This lovely catalogue of the Smithfield sheep sale in Lichfield dates back to September 1888. The main sale was of Shropshire Sheep, a brand that was associated with the Lichfield cattle markets for many years. Among the farmers who were auctioning their sheep were many well-known Lichfeldian names: Colonel Levett of Wichnor Park; Major Anson, the Earl of Lichfield, of Alrewas; Colonel Dyott of Freeford Manor; Mrs Lane of Kings Bromley Manor and Mr John Coxon of Alrewas Hayes. The sale took place at the Smithfield on Greenhill and was conducted by the Lichfield auctioneers, Winterton and Sons. The catalogue was printed by F.W. Meacham at the City Printing Works, 36 Market Street, which is now The Bureau Bar and Brasserie.
The Lichfield Smithfield had officially opened in March 1867. The auctioneers at that time were Messrs Winterton and they, together with Mr Owen of the George Hotel, hosted a party to celebrate the opening of a ‘spacious and convenient’ Smithfield on Greenhill. The Lichfield Mercury described it as one of several striking recent improvements in that area. The site was about an acre in size, had iron pens for sheep, pig and bars for the cattle. It could, at that time, accommodate 1,000 sheep and 300 pigs and there was also a spacious horse-shed designed by Mr Griffiths, the county surveyor from Stafford. The total cost of the construction was £15,000 in total, a sizeable amount in those days, and an inn, also called The Smithfield, had also been built which is where the opening ceremony took place.
The Lichfield name had been ‘copied’ from that of the London Smithfield which had been trading as a very successful cattle market since the Middle Ages. The name of the London site was a corruption of the words ‘smooth field’ as the site was on a broad, grassy, even area of land, so perfect for a cattle market. A second Lichfield Smithfield opened at the land behind the old Swan Hotel on Bird Street, closing eventually in 1906.
The City Corporation (council) of Lichfield were delighted to endorse this new facility and the civic dignitaries were all present at the launch. The Smithfield was paid for by Messrs Winterton and Beale, so there was no cost to the council. It also meant that the streets of Lichfield would be cleaner and with easier access as, prior to the introduction of the new site, all the cattle markets were held in and around the main city streets, resulting in the streets becoming blocked and filled with…well…you know…what animals leave behind! At the celebration Mr Winterton announced he would be very happy to turn the Smithfield over to the Corporation if that would perform a better service. However, Colonel Dyott, in response to this, said that he would be very disappointed to see the Smithfield transferred over to the Corporation and hoped that it would remain in the private hands of Messrs Winterton and Beale – to which the gathered audience responded with a rousing ‘Hear, Hear’! I am sure the Corporation were very glad to hear Colonel Dyott’s proclamation as they had none of the expense of administrating or controlling the new facility, but they would certainly benefit from the increased trade that the Smithfield would bring to Lichfield.
Winterton’s is a name, of course, that is synonymous with Lichfield, and is still trading today, some 150 years since they first started trading as auctioneers. After Winterton and Beale the company then became Winterton, Beale and Houlston, then Winterton Beale and Winterton, then Winterton and Sons, and now trades as Richard Winterton Auctioneers, running antique, fine art and furniture auction sales. At the time of the catalogue Winterton’s offices were at St Mary’s Chambers on Breadmarket Street, now home to Anson’s solicitors.
The Smithfield continued to operate until 1988 when Wintertons relocated their main auction rooms to the Fradley Auction House, where they still are today. The original Smithfield site was redeveloped to create a commercial development and is now the site of the Tesco Superstore. The Smithfield pub struggled on in various guises, including the bizarrely named ‘Sozzled Sausage’ before it too closed down. When the Tesco store was landscaped the pub was finally demolished, thereby removing the last link to the once mighty Smithfield that stood on the site, which in its heyday, was responsible for selling thousands of cattle, pigs, sheep and other livestock every week, and becoming one of the most notable, and popular cattle markets in the country.
Jono Oates June 2020
Sources: The British Newspaper Archive; British History Online
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