Wednesday markets: from cattle to carriages and Christmas

Wednesday cattle market (1904)

St Albans loses its Wednesday market …

Under the terms of the 1553 Charter, two markets a week could be held in St Albans. In the early 18th century the Wednesday market lapsed and livestock and corn were sold on Saturday. This market was found unsatisfactory, so much so that farmers in the neighbourhood sent their cattle to Hertford, Barnet, Hemel Hempstead, Watford and Hitchin markets. At the same time they sold their corn at those markets. Why should this be so?

There was no doubt there were ‘Few provincial towns which possess more special advantages for holding a really good corn and cattle market than St Albans.’ (Herts Advertiser, 10 February 1872). St Albans was in the midst of corn and cattle country. The market had the advantage of access by three railways. However, if cattle were purchased on a Saturday, they could not complete their journey on the Sabbath, so there was extra expense for the buyer.

In the spring of 1872 Town Councillor Edwards was active in promoting the change of the cattle and corn markets to Wednesdays. Councillors and farmers all agreed.

We the undersigned, farmers dealers and others frequenting the St Albans market are of the opinion that it would much improve the market if the market day were altered from Saturday to Wednesday; and we request that the Town Council will take steps to bring about the proposed alteration.

… and regains it

Mr Slade, a butcher, grumbled that it would give him too much work to do! Nevertheless, the following year, stock sales did move from the Saturday to Wednesday. Messrs Harding and Eve were the auctioneers. On alternate Saturday afternoons Fred K. Gough still held auctions as he had since 1861. The corn market was likewise moved to Wednesday.

These Wednesday markets became well established is evident in an 1899 advertisement:

… ST. ALBANS WEDNESDAY CATTLE MARKET (In front of the Town Hall). MR. GIBSON Holds Sale every Wednesday, One o’clock punctually, and Store BEASTS, SHEEP, LAMBS, CALVES, and PIGS; also for HORSES, FARM IMPLEMENTS, HAY and STRAW, &. …

The market must have looked like the nineteenth century equivalent of a used car sale yard as well a livestock market when a ‘Sale of horses, carriages, carts, harness, implements was transferred to the St Albans Wednesday Cattle Market’ from Harpenden [1890].

Christmas Show and Sale

The high point of the year was the ‘St Albans Christmas Show and Sale’ one or two Wednesdays before 25 December. Entries had to be registered the week before the sale. There were prizes to be won for the best beasts. In 1904 just some of the animals for sale were 83 fat oxen, more than 400 prime fat sheep, and more than 100 fat pigs and sows. St Peter’s Street must have been full of noise and smells. Hay and straw were also entered. William Young was the auctioneer.

Christmas Shopping. Provisions plenteous. Purses light’ the Herts Advertiser regretted but

taken as a whole trade of St Albans at this most important period of the year, has reached a more satisfactory standard than at any time since the South African War. But when one turns to the realm of things edible…the butchers and poulterers commenced their show on Tuesday, and the spacious awning erected over the footways are filled with much of the best that the farmer, the gamekeeper and the poultry farmer can produce. Many of the beasts which bore with dignity the honours transferred upon them at the recent fatstock shows now hang rigidly from beams and rails preparatory to dissection into Christmas joints … The trade in beef is exceptionally good.