Every Wednesday at the crack of dawn Yorkshire property agent and auctioneer Chris Clubley is at Selby Livestock Market preparing to sell hundreds of sheep, pigs and cattle.
As regular as clockwork over the last 25 years, he’s been there on the same day at the same time every week - except for holidays.
It’s an achievement he doesn’t think about as he strides along narrow planks over the pens proclaiming bidding prices per kilo in a rhythmic, rapid-fire chant and catching seemingly inperceptible bidding gestures, nods and eyebrow twitches from the huddle of buyers moving quickly below him.
The speed of the process is astonishing: from the time the farm lorries arrive at around 5am to unload the pigs, sheep and cattle, then weigh and pen them, to the auction, the billing and the transfer out, everything moves like a well-oiled machine. The only (welcome) interruptions are for the full English breakfasts and roast dinners at the Selby Mart café – a must-have, mid-week refuelling experience.
It’s also an essential social experience. A time to catch up with friends, discuss business, and talk.
For Chris, the Wednesday ritual is one of the most memorable and enjoyable features of his quarter of a century in business. It’s an anniversary he almost shares with the livestock market itself, which celebrated its 25th anniversary at the purpose-built Bawtry Road site last year. It moved there in 1988 from its town centre James Street site.
He said: “For me it is the characters that make this market. I enjoy meeting them and I have made a lot of friends. I see it as a shop window for my business. It is a chance for me to meet customers and for them to meet me. Aside from the auction, they may have property or land issues they want to discuss with me and this is a good opportunity.
“And remember, farming is a lonely way of life. The Wednesday market may be the only chance some farmers will get to sit down and talk in their working week. And there’s nowhere better than John’s café."
Café owner John Sissons, from Pocklington, says: “It’s like feeding racing ferrets. The food’s got to cover the plate. It’s all cooked here and there’s nowt fussy about it. Most of them will have a full breakfast and then be back for their dinner before 12 - steak pie or roast beef, followed by apple pie or jam roly-poly with extra jam.”
He’s been running the café with a typical deadpan Yorkshire humour for 11 years and is part of the character of the place.
It’s a character that is friendly and full of banter – but there’s serious business to be done. Livelihoods may depend on the business at Selby. Respect for the auctioneer is hard earned and based primarily on how well he handles them and the auction.
It’s a tough call. Auctioneers not only need sharp eyes and swift reactions, they also need considerable expertise in assessing the value and quality of the stock to ensure a competitive price and confirmation of quality for buyers who include wholesalers, independent retailers and traditional butchers. They travel from across Yorkshire and Lincolnshire for the Selby Livestock Market and getting the right price is vital.
Chris said: “When I started out, I used to get a bit hot-headed and bad-tempered in my determination to keep control. One day, when things really got to me, a couple of dealers decided I needed to cool down and they put a hosepipe on me. I suppose you could call that a learning experience!”
Twenty-five years later, he has their respect and friendship.
“Trust goes a long way in the farming community,” said Colin Stonehouse, who farms in Burnby, near Pocklington. “The auctioneer is the middleman between buyers and sellers and he has to keep both happy. He has to be the boss – and Chris does that well.”
Buyer Stephen Hibberd, from Sheffield, added:“Chris gets on with it. He’s sharp and he understands the value and quality of the livestock. It’s important to get the right valuation before bidding starts so there’s no messing about."
“He’s built up a good rapport with farmers and buyers. He sees that we’re looked after,” said John Evans, a pig producer from Spaldington.
Ralph Coward, chairman of Selby Livestock Market, said: “Chris doesn’t need to do this anymore. He has built up a very successful business and he’s probably subsidising the pay he gets here. I think he must love the job very much.
“This is a proper market serving a wide area. Since the closure of other markets such as Doncaster and Barnsley, it’s helping to preserve a traditional rural way of doing business and it provides a social network for farmers.”
Sue Armstrong, who is part of the efficient admin team whizzing through the bills and licences for the drivers just minutes after Chris smacks the gavel into his hand, said: “I love the characters here, many of them retired farmers who come for their sons who are busy on the farms. I love to hear the stories of the old days and I wonder what will happen after the “dads” disappear. Chris knows them all and is part of the social hub here.”
Chris is a farmer’s son and learnt his trade as an auctioneer at livestock markets in Malton and Thirsk before he set up his own estate agency in Market Weighton in October 1989. He has since added offices in Brough, Stamford Bridge and Pocklington.
For a time Chris combined developing his business with being MD of the Selby Livestock Auction Mart Ltd, a job now held by Richard Haigh. They share the auctioneering duties on Wednesdays with Richard usually handling the cattle sales.
He said: “Chris is a great ambassador for our business. He has an affinity with farming and farmers and works hard to get a fair price for all in good times and bad.”
It’s a job that needs sensitivity, particularly in tough times as in 2001 when livestock markets were shut down by the Foot and Mouth outbreak.
Selby Mart has survived. Both it and Chris Clubley are still going strong.
He said: "I don’t know how much longer I will go on, perhaps a few years yet, but I do know Selby Market is one of the strongest in the country and I hope it stays that way, hopefully for another 25 years – and more.”