Obituary: David Thomlinson, livestock auctioneer without peer

David Thomlinson in 2015 (Picture: Stuart Walker Photography)
David Thomlinson in 2015 (Picture: Stuart Walker Photography)
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David Thomlinson, livestock auctioneer. Born: 10 February 1946 in Carlisle. Died: 8 June 2019 in Scaleby, Carlisle

Although he rose in the profession to a point where he was selling some of the best livestock in the country at stratospheric prices, noted auctioneer David Thomlinson always stuck to two guiding principles. These were to always be honest and to always remember the little man.

Even stepping down from the rostrum after selling a string of pedigree Limousin bulls or some top quality Texel rams at high prices, he would urge his younger colleagues to not just seek out the buyers of the top-priced stock but also speak to those who were starting out in the livestock world.

His own entry into the esoteric world of selling cattle and sheep was at ground level, joining livestock auctioneers Harrison & Hetherington as an office boy after leaving Carlisle Grammar School in 1962.

Initially, with the firm also carrying out estate agency work, he took and passed his Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyor exams before moving across to auctioneering.

He had found his niche with an ability to assess and value livestock equalled only by his ability to gauge the depths of the pockets of potential buyers. He soon rose in the livestock world. Part of the skill of a successful auctioneer is being able to “lift” a sale and get bidders’ attention; David had this ability.

He also had the knack of pacing a sale so that buyers knew not to linger if they were serious about bidding.

These talents saw him rise through the ranks to becoming managing director with Harrison & Hetherington in a career spanning over 57 years. During that period, he made a huge contribution to the expansion of the business, to the point where it is now one of the top auction companies in the country.

Even in recent retirement, he maintained a key role within the company through his love of the livestock rings as an auctioneer, mentor and assisting the land agency with property sales. Latterly, he took special pride in passing on tips and advice to the next generation of auctioneers.

One of the turning points in David’s career came with the importation of Limousin cattle from France in the 1970s. He was quick to see the potential of this breed, with its ability to provide top quality beef.

Along with his wife Sheila, he farmed their 200-acre farm, Park View at Scaleby, Carlisle, from where they started their own pedigree herd of Limousin cattle in 1978. This was no hobby farming as the Beeches herd has, over the years, produced a string of quality bulls and females for sale both in the ring and privately.

David sadly died as a result of a tragic accident on his farm. This was deeply sad as few had done as much to promote the breed both in the selling ring and in the administration of the breed.

He was a former chairman of the North West Limousin Cattle Breeders Association and had made a hugely important contribution to the British Limousin Cattle Society, serving as a Council Member for a number of years, concluding with a two year Presidency in September 2018.

He was also instrumental in the creation of the Harrison & Hetherington owned Borderway mart being recognised as The National Limousin Centre, where the top breed sales are held, and it is not stretching a point to say that his native Cumbria has become a stronghold for the breed.

It was at the Borderway mart that he sold the prizewinning Limousin bull, Haltcliffe Vermont, for a then world record price for the breed of 100,000 guineas in 2006. (To this day, the majority of pedigree sales are conducted in guineas, with the sterling equivalent being £105,000). He started the bidding for this bull at 10,000 guineas before seeing the price rise to make this the highest-priced breed bull ever sold at that time.

His abilities as an auctioneer were not limited to one breed or one species as he had earlier, in 2003, sold a Texel shearling ram, Loosebeare Imp, for 120,000 guineas (£126,000).

Outside of work and dedication to his farm and livestock, David had a wide range of commitments. He was chairman of the Cumberland Show, and earlier in his career been president of Cumbria Young Farmers Federation. He also held numerous other roles within the main Cumbrian show societies.

For a six-year period– including the outbreak of BSE, which threw the UK livestock industry into turmoil –David was also chairman of the Livestock Auctioneers Association.

In 2011 he was presented with the Blamire Award for services in promoting the Cumberland farming industry. The citation recorded his support over a wide range of activities and his enthusiasm for achieving goals.

He was a former chairman of the Pedigree Breeders Committee and had also held the chairmanship of the National Beef Association in 2013 before being elected president; a title he held up to his death.

In 2017 David was awarded the prestigious Farmer’s Guardian Lifetime Auctioneer Achievement Award in recognition of the vital role he played in the market system and as an inspirational model.

He was praised as a deserving winner who had influenced the lives of others, supported communities, pushed for change and contributed to the positive promotion of the agricultural industry as a whole.

ANDREW ARBUCKLE