The livestock markets of Chichester

On Wednesday, October 24, 1990, 30 years ago, the gavel struck on the last ‘beast’, a barren Friesian cow, to be sold at Chichester’s final livestock market, marking the end of centuries of livestock trade in the city.

Chichester’s first market place, known as the Forum, was constructed around 2,000 years ago in the Roman period. Early records show that markets belonging to the Earls of Cornwall were held in Chichester in the 1100s. In 1316, the right to hold a market was transferred to the citizens of Chichester and in 1685 King James II granted the city a charter which enshrined the right for Chichester to hold markets ‘every week, in the said city of Chichester…for ever’.

By Victorian times, Chichester had separate sites for selling different products. The corn market, for grain, was located at the Corn Exchange in East Street, the produce market, for goods like fish, vegetables and butter, was located at The Market House in North Street, and the ‘Beast Market’, for livestock, was held in the city’s main streets.

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Tethered horses and cattle filled East Street. Pens of calves, sheep and pigs stretched from the Market Cross up North Street and sometimes spilled over into West Street. This was to the annoyance of some local residents.

Sheep sale at the new Chichester Livestock Market around 1880 to 1900

Charles Swainson, in 1866, said: “Two streets that lead to the Cross are absolutely impassable. The cattle and sheep and pigs stand in their own filth for so many hours that…they leave their marks behind on the pavement.”

The mess caused by animal markets caused many towns to move their markets to new sites away from the city centre. In Chichester, a spirited campaign by local residents forced the construction of a new site away from the city centre. Building work on the Cattle Market, off Eastgate Square, began in 1868.

Chichester had three main auction companies, Wyatts, Hobgens and Strides. Stride and Son started in 1890 and specialised in cattle and sheep. Wyatts, later Henry Adams and Partners, sold pigs and poultry and were involved in the market from the 1870s.

Auction sales at Chichester were at their height between 1900 and 1920. Some two day sheep sales included 7,000 or more sheep sent from all over southern England and East Anglia. Buyers included farmers buying store stock for fattening and local butchers buying for their own slaughter houses and shops.

The Second World War brought change, as all fat stock (stock sold for slaughter) was purchased by the Ministry of Food.

Farm animals remained a feature of the city streets into the early 1960s as animals were herded from the station or local farms to the market. As road transport replaced rail this became a less frequent sight until eventually ceasing altogether by the late 1960s.

After the mid-1970s the future of the livestock market became less certain. Its decline was multifaceted. Slaughter houses and supermarkets began buying directly from farmers, stricter health and food safety regulations came into force, and restrictions on the export of live animals meant that the cost of running livestock auctions began to outweigh the profits generated.

Redevelopment of the site and relocation of the livestock market outside Chichester was considered but eventually ruled out. In 1988, a market redevelopment sub-committee was set up, tasked with preparing a brief for the redevelopment of the Cattle Market site.

Demolition of the livestock market buildings in November 1990

The following April the council decided that the size of the livestock market should be reduced and the remainder of the site should be cleared and resurfaced. Despite much campaigning, on March 6, 1990, the council voted in favour of taking the entire site back for use as a car park. The final livestock market in Chichester took place on October 24, 1990. The site remains a car park to this day, aptly named the Cattle Market.

To find out more, visit The Novium Museum’s new exhibition, The Livestock Markets of Chichester, once it reopens. Drawing on objects, photographs, moving image and oral histories from the museum’s collection, this exhibition celebrates the city’s important historic livestock industry, still fondly remembered by so many residents.

Last day of livestock trading in the streets, North Street, Chichester on April 26, 1871