Some Seasonal Musings from James Stephenson

It is the time of year when we should be spending time with our families and hopefully Covid restrictions will still allow us to celebrate together, even if it is a bit different. Our family business has been trying to celebrate its 150th anniversary and it has given me the opportunity to look back in time to the day in 1871 when my Great Great Grandfather Jacob Stephenson, along with his son Richard then 25 years old, set up his sale board in Tadcaster Market as auctioneers in opposition to Thomlinsons of Wetherby. At the time the family was farming at Manor Farm, Wighill and perhaps young Richard was seeking, as many farmers today, to diversify.

By the time the First World War came, my Grandfather Fred Stephenson was appointed a Grader at York Cattle Market, ensuring that farmers were paid properly for the quality of beef they produced. Finished fat cattle in the First World War were worth £3 – 4 per head and this was a fixed maximum by the Government!

By 1918 the Stephenson family had moved into York and were selling on a weekly basis in the Council owned market along with 8 other auctioneers competing for farmers business. My father Reg qualified as both an auctioneer and surveyor in 1931; he was ambitious, industrious, and tenacious but always fair in his dealings; consulted by Government and clients alike, he was awarded the OBE for his services to agriculture.

The Second World War again saw the need for the country to share out its meat supplies rather than allow a free market, and the auction process was suspended with our professional role once more reduced to grading animals for distribution under the rationing regulations of war time.

Unbelievably the free market did not return until decontrol in 1954 by which time the number of auctioneers ready to start up again at York was down to 4 – Cundalls of Malton, R M English of Pocklington, Don Johnston of Green Hammerton, and Stephensons. Our offices had moved from The Pavement in York to 20 Castlegate and it was there that my brother Nigel and I started our careers in the 1960’s.

It was on our centenary in 1971 that we opened the new market at Murton to be christened York Livestock Centre, and from there we have continued to build, acquiring Boulton & Cooper with its presence in Malton Market in 1987 and maintaining a network of 8 residential offices around the county.

Today, after 7 generations, we are proud there are still 5 direct descendants of Jacob Stephenson working in the firm.

Above all we are still in business because of our clients and our valuation books going back to 1871 show many families whom we are still serving today.

A Happy Christmas to all.


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