These notes were written in 1998 and since then some of the businesses they refer to have changed or relocated.
There have been markets held in Ashford for more than seven centuries. The first Market Charter was granted in 1243 by Henry III to the Lord of the Manor of Ashford to hold a market and charge tolls for the sale of animals and goods.
It was not until the 1780's that enterprising farmers began organising informal market days to take advantage of the towns prime location which was in easy reach of good stock producing areas and the consumer centres of London, Chatham and the Kent coastal towns. To encourage the market to grow farmers went into the advertising business and posted notices in the George Hotel with special offers which included proper pens at sixpence each, and "the service of careful drovers to forward such beasts as had not been sold to Smithfield Market for the following day".
This market was held in the town's Lower High Street for more than 70 years, but increasing regulations and restrictions (even in those days!) led the merchants to seek an alternative site.
History was made on 8 January, 1856, when graziers and agriculturalists met at the Saracen's Head Inn and founded the Ashford Cattle Market Company Ltd.
Lord of the Manor George Elwick Jemmett agreed to lease a field off Elwick road and the South Eastern Railway Company set out terms to provide a siding for a market site. The following month farmers and graziers signed a document pledging support for a new market. The company was formed with the issue of 250 shares at £10 each, a fair sum of money in those days.
Today, the company is the oldest, surviving, registered company in England and Wales.
The Market is used by some 5,000 farmers and provides direct employment for more than 100 people. It has become one of the most important in the United Kingdom, indeed Europe, with annual turnover of £20 million, which puts it in the top 15.
Open seven days a week, the new market reflects the same kind of vision of those intrepid farmers who set out on this path over 140 years ago.
The High Speed Rail Link.
As far back as 1986 when the Channel Tunnel Bill was in its early stages it was clear to Ashford Cattle Market Company that the Cattle Market would have to make way for the construction of a new railway line.
Between 1986 and 1995 the Market Company struggled under the blight of the High Speed Rail Link to relocate from Ashford town centre to an out of town site. These negotiations involved three abortive deals reached with different developers, each thwarted by problems directly related to the indecision and construction of the High Speed Rail Link.
Eventually, a Bill was to be put before Parliament dealing specifically with the construction of the High Speed Rail Link. This placed the Market Company under the threat of losing its town centre site and, at the very worst, the possibility of the business being extinguished by payment of a lump sum compensation.
The Market Company had originally been set up to provide services for the agricultural and rural community and the Market Company Directors were determined that the Company should continue in this vein. A highly and experienced professional team was put together to negotiate with London and Continental Railways. These negotiations took over 18 months and culminated in the Market Company petitioning the Bill at both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
Thankfully, the Chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee supported the Market Company's position and insisted on the very last day of the Select Committee's work that London and Continental Railways should agree terms with the Market Company within the next 24 hours to relocate the Company from the town centre site. London and Continental Railways would provide the Market Company with a 15 acre site on Orbital Park, close to Junction 10 of the M20 together with the funds to build the new facility.
In August of 1996 Hobbs Parker, leading a (Team of Architects, Engineers, Quantity Surveyors and Project Managers, started work on the design the New Market.
The designers had two things in mind.
To produce the very best Livestock Market in the country whilst at the same time to provide new and enhanced revenue streams to strengthen the Company's position and reduce the impact of the ups and downs of the livestock sector.
The new site has, effectively, been split into two. One half is dedicated to the livestock building, overnight lairage, lorry parking, and other activities associated with the livestock market. The second half comprises office buildings, auction suite, restaurant, cafeteria and rental premises.
The Market Company was always looking to diversify whilst maintaining the quantity and quality of its main agricultural operation. Two entirely fresh ventures for the new premises reflected this vision.
The Invicta Business Centre comprises some 15,000 sq feet of office space which is being let for general business. The location and general facilities on the site have proved a great draw.
The other main departure from the old market was to try and build a facility which was more appealing to the modern family. A substantial Auction Hall has been built into the new complex which means many more of the auctions can be held indoors including the Car Auctions and Horse Sales. This Hall also houses a significant section of the Stall Market and Boot Fair. This large building has most of its sides open to the fresh air and a large part of the structure is made of glass which makes it feel light and airy. The idea was to keep the atmosphere of an outdoor market but overcome some of the disadvantages of the weather.
The market complex also breaks new ground with the inclusion of a 6,500 sq feet children's indoor Play Centre purpose built with a three-dimensional adventure play equipment and independently managed as a separate business.
Planning permission was granted in April 1997 and Kvaerner Construction Ltd., the successful tenderers, moved on site just three days later. The construction of the market was a huge undertaking. Over 1,000 lorry loads of concrete were used, the penning for the livestock building was delivered on 30 articulated lorries, over 25 kilometres of cabling serves the lighting in the livestock building alone and during the course of the design over 800 drawings were prepared. Kvaerner are to be congratulated on building the whole complex in two or three days less than a year.
The building was handed over to the Market Company on 1 April 1998 and Hobbs Parker moved into the offices on Friday, 3 April.
On Saturday, 4 April we were simply overwhelmed by the number of visitors to the Grand Opening Fun Day. The day included a fun fair, helicopter rides, entertainers, balloon race, and a hot air balloon display and attracted approximately 10,000 visitors. The cars nearly brought Ashford to a standstill with traffic queues stretching some 2 - 3 miles in both directions.
On the following Tuesday, just five days after taking occupation of the building, we were delighted to hold the biggest ever sale of finished livestock for very many years. Some 3,500 sheep were sold on that first day. This was a huge effort on the part of all involved. Staff arrived from 2 o'clock in the morning to sort the sheep and by the time dawn arrived some 1,500 sheep had been sorted, weighed and booked in to the sale. Farmers attended the market throughout the South East with visitors as far a field as Devon.
Livestock Auctions take place on about 150 days each year with 200,000 sheep, 30,000 cattle and 5,000 pigs beings sold annually. The market facilities are arguably the best in Europe and help to draw stock from as far afield as Hampshire and Norfolk with buyers attending the Autumn Sheep Sales from throughout England. There is penning for up to 9,000 sheep or 700 cattle. This is complemented by 35 acres of grass paddocks and a dedicated indoor lairage where stock may be looked after before and after the sale.
The main sales ring is dual purpose and caters for sheep and cattle. It is heated with tired seating and accommodates about 400 buyers. A separate self contained building with smaller integral sales ring provides ideal facilities for the sale of calves, pigs and rams.
The market is used seven days a week throughout the year, only being closed for a few days during the Christmas period. Some 200 auctions take place on the site each year, together with the weekly stall markets and boot fairs, which have been recently complimented by a regular programme of leisure fairs at the weekends.
A typical week involves a car auction on a Monday evening, livestock auctions on Tuesday, a car sale on the Wednesday evening, a machinery sale on a Thursday, a livestock auction on a Friday, the stall market and craft fair on the Saturday and a boot fair and computer fair on a Sunday.
As well as the livestock auctions and car auctions we also hold auctions of antiques, household furniture and effects, agricultural and contractors machinery, horses and saddlery, property and shrubs and bulbs.
The stall market, although suffering a little at the hands of supermarkets, remains very popular with up to 150 pitches each week selling a wide range of goods from vendors throughout Southern England.
The boot fair continues to surprise us by its popularity. Many thousands of people attend every Sunday in search of a bargain.
Recently we have added a programme of leisure fairs including Antiques, Record and CD, Craft, Book, Computer and Golf Fairs which are held in the Amos Hall on Saturdays and Sundays.
Hobbs Parker are the Auctioneers at the market and also act as the managers. As well as being auctioneers, Hobbs Parker run a very substantial rural Chartered Surveyors business which includes the sale of farms, land and estates, professional services, Estate Agency and Agricultural Valuers.
The complex also provides premises for approximately 20 other businesses.
Kidzcity (Now Closed), the children's adventure play area, draws huge numbers of families. The four storey themed play structure is one of the most exciting of its kind. Kidzcity has proved extremely popular for children's parties.
The Invicta Business Centre which is a separate office facility within the complex located on the first floor has space for six businesses of 12 - 18 people.
There are about six small retail shops located in the heart of the market. In addition to these there are a number of more substantial retail shops on the outside of the building.
Hobbs Parker 1850 LLP - Romney House, Monument Way, Orbital Park, Ashford, Kent TN24 0HB
Reg No. OC313421 - A list of members is available for inspection at the address above. © 2010 The Hobbs Parker Group | Data: 25/05/2013 15:18:24