|"The survival of fairs, both rural and urban, is as curious as their rise and fall, and cannot be explained simply by observing that man does not quickly discard the habits and customs of centuries. There is something it seems, in the very principle of the fair that society, for profit as well as pleasure, finds indispensable. It may be true that in the 19th century fairs were kept alive for the sale of live-stock, and for no other purpose except pleasure: that sooner or later the traditions of craftsmanship, which apparently kept smaller fairs going in rural areas, were bound to be killed by mass-production and easier transport to towns with market halls, shops and warehouses. In short, that the trend of social development was against them, except for the sale of live-stock having remained in a class apart. Sale by auction seemed then, as still, the best means of disposing of animals publicly, and it was already seen that these auctions should be frequent and regular. In a word, that weekly or fortnightly auction marts could do for live-stock what warehouses and shops were doing for produce and commodities. Auction marts were introduced about 1836; but it was not until the repeal in 1845 of the tax on moveables and heritable property sold by auction, except when the sale took place on a farm, that it was possible for auction marts to flourish."
Some fairs continued to prosper into the twentieth century like Barnet fair, and in the 1880's " a Welshman named Harris never failed to bring two or three hundred beasts to the November fair at Hertford, where he hired a private field called Plough Mead to sell them in. "
It seems that prior to 1836, the regular weekly cattle markets only occurred in the large county towns, like Shrewsbury, Gloucester, Hereford, Rugby, Northampton, Leicester or Derby. Smithfield in London was by far the largest selling over 100,000 cattle per annum by the end of the 1700's, when the population exceeded half a million.
It had been a site for cattle selling since at least 1174.