In the times prior to the early 19th century, the traditional way for farmers to sell their stock and produce was to take it to a country fair. These were held at regular intervals and many country towns still retain the market space although, sadly, the markets have long since gone. If the farmer could not strike a bargain for the livestock or the produce, it had to be taken home until the next market day.
Robinson Mitchell, born in 1821, was the seventh and last child of Bobby and Nancy Mitchell. Bobby was a clog and bootmaker and Robinson was eventually apprenticed to his father and once freed from his indentures, travelled the whole County taking new orders and repairing boots and shoes. This arduous work did not yield a large income and often, debts would begin to mount up as customers failed to pay for the work done. By 1847 Robinson decided to quit this trade and after a short spell working for one of his brothers as a bacon curer, he found that selling was much to his liking and by 1849 he had begun selling items of furniture in his own right. This was sufficiently successful to persuade him to set up a weekly sale at a site close to the (now) Mayo monument in Main Street.
The business grew too large for a street setting and the sales were moved to a wooden shed on The Fairfield, now the site of the St. Joseph's Catholic Primary School. Robinson Mitchell was, however, unhappy with the old method of selling stock and having toured the whole country he declared "I was tired of seeing the higgling and piggling which it required in order to make a five pound bargain" . He then announced that he would start taking open bids from would-be customers on the Fairfield. This is believed to be the foundation of the modern method of auctioneering used world-wide.
As business grew, a purpose-built auction mart was erected in 1865 with the adjacent family house (Fairfield House) built in 1868 (now owned by Kitchen & Bathroom Design). This was believed to be the first purpose-built livestock auction in the country. It was well-served by the new railway which ran adjacent to the mart site and business grew to encompass bigger land and property sales as well as furniture and household goods sales.
The auction in the 1980s. Photo by Jon Sharp.
Mitchell's continued to develop over the following 100 years but it became obvious that the old auction buildings were getting too small for the numbers of animals available for sale. Now that animals were brought to the mart by truck, the parking problems became acute and with the development of the town, the mart had become almost part of the centre of town rather than being on the fringe as it was in the mid 1800' s. Finding a suitable site for a new livestock mart was a long search but eventually land was obtained on part of Wellington Farm by the roundabout on the A66. Planning consent for this large project was difficult and took many years and four Public Inquiries before approval was given. The new mart site began operating in 2002 and has proved an immense success particularly after the ravages of the Foot & Mouth disaster of 2001 when so much stock was slaughtered throughout the country. The Company was rewarded for its efforts by winning the Cumberland News' "Herdie Award" as the Countryside Awards Winner in both the Agribusiness of the Year and Farming categories.
The Furniture & Fine Art section of the company has thrived under its present management to have successful and popular weekly furniture sales with six annual two-day catalogue fine art sales. This division was invited to become a member of the prestigious Society of Fine Art Auctioneers. The friendly atmosphere of the in-town market encourages first time buyers as well as the more seasoned connoisseurs. Additionally, specialist, professional valuation services are offered by the highly qualified staff. The Estate Agency division of the Company continues to sell domestic property as it has done for the lifetime of the company. It is a fact that of the houses in the area built before 1950, Mitchell's have probably sold most of them at least once during the lifetime of the property. The Land Agency division concerns itself with the sales of farm properties and land but increasingly is involved in professional advice to farmers in the light of the new legislation since 2001. In support of that activity the Company has a Professional Farm & Environment Consultancy which fills a growing demand from all areas on the agricultural industry.
Memorial to Robinson Mitchell outside the Sainburys store, built
on the site of the Mitchells livestock market in South St.
The Herdwick Ram ouside the new Mitchells livestock market.
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