31 Days of History: 1954 Prize Winning Cow

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The history of the markets in York date back to earlier than the 19th century, with wool being sold from Peasholme Green, and a cattle market opened outside Walmgate Bar in 1827. Fish markets were held in St Sampsons Square and many stalls filled the Parliament Street from 1836.  In the 20th century, York’s prosperity was based on chocolate manufacturing and the railways. Transport had evolved and the city was ever growing, with people travelling into the city more and more to trade and earn a living. The cattle markets in York were popular with the farmers of surrounding rural areas, and many would travel into the city to buy and sell livestock.

Geoffrey Marshall, now 81 years old, was born and raised in Little Fenton just outside Tadcaster. He grew up with his family on Manor Farm, tending to livestock and regularly lending his father a hand with the selling of the animals. Geoffrey remembers the cattle markets in the centre of York, once located where the newly reopened Barbican now stands. “My earliest memories are of being taken to the cattle markets which in those days were in the town. I would have been about 10 years old when my dad took me. The car park was across the road, but there were not many cars 70 years ago so they used to have the horse show and sales in there. My best memories are of mares and foals and I can remember them selling the foals, which were sold in guineas. A good foal would be 10 or more, which in those days was quite a good price. They also sold cattle, pigs, sheep and horses.”

Keeping with family tradition, Geoffrey set up his own farm, Grange Farm in Little Fenton, and has now lived there with wife Margret for 50 years. “Across the road from the market were the cattle pens, lots of them, filled with cattle brought over to be sold. When I started a farm on my own, I loved taking pigs nearly every week and cattle now and again. It was interesting to see how much they would make, although it was half a day away from the farm work.” The livestock often made Geoffrey money, and he went on to talk about the monthly British Friesian sales where he would sell some of his herd of 60-70 cattle, known as the Marfen Herd. Photographed is one of his prize winning cows, which sold for 200 guineas on 29th September 1954.

York’s role as a market town continued, although the cattle market was moved out of the city to the village of Murton on the outskirts of York. The cattle market, now known as York Auction Center in Murton is still trading on a very similar basis as it did back when Geoffrey remembers it in the 1950s.


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