CIDER MAKING & THE CORNISH FAMILY
( ROGER E CORNISH [MEM.NO.1])
Binneford Farmhouse near Crediton was a thatched cob building which burnt down in 1946 and has since been rebuilt at 90 degrees to the original. I was saddened by this discovery but it is a very common event with thatched cottages. I have also learnt that the Farmhouse near the church at Dunchideok near Exeter where my 4xgt grandmother died came to the same sad end. However what delighted me was the survival of the old cider press at Binneford that my ancestors operated for several generations.
Crediton was the centre of apple culture and cider-making by the 1870's according to the late Revd S. Baring Gould in his book "Devon" published in 1899. He also maintained that Devon cider was mixed with champagne by some London firms in order to avoid the heavy duty placed on foreign sparkling wines! Baring also maintains that cider is the "most wholesome and sound of beverages".
He continues: "In former days there were many more orchards than at present (1899); every gentleman's farmhouse had its well-stocked, carefully pruned orchard. Beer ran cider hard, and nearly beat it out of the field, and overthrew the apple trees, but the trees are having their good times again."
There is an unusual song which was formerly well known in every West Country farmhouse called:
"The Apple Trees"
An orchard fair, to
please, and pleasure for your mind, sir,
All in the month of
May, the trees are clothed in bloom, sir,
O the jovial days when
the apple trees do bear,
I bid you catch the
chance to pick them in fine weather.
The song says that cider apples glow "gold and red" and it is these that make the best cider. Varieties such as the following were favoured: the Kingston Black, the Bitter-sweet, the Fox-whelp, and the Cherry Pearmain. The apples were knocked down with poles and stacked up under the trees to await for a frost as it was thought that they made better cider after they began to turn brown.
When the apples were considered ready for pounding, usually in November, they were taken to the crusher. The great circular stone was turned by a horse attached to a roundabout. This produced a pulp called pomage or apple-mock (mash). This pomage was placed in layers in the cider press, with clean straw or haircloths between the layers. Below the press was a vat, known as a "vate" in Devon and Cornwall. Above are planks with a lever beam weighted, so as to produce great pressure, or they may be pressed by means of a screw. The cider now begins to flow. The first flow is by no means the best.
The resulting pulp is known as the "cheese" and this is pared down and added to the block again and subjected to more pressure. No water is added to the juice. When all the juice has been extracted, a hole is made in the "cheese" and water added and left to be absorbed. This is pressed out and used to make "beverage" for the workers.
The apple juice was left for about 3 or 4 days for fermentation to commence. As it fermented the dirt and impurities came to the surface and were skimmed off and then the cider was put into casks and finally bottled some time between Christmas and Easter.
A duty of 10/- a barrel was imposed on the making of cider but this was repealed in 1830.
My family were not the only Cornishes to be involved in cider-making. Far better known for his superb cider was The Revd Thomas Cornish of Heathfield Rectory near Taunton Somerset from 1786 - 1840 and his son The Revd Thomas Merton Cornish from 1840 - 1856 who was assisted by his gardener Arthur Moore. The Cornish family had lived at " Cutley" in Kingston St. Mary for several generations before and the first-named Thomas above was the 3xgt grandfather of Patricia Dening (mem.no.37) who supplied me with the charts, cuttings and various extracts upon which this article is based.
The fame of this cider spread and was being supplied in 1842 to such notables as Queen Victoria, Viscount Melbourne, the Duke of Bedford, the Marquess of Worcester, the Rt Hon Earl Nelson of Trafalgar House Salisbury, and Lord Strathmore of Glamis, ancestor of the Queen Mother. The cider was being exported to Australia by 1852. It was known as Heathfield Cider and needed no advertisement apart from word of mouth. The Rev Edward Bryan Coombes Spurway took on the living and the cider making in 1856 followed by his son who continued on the living until 1914. These were the fore-runners of the Taunton Cider Company.
In 1911 George Pallett and John Vickery called in Thomas Cornish's gardener, Arthur Moore, to join them at Norton Fitzwarren. Here "Pallett's" cider was made until in 1921 the Taunton Cider Company was formed. The only record of the Cornishes of Heathfield in the possession of the company today is the page from the Cider sales Book showing the sale to Queen Victoria on 15th May 1843.
The barn and the rectory coach-house at Heathfield fell into decay but in about 1986 they were restored and converted into a four bedroom and a five bedroom residence respectively.