This month sees major milestones for two renowned faces in livestock trading in the Scottish Borders, when Harrison and Hetherington’s Auctioneer, Billy Stott & Fieldsperson, Andrew Dickman each reach their 65th birthdays, and start a three-day working week.
We sit down with Billy and look back at a working lifetime spent at St Boswells Auction Mart.
It was in 1972, aged eighteen, that Billy Stott started his career in the livestock industry, taking up the role of office clerk at St Boswells Auction Mart. Today, 45 years later, and after having seen many changes and developments across the industry, he is one of the most well-known and respected auctioneers in Scotland.
Born in Derby, Billy moved with his family to Selkirk when he was aged four, and although he was born in England, he has no hesitation in letting us know that it is the Blue and White team he supports at Murrayfield!
Billy along with his wife Janette, still lives in Selkirk, and they both were delighted to become grandparents a few weeks ago, when their daughter Jennifer and her husband Andy, presented them with their first grandchild, Ava.
Joining John Swan & Son straight from school, Billy started as the office clerk, stuffing and sticking envelopes. In those early years, John Swan & Co also had marts in Haddington, Dalkeith and Gorgie, and Billy spent two days each week up at the auction mart in Gorgie.
Moving on from being a junior clerk, Billy was then given the opportunity to look after the prime cattle and sheep.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, every farm had sheep and cattle so there were massive livestock sales across all of the auction marts. Billy says: “We sold prime cattle, prime sheep, calves, pigs, poultry and anything else that anyone wanted us to sell.”
Gradually, Billy built up this area of the business and remembers some of the huge store sales: “In those days, Buccleuch Estates would sell 1,000 store cattle in one day. We would also often see in the region of 6,000 to 8,000 half-bred ewe lambs, with consigners as far away as Kirkcudbright. This was the era of the Saturday sales and in the region of 15,000 to 20,000 head of lambs would go under the hammer at the store lamb sales.”
He also remembers fondly the commencement of Cast Cow and Cast Sheep sales on a Monday, where they would see over 100 head of cattle going through during the peak of the season and up to 1,000 cast ewes.
Following the highs, there are often the lows, but Billy never talks about these. He remembers only the tremendous prime cattle days where, in the early 2000s, they would see over 400 head of cattle going through the rings.
A personal career highlight for Billy was the introduction of the non-registered Suffolk tup sale ring at Kelso: “We started with only a very small number of tups and at its peak, we would see over 500 tups going through the ring on Kelso tup sale day”.
One area that Billy feels has had a huge effect on the market was the closure of the small abattoirs: “I look back, with great sadness, at what followed after these disappeared. This had a big effect on the entire supply chain.”
Of course, like many other people, one of the most challenging times during his career was the outbreak of Foot and Mouth. Having worked across the Lothians down into North Northumberland throughout his career, Billy knew the farms and farmers in the Borders like the back of his hand. He used his strengths as a people’s person, with decades of experience within auctioneering, to provide support to those farmers who were affected.
Billy relishes the support that he has had from everyone within the industry and as
Will Hamilton, a director of Harrison & Hetherington and someone who has sold cattle at St Boswells almost every Monday of the year for the last 30 years, explains:
“Everyone you speak to testifies to his way of getting on with people. Billy is a real grafter, he is always there for his customers and is very straight forward and transparent. Integrity is what people, above all, respect Billy for, he is always in contact with you and a tremendous member of our team.
No one ever says a bad word about him. Billy is highly respected, incredibly well thought of and operates with total integrity. We are absolutely delighted that, although he is reaching retirement age, he is there to support the next generation.”
In short, Billy has loved every second of his career. As he says: “It is a job where there is always plenty to do and the phone never stops ringing.”
Along with Andrew, Billy is about to reduce his working week to only three days and he secretly hopes that the phone does continue to keep ringing.
He adds: “The auctioneering business is a team business and I have had the most enjoyable working life, and this has only been made possible by the people who I have worked with; the farmers, the butchers, the processers, the buyers, hauliers and of course, my colleagues.
In recent years, it has been a real privilege to be part of Harrison & Hetherington and to have had the opportunity to work closely with David Pritchard and Scott Donaldson. Both have given me real support here at St Boswells and they really should be praised for having established the most effective and dedicated teams of staff across the company and running such excellent livestock centres in all of the areas in which they operated”, adds Billy.
“When I started, I was mentored and helped by many people within the industry, and I see my future career taking on a supporting role. I aim to assist, and mentor our tremendous young team here; Tom Story, Adam Grieve Ian Dick and Andrew Hutcheson”, said Billy.
Looking to the future, Billy records the uncertainty that is uppermost in the mind of the market. He says: “Who knows what is going to happen, as we are now only weeks away before Brexit. The British livestock is the best in the World and this is certainly not going to change. However, one thing I do know, is that we all must stay united”, concludes Billy.
Andrew Dickman has also reached his 65th year and retiring age. Just like Billy, he has reduced his work week to three days. A renowned shepherd and sheep man through and through, he has been a Fieldsperson for Newtown St Boswells Auction Mart for the past fifteen years, and the face of sheep trading in the Borders.
Prior to joining John Swan & Sons in 2003, Andrew was a shepherd at Hell House, Hartside and Bowerhouse farms. A keen Border Collie breeder and trainer, he is well-known and respected within the sheep industry across the Scottish Borders and lives in Oxton with his wife, Frances.
So, as a retirement doors opens, the face of sheep and cattle trading in the Borders is not going to change. The telephones will still continue to ring, and St Boswells Auction Mart will still continue to be the central focus for farmers selling their livestock.
Harrison & Hetherington, with their head office and main livestock centre in Borderway Auction Mart, Carlisle, is one of the biggest mart sites across the UK. Operating a total of nine livestock auction marts, they play a vital role in the farming communities they serve, covering substantial areas from Newton St Boswells in the north, Lockerbie, Kirkby Stephen, Middleton in Teesdale and Broughton-in-Furness, along with seasonal marts at Lazonby and Newcastleton.