. They took place in June, August, September, October and November and entries ranged from 1760 to 192. If you have been down Sheep Market Hill you can imagine that at time this could have been quite a squeeze! At this time the Corn Exchange and Shambles would have also been full of traders and agricultural types looking for work.
Although the Sheep Fair of Blandford waned, Symonds & Sampson continued to run a sheep fair well into the 1990’s in Dorchester and still sell sheep today at Frome Market on a Wednesday.
Sadly, I cannot find any photos of the Blandford Sheep Fairs and would be delighted to see some so please if you have one, send it to me!