HUNDREDS of farmers flocked to witness a piece of history as Kendal’s new state-of-the-art auction mart next to the junction 36 of the M6 began trading for the first time.

More than 200 livestock breeders and buyers assembled eagerly in the impressive new sale ring, on Tuesday, bursting into spontaneous applause as auctioneer Gary Capstick knocked down the first lot of sheep, sold by George Harryman of Hawkshead.

North West Auctions director Trevor Wilson described the event as ‘absolutely tremendous’, though he admitted a little ‘tweaking’ was needed to iron out some teething problems at the new mart.

“This is the best place in the country to have a livestock auction,” said Mr Wilson. “We have a prime location next to the M6 and we have the best livestock farmers around from the Lakes, the Dales and the Bowland hills. “It means people can come and buy with confidence, knowing exactly where the livestock comes from and being sure of its provenance.”

Mr Wilson praised the mart’s livestock handlers for their ‘skill and dedication’ on the first day.

“I’m really humbled by them; they put in a really serious effort as well as acting as our ambassadors with the farmers,” he said.

One South Lakeland farmer created a small piece of history of his own when he became the first farmer to deliver sheep to the mart. Bob Walling, 75, from Crosthwaite, turned up at 7am with his livestock lorry containing eight Texel x lambs - an echo of his grandfather’s achievement as the first farmer to deliver sheep to the old Kendal mart by lorry back in the 1930s.

“I could have sold the lambs last year, but kept them back especially for this sale,” he said. “It’s nice to emulate my grandfather’s achievement. Before he used a lorry, all livestock was driven to the old Appleby Road mart on the hoof.”

The new mart’s first sale came as a relief to the farming community after months of delay caused by a wrangle between North West Auctions and the developer employed to build the facility. Although the financial dispute remains unsettled with dozens of sub-contractors left unpaid, agreement was reached between the two parties to allow the new mart to be used.

The old Appleby Road site’s last sale was held last week and work has already started on demolishing the buildings to make way for housing. Meanwhile, farming-related businesses are in the process of moving into 16 of the 17 rented units at the new auction mart site, which the site’s owners believe will justify the development’s ambition to be a major agriculture and livestock centre for the North West.