Protests as market horse is forced into retirement

Sam, Chesterfield Market Horse.
Sam, Chesterfield Market Horse.

A DECISION to ditch Ben, Chesterfield’s market horse has been met with a wave of opposition from residents.

Last week’s news has sparked outcry and anger, with people contacting the Derbyshire Times newsroom en masse to voice their disapproval at Chesterfield Borough Council’s move to scrap the £11,000 a year attraction.

Hundreds of people have signed up to an on-line petition, with many more rallying together on social networking sites to try and overturn the decision.

One concerned reader offered to donate £500, should anyone start a collection to save Ben.

Another, Pat Kerley, wrote a poem dedicated to the horse, while students at Chesterfield College have vowed to bake a leaving cake for him.

Laura Batterham, who started a Facebook group to save Ben – which has now accrued almost 700 members – said: “The market is quaint and one of very few left with the cobbles.

“The market horse is a part of market life and it just would not be the same otherwise. It’s lovely to see the horse.

“This isn’t right and as an animal lover I’m sick how they are just going to dump him.”

But despite the public reaction, the council has defended the decision, saying the money saved will allow it to freeze rents for market stall holders and give traders a week’s rent-free holiday each year.

On Monday, Cllr Nick Stringer, executive member for leisure, culture and tourism met with registered market traders to find out their views.

Paul Hind, market trader and president of the Chesterfield branch of the National Market Traders’ Federation said: “It’s nice to see the council supporting the market, the freeze on rents for next year shows their commitment to its future and will be a welcome boost to traders.

“It will be sad to see the horse and cart end but in these difficult economic times tough decisions have to be made, using the savings to give traders a free-rent week will be greatly appreciated.

On the streets of Chesterfield, though, people were unanimous in favour of bringing Ben back to the market.

Albert Williams, 70, from Clay Cross, said: “They ought to not get rid of it. It’s a good sight for the town so they should leave it. That’s someone’s job.”

Josh Turner, 16, from Boythorpe, said: “I don’t think it’s a good decision by the council. I used to come to town when I was little just to see him.

“The horse is like an attraction to the town so they should keep him.”

Sue Watts, 55, from Hollingworth, added: “It’s terrible. I can’t remember not having the horse. People come to see it – you see it on adverts for the market.

“There are better ways to save money, but that’s just my personal opinion.”

The council’s response:

These really are exciting times for Chesterfield Market. Last week me and my Cabinet colleagues voted to freeze the rents paid by our traders when almost every other council is increasing theirs.

We voted to guarantee each and every registered trader a one week rent-free period to help in extremely difficult economic times. When councils up and down the country turn their back on markets and look towards out-of-town shopping malls, we did the opposite. We are determined to buck the trend and provide a real future for our market for generations to come.

However, investment in our traders, the lifeblood of our market, meant savings elsewhere. The horse and cart had become far too expensive in such tight financial times, costing Chesterfield rate payers around £11,500 every year for just two days a week on the square.

The cobbles on the Market Square, as they did with his predecessor Sam, were gradually making him lame meaning his time here in our town was coming to an end and a well earned retirement did not come too soon.

Importantly, new health and safety laws has meant the horse and cart could no longer be used to help keep the town centre clean and tidy, and its role has been reduced substantially over the last few years.

The decision to retire the horse and cart role in our market was a tough one, and that decision was not taken lightly. But the money saved will be ploughed directly back into providing improved working conditions for those men and women who work in all weathers and who sell everything from plants to plums to shoppers all year round.

Chesterfield Market continues to defy the odds and survive as one of the finest markets in the country, and despite Ben’s retirement, last week’s decision has ensured that we remain competitive with the likes of Sheffield and Nottingham city centres which sit just a stone’s throw away.

Cllr Nick Stringer

Executive Member for Leisure, Culture and Tourism

Your Facebook comments:

Julie Darby, said: “Children and adults love patting Ben, he’s part of Chesterfield and I bet tourists love to see him too. So I say keep Ben, some traditions are worth keeping.”

Laura Overton, said: “Absolutely ridiculous. Honestly wonder what they are thinking when they make decisions like this.”

Debbie Ramsdale, said: “Erm. has the thought occurred to anyone that the owner of Ben might be ok with the decision to axe the job, due to things beyond his control ?Just a thought.”

Maria Ann Moss, said: “The market horse has been going for as long as i can remember. DON’T get rid.

Your Twitter comments:

@TransitionMatlock “Surely we need more working horses on our streets/farms over the coming years.”

@GardenFarm “I agree, we use a working horse on farm saves energy with increased fuel costs more farms are using them.”

@ChezEng “Sad news that Ben the horse has been retired with immediate effect from Chesterfield Market @ChesterfieldBC what’s next??”

@infostocksy “Sad to read that the MARKET HORSE is to leave #Chesterfield - what next, get rid of the stalls and the cobbles from an ancient market town?!”