All About Wadhurst

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The Market

 

Wadhurst received a Charter granted by King Henry III in 1253 to hold a weekly market on a Saturday and a fair on the feast day of St. Peter & St. Paul (29 June) and the day preceding and following it. Thus, in 1253 Wadhurst became a Market Town.

Until the 14th century, it seems that the pig was the most important livestock. After then sheep-rearing became more important until the 18th century when cattle breeding rose to prominence where it remained until the 1950's. From that time the cattle population declined and sheep once again became the most populous and by the time the market closed in 1982 there were hardly any beef cattle left in the area. From this one can suppose that the weekly livestock market changed little, and then only slowly, over the centuries.

At some time the regular market day was changed to a Monday with a fatstock show on a Thursday, but in the last 10 years of the market's existence reverted to just the Monday again. Cattle and livestock were moved to the market by road, by drovers, and reputedly Dick Crust was one of the best drovers in the middle of the last century. The market was principally for the farms in the immediate area of Wadhurst, a majority of which were on the Bayham Estate. On the first Monday each December the annual fatstock show was held which probably had more cattle; it was a very social occasion for local farmers. This show was always considered to be of high standard and winning stock at Wadhurst would normally go on to win at bigger and better shows.

Wadhurst market was always quite small. During the 1950's and 60's there were usually between 10 and 20 cattle, 50-200 sheep and up to 200 pigs, but like most other markets reducing to around 20 by the early 1980's. In addition to livestock, apples, hops and eggs featured regularly until the 1970's. Originally cattle were tied up rather than put in pens and this practice continued quite late, long after this procedure changed at other markets in the area.

Early this century, possibly until after the second world war, the market was lit by gas lamps and at one stage it had its own gas acetylene plant, although this does not seem to have been operational after the war. The market hall, itself formerly a church in Tunbridge Wells, was blown down in the great storm of 1987.

The firm of Watsons became involved in the running of the market around 1920, when it acquired the business of Mr. Austin, until its closure in 1982.

The decline and eventual closure of the market was hastened during the 1970's. The amalgamation of farms and the diminution of livestock farming led to a reduction in the number of livestock at the market. Butchers were also changing their buying methods, preferring to buy from dead-weight abattoirs. In turn the abattoirs preferred to go to bigger markets where they would find more choice and could buy in greater numbers to satisfy their operations and their market. Access to the Wadhurst market was always poor and restricted although this was improved through the kindness of the chemist shop on one side of the entrance, but again, as livestock lorries got larger, movement in and out of the market became increasingly difficult.

Watsons also ran a store cattle and sheen market at Heathfield and with the decline at Wadhurst combined their operations at Heathfield. The last cattle auction at Wadhurst was in August 1982. Market days were not without their amusing sides. On one occasion a sow escaped and ran down the High Street, careering into the greengrocers stall and scattering vegetable produce all over the place before it was finally cornered at the entrance to Wadhurst. On another occasion a ferocious bullock escaped and ran with some cows about three miles from the market staying at large with them for about two weeks. Whenever it was approached, it charged! Eventually a police marksman was called in to kill it.

Before the drink drive laws, Mr. Tim Watson can recall one prize winner at the Fatstock Show being so pleased he celebrated somewhat to excess and on driving home bounced from one side of the market entrance walls to the other. He was all right which is more than could be said for his car.

One well known family - the Ellises - used to bring a pig or two by horse and cart to market. Once sold, the proceeds were consumed in The White Hart. Mr. Ellis did not worry about getting home. He slept soundly in the back of the cart whilst the horse who knew the way very well, took him home!

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