Thursday the 10th January 2019 - the date when Shaftesbury Market became the latest livestock market to close its gates for the last time. On the day, the pens were full of cattle, the ringside seats overflowing and there was standing room only. Proof, you might say, of the popularity of the market forum, yet in many ways this medium by which farmers trade their livestock is already from a different, and now vanishing, era. The farming industry itself in Britain is changing, so it is not surprising that this auction centre will no longer operate. Like Sussex, Hampshire and Wiltshire before it, the last livestock market in Dorset now closes. A supermarket will take its place.
Shaftesbury saw three generations of the Jeffrey family practise their auctioneering skills there until their amalgamation with Salisbury brought about the creation of Southern Counties Auctioneers in the mid 1990s. In the heyday of cattle farming in the Blackmore Vale, a thousand head of stock would pass weekly through the rings at Shaftesbury. Maybe it is a 'generation' thing as much as an economic one but for those of us who remember how it was, contemporary agricultural life is just not the same. Perhaps we are witnessing the change in British farming on a bigger scale. The Europe debate continues but, whatever the outcome, markets are more global nowadays. And consumer tastes are changing: pizza, pasta, fruit and vegetables are all popular and are often more commonly or easily produced in other countries. Maybe England must rely more on its other assets - history, landscape, enterprise - and it will be the food produced worldwide that provides for our table.
British enterprise and innovation will no doubt still flourish and succeed - it will just continue to change. Hindsight will in due course provide the answers when, in years to come, we look back and see what has happened to the historic town of Shaftesbury since January 2019....and for that matter to the world, this country and ourselves.