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In 1938, PTH Pickford, Cider Orcharding Advisor to the National Fruit and Cider Institute [Long Ashton Research Station] wrote in an article:

According to many farmers, Dorset was the first county in England to make cider. It is claimed that the art of cider-making was first introduced into this county by monks from northern France who settled in a village near Bridport some time before the Norman Conquest. . . . Whether this be true or not, Dorset certainly ranks with the counties in the West of England which have produced cider for centuries.’ P T H Pickford

The Cider Institute was founded in 1903 largely through the backing of the Bath & West
Agricultural Society, with the main aim of improving the quality of cider. By the mid 1920s, much work had been done and much knowledge of good cider-making gained. Cider had become a purer more refined drink and had achieved the status of a wholesome national product and a prosperous home industry. Pickford’s survey at the time revealed that the custom of ‘cider as wages’ was dying out and the surplus farmhouse cider, usually a dry, often sharp beverage was only popular with the older members of the farming community.

The pressure to produce a more marketable product led Pickford to initiate a series of extremely popular and successful cider-making training courses in regional locations. His notes give us a clear picture of the extent of Dorset cider orchards in 1938, and also provide us with vital clues towards rediscovering those that survive to this day.

Although the acreage of Dorset’s orcharding is small compared with that of the other counties, it must be remembered that apart from the comparative size of Dorset, the soil in a big proportion of the county is of the type totally unsuitable for fruit culture. In those areas where the soil is suitable however the orchards thrive and are numerously planted and here the production of cider fruit is as much a business as it is in Somerset and Devon.

The largest cider orchard area lies in West Dorset towards the Devon border including and around the neighbourhood of Loders, Powerstock, Netherbury, Beaminster, Broadwindsor and Stoke Abbott. There are smaller areas around Thorncombe, Whitchurch, Wootton Fitzpaine, Chideock and Symondsbury. Most of these orchards are planted in medium loams derived from the middle lias, but there are also quite a number planted in the very light soil of the Bridport sands, in particular around Melplash.

In other parts of Dorset the orchard areas are smaller and widely scattered throughout the county. There is a considerable acreage around Leigh and Chetnole where a good proportion are planted in heavy loams from the Oxford clay. Scattered orchards are found around both Gillingham and Shaftesbury and again around Sturminster Newton, but cider orchards are more numerous in the neighbourhood of Child Okeford, Shillingstone and Hammoor where a good deal of cider is produced. Yet another area worthy of mention is that around Piddlehinton and Piddletrenthide where numerous orchards are found growing in the alluvium of the narrow valleys.

Unlike the other cider counties, Dorset has never had any major cider producing factories such as Whiteways or Showerings. Sadly, because of this and in spite of Pickford’s professional instruction, cider-making never re-gained a secure status in Dorset, but remained an extremely local pursuit. Orchards that once supplied the liquid requirements of many staff and farm workers have now declined to a skeletal echo of their pre-War status. Our visits so far in 2004 have shown us a little of their former strength. The remnants of some of the old orchards contain grand old trees clearly dating back to more prosperous times.

Typical West Country varieties appear; Crimson King, Woodbine and various dual purpose cider/kitchen apples. Interestingly, and perhaps because of Dorset’s rather inaccessible terrain, many of the cider apple varieties grown are peculiar to the county and are seldom seen across the borders into Somerset and Devon. Traditionally Dorset cider is soft, sweet and mild in astringency. This regional distinctiveness comes from Dorset’s own varieties, some of which we have already re-discovered such as Buttery Door, Golden Ball, Slack-ma-Girdle, Syme’s Seedling and Golden Bittersweet. Some will be the last remaining trees of these distinctive regional varieties and they deserve to be looked after and re-propagated before they disappear. The Long Ashton records reveal many other Dorset cider apples that could still be found.

Although by far the majority of Dorset’s orchards were primarily cider orchards, some such as Stubbs Orchard, were clearly planted [before 1890] to supply large quantities of ‘commercial’ fruit, eaters and cookers. Here we discovered growing together with the cider apple trees, a selection of excellent and popular Victorian varieties including Harvey, Ribston Pippin, Royal Jubilee, Blenheim and Lord Derby, all of which are still happily being used by the present owners to create an excellent home cider.

Reference: Liz Copas 2004 The Symondsbury apple project

Did you know that the average beer and cider drinker pay on average £419 in tax each year? And by 2012 the government plans to increase this to £558 per year.

This is due to the government taking 33% on every pint as tax, wanting to increase this by another third by 2012.

Since cider and beer have been around, the increase in both their consumption was bound to attract the attention of the tax collectors!

Lord Wellington’s administration in 1830 ended tax on cider but it was brought back during World War 1 and lasted until 1923. Cider excise duty was then reintroduced in 1976 and remains in force now. A 47% increase in cider duty in 1984 resulted in the loss of more than 500 jobs and duty increases remain a threat to the success of cider sales even today. Current UK cider and perry duty per litre is 25.61p for most products – though there are variations, particularly for sparkling cider or perry over 5.5% ABV. Source: NACM.

As a cider maker you must register with HM Customs & Excise, you may legally produce up to 1,500 gallons per year period without paying excise duty. If you go over this threshold, then the whole quantity becomes dutiable.

Facts about Tax on Beer and Cider

  • Pub closure rate hits a record high of 52 per week. In just 1 year we have lost 2377 pubs for good.
  • Thats more than seven pubs a day closing,  with  24,000 jobs lost in the last year.
  • Government loses over £254 million in tax in last 12 months due to pubs closing

A record 52 pubs a week are now closing in Britain, leading to the loss of 24,000 jobs in the last year, according to new figures compiled by CGA Strategy, released to today by the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA).

Currently cider and perry contributes around £370m annually, or more than £1m a day, in excise duty and VAT to the UK Exchequer.

Jennifer Ellison, Actress

Jennifer Ellison, Actress, supporting the Axe the Beer Tax campaign

Cider Industry condemns Budget Decision on Tax

The cider industry has condemned the Budget announcement to proceed with plans to raise taxes on alcohol this year. The news brings further misery to hard-pressed consumers and threatens more job losses in a sector already facing record numbers of business failures, pub closures and worsening trading conditions.

The major drinks industry trade associations warned a total of 75,000 jobs would be at risk if the plans to increase taxes further went ahead. Jobs have already been lost in our industry and the decision to go ahead with a further tax increase puts many more at risk. It’s a bitter irony that this is also bad news for taxpayers because falling alcohol sales jeopardize government revenue.

At a time when the Government is offering other industries a helping hand it is extraordinary that it wishes to harm the cider industry with further tax increases

The manifesto of the Axe the Beer Tax campaign are:

  1. To stop plans to increase beer tax by up to a third
  2. To enforce existing laws – not create new ones – to deal firmly with irresponsible drinkers and premises
  3. To end the irresponsible promotion of alcohol in supermarkets, pubs and elsewhere
  4. To trust responsible adults to make informed choices about what they drink, not punish them for the actions of an irresponsible minority
  5. To support the British pub as a vital part of social life in local communities.

Support Real Cideraxe_the_beer_tax

There are two ways of doing this:

  1. Support you can download a variety of posters and logos at axethebeertax.co.uk
  2. Sign the petition the Prime Minister to Reduce the level of taxation applied to Real Cider, Beer and Ale

Older, and in particular traditional, orchards can shelter all kinds of wildlife. There are a variety of wildlife habitats within an orchard.

Orchard grassland

Regular grazing or hay cutting creates wonderful conditions for flowers such as orchids, meadowsweet, knapweed, dyer’s greenweed, hay rattle, and ragged robin. On wetter land, sedges and rushes may be found.

Tusoocky grass shelters the larvae of butterflies like the speckles wood. Longer grass left around the orchard margins favours small mammals, like field voles, which are preyed upon by barn owls.

The Cider orchard in blossom - Photo credit NACM

The Cider orchard in blossom – Photo credit NACM

Orchard trees

Older trees can be particularly valuable for mosses and lichens, and occaisionally misteltoe. Througout the year, the trees are a source of food for a variety of creatures.

In spring: Blossom provides a source of pollen for bees and moths, which it turn attract a variety of birds. Bullfinches may be unwelcome in commercial orchards, but tolerated in traditional, where they seek out buds for food.

In summer: The leafy canopy provides nesting sites and food for many birds. Mistle thrushes are the first to arrive, followed by Chaffinches and Goldfinches as the blossom fade. Green, great and lesser spotted woodpeckers, treecreepers, nuthatches and tits nest in hollow trunks, with little owls using larger holes.

In autumn: The fallen fruits are a good source for butterflies like the red admiral and small tortoiseshell. Windfalls are enjoyed by foraging badgers, mice, voles, and hedgehogs, and some creatures can become a little bit tipsy on enjoying too much fruit!
Birds such as jays, blackbirds, redwings, and fieldfares also feed on the fruit both on the tree and rotting on the ground.

It’s amazing what can be found amongst the UK’s orchards if you look close enough, from bats and butterflies to mistletoe and moths.
Chris Packham

How to help

If you’re really keen it’s a great time of year to plant trees, so do get hold of a native apple or pear and get planting in your garden.
See the BBC Breathing Places tree planting page for further information.

You could also get involved in a community orchard project. Find out more on the Common Ground website.

The Wenlock Arms has been awarded CAMRA’s London Cider Pub of the Year .

This pub is a real drinkers pub, nothing too posh, just proper well kept beer and more importantly cider.

Ian White, CAMRA’s London Cider and Perry Coordinator, said the pub has a continual commitment to cider.

He added: “Cider has been making a real comeback of late but the real stuff is still difficult to find. Most pubs only sell keg cider. The Wenlock has stocked real cider for over a decade and this award is given in reflection of this.”

The Wenlock Arms, London

The Wenlock Arms, London

The pub, in Wenlock Street, Angel, also runs an annual beer and cider festival in conjunction with the local North London Branch of CAMRA during a cider and perry month in October. This gives locals a chance to taste something different and see why CAMRA is making such a fuss about the real stuff.

The Wenlock Arms is a traditional corner pub, which takes its name from the defunct Wenlock Brewery that was once nearby. It’s also famous for its doorstop sandwiches that help soak up its cider and its extensive range of real ales.

When I visited they were recovering from a 3 day beer festival where they had 3 real ciders on. The cellar man said that had ‘gone down well’, and also ‘that there were 15 people waiting outside at opening time!’. Both good signs that real cider is getting the attention is rightly deserves, putting cider firmly on the map in the capital. Bringing attention to the producers and enjoyment of a traditionally crafted drink.

On a normal day you will find Thatchers Gold Cider and maybe a barrel left over from a festival (which I did). There is no food apart from sandwiches and pasties, a good sign that it’s all about the drinking.

Congratulations to all the staff on the Wenlock!

View our list of Cider pubs in London, or Google map of London pubs.

The rose tinted image of fruit laden boughs and confetti like blossom is rooted in centuries of traditions. Throughout ancient cultures, the apple, be it tree, fruit or blossom – is universally seen as a symbol of fertility, goodness, a protection from evil and a potent symbol of magic.

Harvesting cider apples in the orchard - Photo Credit: NACM

Harvesting cider apples in the orchard - Photo Credit: NACM

Orchard ‘wassailing’ is one legacy of the many myths and legends associated with apple trees. Wassailing is a ceremony often involving song and dance, where people drink to the health of apple trees in the hope that they will bear well. Drums, bells, whistles, and the beating of branches with sticks are used to wake the sleeping powers of fertility and to ward off evil influences. Cider is poured over the tree roots, or bread, soaked in the ‘wassailing bowl’, placed in the tree branches as an offering back to the tree.

Stand fast root, bear well top
Pray the god send us a howling good crop,
every twig, apples big
Every bough, apples now.

Hail to thee, old apple tree!
From every bough
Give us apples now;
Hatsful, capsful,
Bushel, bushel, sacksful
And our arms full, too. Traditional wassailing song from 19th century Sussex and Surrey

As a small scale hobby cider maker I have a few books on the subject (more on Cider books), and I was eager to see what this book offered.

There’s a good description on apples and their cultivation, including locating, planting and management – useful if you are thinking of setting up an orchard yourself. Then the chapters after focus on the detail of pressing the fruit, looking after the juice, yeast and its role in fermentation, through to maturation and bottling.

This book is for anyone who wants to grow and to make good cider, apple juice or even cider vinegar. Whether you have a back garden with a couple of apple trees, several acres of orchard deep in the countryside, or you’re just ‘scrumping’ apples from friends and neighbours every autumn, this book is for you. Here you can learn about the equipment you need, the techniques to use and just how they work as they do. You’ll also learn what to do when things go wrong, and how to put them right! Packed with a wealth of practical experience and understanding, Craft Cidermaking is for beginners and old hands alike.

Craft Cider Making book cover

Craft Cider Making book cover

Summary of chapters

    • Chapter 1 The History of Cider
    • Chapter 2 What do I need to make cider?
    • Chapter 4 Juicing and Fermenting
    • Chapter 5 Customising your Cider
    • Chapter 6 When things go wrong
  • Chapter 7 Apple Juice, Cider Vinegar and Perry

Biography of the Author

Andrew Lea is a retired food biochemist who started his career in the tea industry and then spent 13 years at the Long Ashton Research Station (the National Fruit and Cider Institute) in the 1970’s.

He has been a hobby cidermaker with his own small orchard and cider press for over 20 years and has won many prizes at the Bath and West and the Hereford International Cider Competitions.

Buy online

You can buy the book from the publisher, Good Life Press. You can also get it from Vigo. £12.99 / ISBN 978 1 90487 1378

Autumn is here and apples are ready for harvest, so if you fancy making some of your own cider then get reading this book!