When cattle and pigs were sold in Watford – and caused the occasional stir

Imagine the response today if an animal escaped in the centre of Watford and was shot in front of dozens of shoppers? There would be widespread reaction on social media and it would likely make regional, if not national headlines as well.

Go back 60 or so years and such incidents were viewed differently, as John Barraclough remembered of the time when a young bull escaped and made its way up Market Street towards Upton Road.

“It did cause a little bit of comment in the paper but it really wasn’t the horror that it would have been today,” he said.

The 87-year-old, who lives in Northwood, also remembers an occasion when two pigs started fighting after getting loose from their pens in the weekly livestock market in Watford where he worked as a young man.

John become a chartered surveyor, auctioneer and estate agent as a partner with Faulkner’s in Market Street, having joined what was then Hodgson and Faulkner from school in 1953. Among the firm’s responsibilities at that time was running the livestock markets in Watford and St Albans.

He got in touch with the Watford Observer after we published a Watford Museum archive photo of the livestock market that was held every Tuesday “behind the post office” off Stones Alley, Market Street, until December 1959.

An extract from an Ordnance Survey map from 1958, showing the location of the livestock market. It’s labelled ‘pig market’

John said: “The lorries used to come in from the farms all round with their cattle, sheep, pigs and veal and they were offloaded and held in pens of various sizes depending on the strength of the animals.

“We sold from them around 9.30am until we finished usually at 12 o’clock as far as selling was concerned, but you then had to sort out how they’d been sold.

“Most of them went to the butcher who was where the central car park is now, by the [St Mary’s] church, but it was felt the animals who had been hassled into the lorries, out of the lorries, into the sale and all the rest of it, to load them up into a lorry and take them across the road and unload them again would cause undue stress. So we just to walk them over on foot, on the hoof (to the abattoir).”

Watford Observer:

The long roof line in the background with the ‘bell tower’ was Clements

There is believed to have been a livestock market on the site for 70 years, as research by the museum suggests it dates back to 1889. This was when freehold land on the Rose and Crown estate which belonged to Mr Francis Fisher, a butcher, was sold.

Market Street had been laid out at the time of the sale and gained its connection to the High Street when the shop formerly occupied by Mr Fisher was demolished after he had built a new one on the corner of High Street and New Street.

The main piece evidence about the sale of the land is a report in the Watford Observer from June 1889. This states: “Mr. C. R. Humbert has purchased a good piece of the land between Stone’s-alley and Marlborough-road for his sale yard”.

Watford Observer:

Watford livestock market was located ‘behind the post office’

Prior to buying the ‘good piece of land’ Mr Humbert, and his father before him, had been holding “Fat and Lean Stock Sales” in Market Place.

The Humbert’s business was as land agents, valuers, surveyors and auctioneers, but they were not the sole vendors of livestock in Watford at the time.

Looking back on some of those more memorable moments during his time working in the market, John said: “One when was a couple of boars got loose in the market and they started fighting. And that is a very terrifying sight. They were tossing five-bar field gates up in the air ten feet and nobody could get near them. Fortunately the market porter managed to get them parted, mainly by turning a hose on them.

Watford Observer:

The last livestock market on the site took place in December 1959

“We also had one occasion where one steer got loose and went up Market Street towards Upton Road before it was caught. I say caught, it was shot in fact. No bother about shoppers being about, they just shot it and then they bled it in the drain by sitting on it and pumping it, so they didn’t waste the meat.

“Nobody turned a hair. It did cause a little bit of comment in the paper but it really wasn’t the horror that it would have been today.”

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