History of cider making in Gloucestershire

On the 5th April, our evening commenced with the opportunity to taste Gloucestershire cider before hearing a most interesting illustrated talk on the history of cider making in our county, given by Andy Mellor. Andy had researched the subject extensively and presented his talk in the most lively and entertaining manner with some intriguing information.

The history of cider in England is recorded in various documents throughout the centuries.   Apparently the Vikings raided Tavistock Abbey cider barrels and ended up very inebriated in the process in 997AD.   Many references are found in Ecclesiastical documents as cider was produced in many monasteries and abbeys.   The church was in possession of large amounts of land at the time, so had the ability to grow orchards, unlike the townsfolk and peasants.   This changed after the dissolution of the monasteries when monks became homeless and wandered the country teaching the skills of cider making for payment, thus cider making increased. 

From the 15thC onwards wages were often paid in beer, cider and bread rather than money.  A labourer would start the day by bringing his 4 pint wooden container, known as a filkin, to be filled with cider as water was unsafe and this was part of his wages.  It was normal for around 10 pints of cider or beer to be drunk during a day and as there was no means of testing the strength, so many people spent their life intoxicated.

A later development was pomagne which became fashionable and was made by adding sugar to cider to produce a sparkling drink which rivalled champagne and less costly.  A new discovery of thick green glass was invented by Sir Kenelm Digby in 17th C, to hold the sparkling pomagne and he is now known as the ‘father’ of these bottles.   Glass bottles were manufactured in the Forest of Dean due to the abundance of wood for the kilns, with one sited at Newnham..  We learned much about the actual process of making cider and that there are still many successful  producers within our county.   Apparently Bulmers Museum in Hereford is well worth a visit with many more facts and artefacts to enlighten us.  Please do support our local cider producers as you will not be disappointed.

Susanna Stewart

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