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Despite the obvious hardships, all are united by their stoic determination to carry on trading in the teeth of the outbreak. There is widespread concern, however, that the circulation of cash through the body of the trade is slowing dangerously as major showground fairs are cancelled and retail sales dry up.

In Cumbria, the story was bleak. “I am not buying much fresh stock, so people are not coming to see what I have got,” said Keswick dealer John Young. “My shop would not exist if it were not for private retail, but there are no tourists in Cumbria now.” Nearby in Ravenstonedale, Simon Baldwick of Winton Hall Antiques reported sales down by 90 per cent. “Last month I only saw three dealers. How long your business can survive is down to the cost of your overheads; I would say another three months like this and it will all be over.” There does seem to be one compensation: “The VAT man still has not collected the bills from last quarter, and that is very unusual.”

Auctioneers Penrith Farmers’ and Kidds remain closed, as do other salerooms who hold livestock and chattel sales on the premises, such as Cumberland and Dumfries of Longtown and Hope’s of Wigton. Thomson, Roddick and Laurie (Tel: 01228 528939) have rescheduled their fine art sales, Mitchell’s of Cockermouth (Tel: 01900 827800) are unaffected and Cumbria auction rooms (Tel: 01228 525259) continue their weekly general sales at their Carlisle rooms. Consignments to these sales have dropped 40 per cent. “We have lost all our rural sources,” explains auctioneer Howard Naylor of Cumbria, “but we have been better attended because of cancellations elsewhere.”

The village of Hatherleigh lies at the epicentre of the Foot and Mouth crisis in Devon, but here there is a will to regenerate business, says local auctioneer Philip Pyle. “We closed down in March, but lately we have been under pressure from residents to start up again to get some life back in the town.” P.G. Pyle’s weekly sales start on April 7, but the auctioneer is concerned that the local trade will not have enough cash to spend. “Auctioneers may have fat from previous sales to live on, but the trade I have spoken to are suffering badly.”

Okehampton dealer Alan Jones lost 60 per cent of his usual business last month. “Trade was slowing down anyway but Foot and Mouth has killed it. A lot of dealers store their antiques on farms, which are out of bounds, or former farms, which people think are out of bounds.”

Dealers Anderson and Son of Welshpool, Mid Wales, are more optimistic. “We have had more passing trade in the last week, certainly. People are beginning to realise that life must go on.” Welsh auctioneers also paint a brighter picture. Mold auctioneers K.H. Dodd are unaffected, likewise Rennies of Monmouth, while Peter Francis relied heavily on Internet, telephone and commission bidding even before the outbreak. Meanwhile Morris Bricknell have moved their April 7 sale from Whitchurch to premises in Ross on Wye (Tel: 01989 768320).