Monday, 6 July 2015

Cider-making heritage under threat


Trevor Waddington: “We’re talking about the survival of small cider producers who don't want their industry to become history.”

Fairlynch Museum’s Chairman Trevor Waddington has added his voice to the protest movement led by Britain’s small cider-makers whose livelihood is threatened by EU bureaucracy.

Since 1976, cider-makers who produce fewer than 12,000 pints a year have not had to pay duty. Earlier this year the European Commission demanded  that Britain end the tax relief which has allowed many small producers to flourish, and which has encouraged the revival of a traditional craft particularly strong in the West Country.

The National Association of Cider Makers believes that such small producers make up 80% of Britain’s 480 cider-makers, and that four out of five could be put out of business if the EU tax demand is met.

“If you enjoy the occasional glass of English cider you may well feel like giving your support to what is an important part of our heritage,” says Trevor, who is urging friends to sign a petition currently being publicised by MEP Ashley Fox. “We’re talking about the survival of small cider producers who don't want their industry to become history.”

A traditional cider press

Cider-making is a centuries-old tradition in the Lower Otter Valley, which is the area covered by Fairlynch, from Budleigh Salterton to Newton Poppleford and Harpford. Otter Valley Association researcher Anne Speight  records in an Ovapedia article how local farmers visited several orchards where they blessed the apple trees.  A hogshead of cider was provided and guns were fired at the trees after singing the following verse :

Here's to the manure which dresses the trees,
Here's to the tree which bears the bud,
Here's to the bud which bears the fruit,
Here's to the fruit which makes the drink,
And here's success to all.

Threats to the livelihood of cider-makers aroused much discontent in the West Country.  Researcher Roz Hickman, who is also a volunteer steward at the Museum, quotes this entry in The Public Ledger dated 17 July 1766 in another OVA article:

“On Monday last, great rejoicing was made at Otterton in the county of Devon, by the direction of John Duke Esq. for the repeal of the late Cyder Act. The day was begun with beat of drum, music playing and bells ringing. A procession was made by a great number of the inhabitants, of the said parish, both men and women, through that place and the neighbouring villages, all arranged in due order, attended with a drum beating, several sorts of music, flags displayed and all of them decorated with handsome favours etc etc. too long to mention, which made a grand appearance. A bullock was roasted and distributed amongst the people with vast quantities of bread and plenty of liquor.  The evening was concluded with a bonfire, illuminations and drinking the health of the King, Queen and Royal family and afterwards all those patriotic gentlemen who exerted themselves in obtaining a repeal of that Act which imposed a burden so grievous to be borne by those cyder counties.  Joy was visible in every countenance and was expressed by the loud acclamations of a vast concourse of people, assembled together from that and the adjacent parishes, on this happy occasion.”

The Cider Act, explains Roz, was one of the taxes raised by the government of George III in 1762.  “Britain was heavily in debt at the end of the Seven Years’ War and imposing this new tax of 4/- per hogshead of cider was just one of several measures taken.

That the act was unpopular is an understatement; the MPs representing the cider-producing counties of England, tried unsuccessfully to prevent the bill becoming law.  One cause of its unpopularity was that the tax was to be collected by the Excise Service, who were hated in the West Country;  the excise men would have to visit and investigate every apple-grower in the area, tenant and landowner alike, and the number of government agents would have had to increase enormously for the tax to be collected.”

Farm workers received meagre wages and were paid partly in cider, a practice that continued well into the late 1800s. “Usually cider so sour one could hardly drink it,” notes Roz.

Today’s ciders are a considerable improvement on such drinks, but the traditional techniques for processing apple juice remain the same.

A good example of the revival of cider-making is in Colaton Raleigh, a few miles north of Budleigh Salterton.  You can’t fail to see the signs as you drive through on the Exmouth-Sidmouth Road, where Jerry Woods and his family sell their Woodsys Cider at the village shop which they  opened in 2008.

The striking logo on the banners outside is based on the unusually marked red and green apple grown by Colaton Raleigh man Ken Morrish and presented to Jerry.
“It all started when I had a go at making perry,” explains Jerry.  “From there I went on to cider and then came the moment when we had to decide whether to invest money in equipment to process apple juice on a large scale.”


Proud cider-maker: Jerry Woods with his prize-winning cider at the 2015 Devon County Show

The decision to invest has paid off. Woodsys Cider won 1st prize for its Sunrise Medium Cider at the Devon County Show this year.  


I’ve sampled quite a few West Country ciders and can tell you that the judges were absolutely right: this particular cider is delicious.  


These vats contain fruit ciders; I liked the elderflower variety  

The family now produces a range of ciders including fruit drinks ranging from strawberry to blackcurrant. But the cider apple remains the staple of the cider-making industry. “Every farm had its cider barn,” says Jerry. “You can still see the old cider presses in many properties round here.”


Jerry with his prize-winning cider. The 1,000-litre metal vats behind him are made by the German firm Speidel, which has been manufacturing high quality tanks for the wine and beverage industries for over 100 years. They represent a significant investment: each one costs £2,000

 “We’re proud to be part of a great West Country tradition,” he tells visitors who call at the shop for a tasting. “We are now producing our own take on many different blends of cider and as natural as we can get it. Every year experimenting on something different and something new!” 

Woodsys Cider is at

To sign the petition, click on


PS. Don't underestimate the strength of some ciders. Remember what happened to poor Hugo, the medieval saltworker I wrote about here

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