Statement of Special Interest
Alford Heritage Museum (former Alford Auction Mart) meets the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:
- It is a largely complete and little altered example of an early 20th century livestock auction mart, retaining its design and plan-form interest with intact sale ring and adjoining offices and cattle byres.
- It retains key elements of its historic setting, including open ground to the rear and the nearby, former railway station, both of which contribute to an understanding of the building
- It is an exceptionally rare example of a largely intact livestock mart complex of timber construction in Scotland.
- It contributes to our understanding of agricultural life, economy and society in this part of Aberdeen during the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Alford Auction Mart opened on 18 April 1905, located close to the local railway station and a short distance to the west of the earlier Market Stance in the village.
The Vale of Alford and Upper Donside area of Aberdeenshire has been a significant centre of agriculture for hundreds of years. Previously, the sale of cattle at Alford took place every three weeks on the Market Stance (no longer extant) to the south of the Station Hotel.
The development of the village at Alford is closely tied to the arrival of the Vale of Alford Railway in 1859, with links to Aberdeen. The railway company initially built a station near Greystone Farm, where the Reid family were important cattle breeders and dealers (Buildings of Scotland, 2006) and then a replacement station to the east a few years later.
The construction of a purpose-built local auction mart (or market) for livestock was a relatively late development in view of the area's reputation for cattle farming. This part of Scotland is known for the early and successful breeding of the Aberdeen-Angus cattle breed, which is now among the most popular breeds worldwide.
The rectangular footprint of the Alford Auction Mart is shown on the 3rd Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed, 1923). The 5th Edition (surveyed, 1957) shows cattle pen enclosures (no longer extant) partly covering the open area of ground to the west of the building.
The Mart was built for and operated by Aberdeen cattle salesmen Reith and Anderson. The company was the largest firm in Aberdeenshire by the early 20th century, operating 15 cattle marts across Aberdeenshire. The company merged with Central Mart (Aberdeen) to become Aberdeen and Northern Marts Limited in 1947.
The impact of livestock disease, regulatory changes, and the centralisation of livestock sales after the Second World War led to a gradual reduction in the number of smaller, rural livestock marts. The Alford Auction Mart closed in January 1986 after 80 years of almost continuous operation.
The site was sold to Gordon District Council (now part of Aberdeenshire Council) who leased the building to the Alford and Donside Heritage Association. The building opened as Alford Heritage Museum in March 1991. The interior of the building has been modified only slightly to accommodate its change of use. The building remains in operation as a local museum (2021).
The design of the Alford Auction Mart is typical of smaller-scale local marts of its period, with few decorative details. Collectively, the adjoining buildings demonstrate traditional timber auction mart construction. The beaded timber cladding and timber windows are part of its simple character and the ornamental timber roof vent adds visual interest.
Significantly, the building is little altered and largely complete in its plan form and design as originally constructed in 1904–5. Comprising a range of interlinked pitch-roof and lean-to timber structures, the design and in particular the plan form is led by the functional requirements for the presentation of cattle and the sale of other agricultural produce. On completion in 1905 the mart was described as one of the best equipped in Aberdeenshire, and, perhaps one of the best in the country with respect to its lighting (Press and Journal, 1905).
Auction mart interior schemes tend to be simple and practical. Many of those that survive have been refurbished and the survival of historic fixtures is rare. The Alford Mart retains its timber auction ring, including a water-balanced bridge scale, which gave bidders an idea of the weight and value of cattle as they entered the ring.
The survival of the internal room plan adds to the design interest and authenticity of the building. Individual offices once occupied by seed and manure firms are distributed either side of the central hallway, and there are byres/sheds with intact timber cattle stalls to the rear.
William Teunon (c.1830-1909) and Sons were a family of master-carpenter architects from nearby Turriff. The company is known to have designed a small number of other buildings in the area including Reith and Anderson's timber auction mart at Turriff (1899, demolished) and a few domestic properties.
While the Alford Mart building is modest in its design, the special interest under this heading relates to the authenticity and completeness of the complex, which is little altered, and which still evidences its former function as a commercial livestock market.
Mass expansion of the railway network between the 1840s and 60s saw auction markets established at many railheads, bringing rural parts of Scotland closer to the market. From railhead sites like Alford and Maud, dealers and butchers could move quickly to the sale rings and purchases could be sent straight to their destinations by rail rather than using local cattle drovers to take them by road.
The Alford Mart at 3 Mart Road is conveniently situated near to the former railway station. The line closed in the 1960s, but the associated station ticket office survives as part of the nearby Grampian Motor Museum complex.
The mart is adjacent to some later housing development but the setting has not altered considerably since the early part of the 20th century. The large grassed area of ground to the west was initially used for additional cattle pens and display. The open ground and proximity to the former railway station are important aspects of the setting, demonstrating how the building was used, and contribute to the special interest under this heading.
Age and rarity
Late 19th and early 20th century livestock auction marts provide tangible evidence of cattle farming before the merging and consolidation of Scotland's cattle markets after the Second World War. Early (pre-1914) livestock auction marts that survive with their functional components largely intact are now exceptionally rare in Scotland.
Many towns and villages in north-east Scotland had an agricultural auction mart by 1900. The 1904 Mart at Alford is a relatively late example. It is, however, the most complete examples of a livestock market of timber construction known to survive in the country.
There are currently 44 livestock markets of pre-first world war origin recorded in the National Record of the Historic Environment in Scotland (www.canmore.org.uk). At least 26 of these have been largely or completely demolished. The ten livestock auction marts that are designated as listed buildings in Scotland are nearly all in the southern half of the country and survive in varying degrees of completeness. Six have a traditional octagonal-plan sale ring that readily identifies the buildings as livestock marts. Those at Reston (LB46648) and East Linton (LB48089) are stand-alone timber sale rings, while the example at Lanark (LB51565) is of detailed ashlar masonry construction.
Three listed livestock auction marts remain in operation (2021). These are of brick construction, the earliest being the 1872 mart at Newton St Boswells in the Scottish Borders (LB51565). The 1890 Lockerbie Mart (LB37583) and the 1900 Castle Douglas Mart (LB22976) in Dumfries are more decorative in their design, using polychromatic (two-colour) brickwork. All three are relatively complete, with octagonal sale rings, offices and cattle sheds.
Of the small number of surviving pre-war livestock marts that are not currently listed in Scotland, the most complete is the former cattle market at Forfar (1879). Of sandstone masonry construction, its octagonal sale ring has an ornate pedimented entrance.
The former Alford Mart is significant for its location in north-east Scotland and is of special interest as a nearly complete example of a very rare pre-1914 livestock mart of timber construction in Scotland.
Social historical interest
Technological and industrial advances in the later 19th century benefitted Scottish farmers considerably. Livestock fairs or trysts were replaced by auction marts that permitted more regular and orderly selling of livestock. Farmers passed the risk on sale from private bargains to auction markets and boosted trade and reputation through reports in the local media and further afield. Areas like Aberdeenshire switched from rearing to finishing livestock, developing trade with London markets that established the reputation for Scottish beef that persists to the present day (Farming and the Land, p268).
By the end of the 19th century, Aberdeenshire had become the most important area for breeding cattle for the southern market in the whole of Scotland. Buildings associated with this type of agricultural industry are an important part of the area's social history. The survival of the mart at Alford is of significant social historical interest for what it can tell us about agriculture and the farming community as well as the trade and display of agricultural stock in the early 20th century.
The auction marts were a hub of local agricultural society and an essential part of interaction between farmers and their peers. For many it was the most important regular social event away from the farm. It was through these meetings they shaped their views of politics, civil society and how to make farming pay (Farming and the Land, p.961).
The former mart is open to the public as a museum which aims to preserve the rural heritage of the north-east of Scotland, and of the Alford and Donside area in particular. The building is of special historic interest for its contribution to our understanding of agricultural life, economy and society in this part of Aberdeen during the 19th and 20th centuries. This is evidenced both in its ability to convey its intended function, and through re-use and adaptation as a local heritage museum.
Association with people or events of national importance
There is no known special interest in this category.