The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Far from the bidding crowd

Written by Mark Lewis; artworks by Becky Blake

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Maurice Williamson and his wife sat in George Hayward’s office. Arrangements were in place for George’s firm to auction their land; this meeting was to decide on the reserve price. George was upbeat: ‘I’ve spoken to the neighbours and they all say they’re coming, so we could have a bit of fun.’
‘Just so long as Brian Prince doesn’t buy it,’ said Mrs Williamson. ‘I know we need the money, but selling to him would be hard to take.’
The Williamsons did indeed need the money. Maurice was a fair stockman, but he had bought a racehorse and soon became entranced by the racing world. They employed a dairyman but, as they became more and more distracted by the racing, the farm income drifted. Balancing the trainer and vet bills against the milk cheque put a strain on their finances, and they reached breaking point when the rent became due.     The racehorse was sold, but the debts were too great.
When the bank applied pressure, a relinquishment of the tenancy followed; a recent dispersal sale had covered the bank loan, but the sale of the land was crucial to their future. The land was made up of 30 acres in four enclosures. With only one road access point, it could not be split into lots – the neighbours were the only ones able to reach the back fields from their own holdings. The reserve was £60,000.
George was well aware of Brian Prince – a horse dealer, buying at the New Forest pony sales and then shipping the animals over to France for the table. His local reputation for selling stock was not good and he was known for being untrustworthy. His word was certainly not his bond.
The auction room was full and the Williamsons’ land was the first lot. George briefly described the land and then invited bids. ‘Who will start me at £60,000?’
Nobody moved, but then a man from Bournemouth, who wanted the land for a caravan park, proposed £50,000. Brian Prince bid £52,000 and the price rose in equal increments until £60,000. George was relaxed as he now expected the neighbouring farmers to start bidding, but they just stared. To his surprise and his clients’ dismay, the hammer fell to Brian Prince at the reserve. Brian left the room, followed by the neighbours, and George offered the next lot. He was interrupted by shouting from outside and was about to send his clerk, Colin Lowland, to see what was happening, but before Colin could leave, the doors flew open followed by Brian Prince, now sprawled on the floor.
George left the rostrum, picked up Prince and went outside. Two of the farmers whom George had expected to bid for the Williamsons’ land were there, looking clearly agitated and spoiling for a fight.
‘What the hell is going on?’ asked George.

'The doors flew open...'

‘The doors flew open…’

One of the farmers, eyes blazing, pointed at Prince. ‘He’s a twister, a twister – and he’s going to get what’s coming.’
George stood between them. ‘I’ll sort this out after the auction, but shut up the three of you.’ Pointing to the auction room, he said, ‘People are trying to do business in there.’
George went back to the rostrum and apologised to the crowd.
After the remaining lots were sold, he called Brian Prince and the two farmers into an anteroom to hear what had happened.     One of the farmers said: ‘This tinker called us and said it was stupid to bid against each other, so why didn’t we split the land? He would bid and then we’d all pay for certain fields.’
Prince moved to hide behind George. ‘We had a deal and I paid them £100 not to bid against me,’ he said, ‘but we didn’t get it in writing and an oral contract is not worth the paper it’s written on! I bought it and I’ll keep it.’
As Colin, who was listening outside, told everyone later: ‘It was about to get very ugly, but George thought on his feet and came up with a brilliant solution.’
George looked at all three of them. ‘You probably spotted the notice on my rostrum?’ They shook their heads in unison. ‘Well, it is an extract from the Auction Bidding Agreements Act of 1969 and confirms that it is illegal to organise a buying ring. We can either throw this at the lawyers and prosecute you, or I can use my auctioneer’s discretion and, as there is a bidding dispute, re-offer the land. Which would you prefer?’
The three looked sheepish. ‘Don’t suppose we’ve got much choice,’ they agreed.
‘Right,’ said George. ‘Mr Prince’s bid is £60,000. Would one of you like to bid £62,000?’
One of the neighbours nodded and he and Brian Prince bid the price up. Prince bid £99,000 but, when the neighbour bid £100,000, he threw his arms in the air and said, ‘You can have it at that price.’ An extra £40,000 had been raised, but only Brian and the neighbour had bid. The third farmer had said and done nothing. The Williamsons were delighted but confused in equal measure.
George produced the contract and the successful bidder walked up to the rostrum. ‘I appreciate you being so fair, Mr Hayward. I should have known not to trust Prince. I wish I had never listened to him.’ He signed the contract and gave George the deposit cheque and then signed another for £500 and beckoned over his other neighbour, who had been lurking at the back of the room.
‘Here you are, Peter. Thank you for not bidding against me’
George pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. They had just broken the law but he decided he would pretend he had seen and heard nothing at all.

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