By Clive Dalton and Donald Clegg
An extract from the book - Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on (2003) By Clive Dalton & Donald Clegg. If you would like a copy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
A W.P.Collier photo of Bellingham mart in the 1920s before the selling rings were builtThe smell of wet sheep and muck
Bellingham Heritage Centre Collection
Bellingham Heritage Centre Collection
There’s something about a mart that still has a magnetic attraction for us old Daft Laddies where in places like Bellingham, they were highlights in the calendar. The smell of wet sheep and muck and the soonds of blaring stock, barking dogs, folk gollarin’ and the patter of the auctioneer – squeezing that last three pence oot of reluctant buyers with funny accents from doon sooth! Aall magic, man!
Little has changed over the last century or so in selling livestock despite recent advances in electronics and the Internet. Vain attempts have been made to move to computer selling where the stock never leave the peace and quiet of their grazing, and can now be bought and sold on a computer screen or by video links to different venues. Things are moving slowly.
Why the slow progress?
Don’t be fooled into thinking that marts are just for selling stock; they’re for the meeting of great minds, a good crack, telling the latest stories and downright lies! But very important, they’re a legitimate excuse to get off the farm for the day supposedly checkin oot “the trade”.
Sixty years ago in a livestock centre like Bellingham, apart maybe for the Show, there was nowt as exciting or important to the town as the mart. The shops welcomed the action and the business – and happily put up with the sheep dottles throughout the town and the stink.
The mart's order of importance
The most prestigious of sheep marts was generally the forst lamb sale, followed by the second and third and so on. Then would come the tup sales and the 'drowt yowe' sale. And in the dark days of December would be the cast tup sale. This was a small affair when most tups after a life of sex and violence were heading for a pie factory in Gatesheed.
The cast tup sale
For the village laddies just out of school, and who couldn't keep away from the mart on the way haeme, the cast tup sale had great interest. The old tups had just left their harems and were still keen to work and fight. So after being knocked down for a few quid, they were put together for their final journey. The fun started as these machismo brutes still had their status to worry aboot and defended it by ganin back 5-6 yards or mare and charged each other at full tilt. The cracks when thor heeds met were like rifle shots – often resulting in death of one of the contestants, especially Roman-nosed Leicesters if hit by horned Blackies.
We school laddies couldn’t get enough of this, and it made a great story for the next "composition" at school. I (CD) still feel aggrieved over one such essay I did for our long-suffering teacher – the late Miss Jean Milburn at the Reed's School in Bellingham. Before I described the action of the tup fight, I thought it fair to set the scene and describe the state of the "clarts". This was a normal feature of the December mart and there was great skill (to be learned by us laddies) from the oot-bye heorrds how to wipe them off your boots on the grass on the way from the mart down the steep lane into the village. You sort of trailed each side of each boot as you walked along without stopping or faalin’ ower - very tricky to learn.
Mud not clarts!
Well Jean, bless hor heart, chowed me lugs, and remonstrated there was no such thing as "clarts" - it was "mud". Now I got quite upset as anybody would, as there was a mile of difference between clarts and mud. Ivrybody knew that, surely! But of course those were the days when you didn't argue with teachers and she was ne doot anxious we larned and taalked proper!
The suckler sale
But the most exciting sale of all in the farming year was the Autumn "suckler sale" and for many reasons. First, for us village laddies, it was usually on a Saturday and we had the whole day of excitement to look forward to. Because of this, it was well worth the time and effort to gan away up Hareshaw Linn and cut a good solid hazel stick. We drooled ower the cane sticks important folk like John and Tommy Walton had or the dealers from doon sooth! They were for sale at Jack Telford's tobacconist's shop in the village, but buying a stick was an extravagance no village laddie would dare have contemplated. I looked at them often, dreaming of owning one some day.
I always envied John Walton's job at the mart - watching who was bringing the next lot of calves or sheep through the main gate and up the hill, and then checking on his catalogue which pen they had to go to. John didn't need a loud hailer and his clear "Number fowerralley" could easily be heard ower the noise of the blaring stock.
The other job I envied was that of Sammy who gave the calves a final “wesh and brush up” before entering the ring, and stuck the ticket on them with a spot of grease from a tin on the rail top. The way Sammy's hand bent round at a painful-looking angle when the job was finished seeking luck money, and the speed with which it swallowed what was offered was amazing. It was like an addor's strike.
One of the main reasons the suckler sale generated so much excitement among the village laddies was because of the danger! We all knew that Galloway and Kylie suckler calves just off their mothers hadn't seen many humans, and that these wild beasts had hair triggers on their hint legs. They could see grown-ups above their own height, but we smaller threats when discovered, got the full treatment of both hint feet in unison. A poke from your lang stick could act as a warning, or just kittle them up even more to let oot. It was great fun to give them a good poke to test their triggers!
The drive to the stationOf course as a village laddie, the challenge was to show how clivor you were with a stick, so that you would maybe get invited to partake further. There were two main accolades you could receive - the first was to be asked to help drive some sucklers to the railway station. If you were selected for this job, then you were sure of sixpence or maybe a shilling. But by heck you had to work for it and exploiting your local knowledge was paramount.
A wagon ride
The second was an even greater thrill. to be invited te gan for a ride in a wagon to deliver stock with either Harry Thompson, Jake Cowan, Tommy Smith, or maybe Tucker Jamieson from the rival company with red wagons from Wark. That gave you enormous status next day at school, even if you didn't have any income to show for it. The ride was worth more than money sacrificed.
A fish paste sandwich
But before the sale was too far through and the suckler droving to the railway station was likely to start, there was great skill in hingin’ aboot the eatin’ hoose run by Gertie Elliott from the Temperance Hotel, where some kind neighbour who was helping her would see your wan look and sneak you a fish paste sandwich or a scone. There was certainly nee time to gan haeme to eat - the risk of missing some action was far too great. And if yor muther saa the state of yor claes – ye wadn’t have gitten oot again.
The mad rush
With suckler droving, there was first the mad rush oot of the mart gate making sure the confused calves headed for Redesmouth and not Otterburn! Then they were steered around Lloyd's bank corner which was easy as there was always plenty of folk in the village to ensure that by rattling sticks and flapping raincoats. But the smart laddie would race away and block off the way to the Foundry yard and his mate would block the way down between the Northern and the Police station.
Then you had to race away past Don Mason's shop checking that the Demesne gate was shut, and block off the road to Redesmouth making sure they went below the railway arch up the Woodburn road. There was the back gate into Greenfield to check and a sneeky little alleyway at the side of the railway arch to block, and then make sure all garden gates were shut on the way up the hill to the station.
Mr Jack Hall, the dreaded “School Board man” lived in one of these hooses and it was important for us laddies to make sure his immaculate garden wasn't decimated by a suckler! There was only the gate into the station yard and the one into the Council yard to check after that, and the little wicket up to Percy Street through the gardens. Then we could safely turn them into the station pens at the bottom of the hill up to Peggie’shop.
Man it was excitin! Once they were safely corralled in the railway pens you could rattle your stick along the corrugated iron of the council yard fence to give the poor demented beasts a muckle gliff and yid see the skitta flee oot o’ thor arsees . It invariably resulted in a Scots gollarin from “Mister McKenzie” the station master on the loading dock trying to keep coont of black suckers being loaded wagons under a single very poor light.
Hing aroond for a handoot
You had to hang aroond to see if there were any handoots, and then race back to the mart hopefully to latch on to the next assignment. The excitement never slackened in the early darkness and the cold night air, as these hairy black beasts with the whites of their eyes showing with fright, pumped out steam like the six o'clock train. One year a crazed suckler escaped and went through the window of the Black Bull. That added a good paragraph in the next essay, but being a Church of England school I didn’t give ower much detail aboot the location of the event or its implications for the patrons!
Bye ye fair stink!
The funny thing was that you never noticed the mart muck on yor claes until you stepped through the back door and those familiar words fell on your lugs. "Where the divel hev ye been - de ye know what time it is? It's black dark! Git yor stinkin’ claeas off and up them stairs te bed.” It was always worth the telling off.
Jean Milburn left us in hor 90s bless her, but Aa still think she was rang. Clarts is clarts and completely different from mud! Ye only git mud sooth o’ the Tyne!
She's aall ower nuw
Well it's aall gone nuw - just memories for us ancient Daft Laddies. No doubt those who come to live in the houses which will eventually cover the mart field, may not want to be remember what went on under their feet.
But if they listen carefully on a still night, they may hear the ghosts of former days, especially the dulcet tones of the late John Walton directing lambs to "NUMBER FOWER ALLEY"!
Helen Brown took this fantastic picture below of the last mart at Bellingham.