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It's April so it's time for our members to help us blog through the 2020 A-Z Blogging Challenge. Our chosen theme this year is Employment, the topic of our Shared Endeavour where our members are encouraged to research employment within their one-place study. Today's entry is from Magdalen Galley-Taylor.

Apple Crushing in Thornbury, Devon – a shared endeavour.
Thornbury is a small parish in rural North West Devon which is composed of the 5 discrete and separate hamlets of Brendon, Lashbrook, South Wonford, Thornbury and Woodacott.

Figure 1: The five hamlets that make up Thornbury

It is a small community – the population of the parish at the 2011 census was 285, living in 120 households. The population has been higher in the past as can be seen in Table 1 below:

Table 1: Population of the 5 hamlets comprising Thornbury.

At the time of Domesday, Thornbury, known as Tornberia was held by the Abbot of Tavistock. In rough translation “it was taxed on a hide under King Edward. 10 ploughs can plough it. Radulf holds it of the Abbott. In demesne he has a virgate and 2 ploughs. The villeins have 3 virgates and 4 ploughs. Radulf has 10 villeins, 6 bordars, 4 serfs, 14 head of cattle, 15 swine, 50 sheep, 30 goats, 26 acres of wood, 100 acres of meadow, 120 acres of pasture. It is worth 60 shilling and was worth less when the Abbot received it.”
There is no mention of Woodacott in Domesday Book, however Week, which is now a sub-area of Woodacott is rendered at Wiche, and is mentioned. A rough translation states that 3 ploughs can plough it. The Lord has 1 plough and the villeins have 1 ploughs. It has 3 villeins and 3 serfs, 5 acres of wood, 10 acres of meadow, 15 acres of pasture. It is worth 20 shilling.
The other hamlets are hard to identify in Domesday due to the similarity of names with other, larger villages.
The next readily available survey of the village is that undertaken for the Tithe Apportionment map in 1839. The total farmed acreage of the village was recorded as 1815 acres given over to arable, pasture and meadow as well as many other countryside activities and functions such as gardens, orchards, Mowhays1, waste and coppices. This is the first time that we can easily see the evidence of orchards in the village. They are present in all of the hamlets and in total cover about 16.5 acres or nearly 1% of the cultivated land.
By 1941 when the then Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries carried out their survey of agricultural activities, very few orchards remained.

1 The West Country word, mowhay, means a stack-yard or other enclosure for hay, corn or other piled up crops.

Figure 2: the area around the Barton in 1839 showing the orchards
In 2015 a neighbour, Keith Hutchings (born 1959) who now lives at the Barton, Thornbury, wrote an article about his memories of cider making in his youth. Keith comes from a long line of farmers and farm labourers in Thornbury and his home has a long history as well. The Barton is built on the site of the former Thornbury Manor, the remains of which regularly appear in the garden and farmyard when work is being carried out although nothing remains above ground.
At the time of the Tithe apportionment, Keith’s family were elsewhere in the village, but the Barton had 1.6 acres of orchards which can be seen on the Tithe map and are identified as plots 4, 5, 10, 14, 518 and 519. Plot 5 has been partly subsumed by the churchyard, but what remains is still known as the orchard and has recently been replanted.

Figure 3: Extracts from the Tithe Apportionment Document showing the use of land around The Barton farmhouse.

The Pound House, which is a place where apples are pulped and pressed, is one of the three buildings opposite the farmhouse on the right that back onto plot No.2 and which can be seen in this aerial photo taken in the mid-1960s. It is now in a ruinous condition.

Figure 4: Aerial photograph of the Barton from the mid-1960s showing the Pound House on the right.

Figure 5: The screws from the old apple press from the Barton Pound House.

The rest of this article is based on Keith’s recollections of cidermaking in the village:

I don’t know when cider-making first started at The Barton, but I do know when it ended, the mid 1950s. As a small child in the early sixties I can remember the farm being surrounded by small orchards, and that a very young Jeremy Bond (another farmer in the village whose family farmed at Week) and myself once climbed a cider apple tree in the orchard on the opposite side of the lane, to help ourselves to an apple. It wasn’t worth the effort as we both spat our mouthfuls out (cider apples aren’t known as ‘spitters’ for nothing). Sadly, by the mid-60s these orchards had been grubbed out and turned into pasture.

The Romans discovered that the locals in Kent already knew how to make cider at the time of the invasion in 55 B.C. Thus, as The Barton was the site of a medieval Manor, it has to be presumed that cider has been made here for a very long time. Let’s face it, cider was safe to drink compared to water from a well, and as apples are much lower in sugar content than many fruits used to produce alcohol, it had a reasonably low alcohol content of 4-5%. Thus everyone drank it, including children. I’ve heard my grandfather (Frederick Albert Hutchings 1900 – 1987) say that a quart of cider a day (about a litre for those too young to remember Imperial measures) was a common allowance for a farm labourer, and considered as part of the labourer’s wages. This practice was banned by act of Parliament during the 1st World War.

The only person alive who can remember cider making at The Barton is Mike Pett, (another village resident and relative of Keith) who can recall his grandad Hutchings (my great grandfather) (Samuel Walter Hutchings 1874 - 1960) bringing apples from Woodacott to be made into cider. As he was only 7 or 8 years old at the time, his memory is fairly sketchy, but he can remember the large spanner being used and that his grandad made a sweet and a rough cider. He can remember the barrels having hoops replaced, taps fitted, and that they were stored in a cold room.
He also remembers one afternoon during the summer months when Richard, his cousin, was staying that they found some cider and helped themselves, well it might have been pop! They were both found fast asleep and worse for wear against the hay barn. This reminds me of a story that my grandfather told me many years ago. A young female reporter came to The Barton to write a piece on farm cider and its production; having sampled the product with enthusiasm my grandmother had to make up the spare room, and the reporter returned to Exeter the next morning. Sadly, I have never been shown a copy of her report or maybe none was written as her memory was too hazy.

I do know that my grandfather made cider here for lots of farmers in the village who brought their apples here to be pressed. This also suggests that this was the only cider press in the parish. (This is confirmed in the book Dear Quad (2005) by Sonia Roberts who lived in Brendon in the early 1950s and reports on the joint cider pressing at The Barton in Thornbury when there was a bumper crop of apples in 1952) I also wonder if we had carried on producing cider for another decade whether local cider would have been a viable proposition. I do remember my own father (Stanley Raymond Hutchings 1927 – 2002) would buy a flagon of cider at harvest time as everyone came in for supper after a hard evening’s labour bringing in the hay. Pasties, cakes, jam and cream, tea and of course cider would always be on offer as everyone sat around the kitchen table to gossip, eat and drink.

Figure 6: Keith with the large spanner used on the cider press and the largest spanner now used on the farm

Despite several acres of cider orchards at Bradford Manor (Bradford is the next village to Thornbury in an easterly direction) and at Sheepwash (another village to the north east) there is only the Winkleigh Cider company (formally Inches) making any large amounts of local cider. The apples from Bradford and Sheepwash are taken by national brands for processing. Maybe one day we will start to see a few micro presses return to this part of North West Devon.

In the meantime, cheers.

Meg Galley-Taylor and Keith Hutchings

  2 Responses to “A is for Apple Crusher”

  1. What interesting memories you found about cider making! Cider has been ‘revived’ in British Columbia where I live. LIkely it will be in Devon too. BC Cider Week is coming up in May, but we won’t be out sampling this year. Better things soon!

  2. My husband wrote an article about places around the world called Thornbury and found one in SW Ontario on Lake Huron where they make cider. This is what he found: In Canada, Thornbury Village is part of The Blue Mountains, a town in Grey County, in SW Ontario, located on Lake Huron. The town is a shipping and processing centre for local agricultural produce especially apples, and a small fishing fleet operated from the harbour. The coming of the railroad in 1855 made the town a desirable summer resort for the wealthy from Toronto. The apple packing industry took root in Thornbury in the 1880s when immigrants discovered that the mineral-rich soil and the moderating effect of Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay climate made it an excellent location for growing apples. Today, there are 7,500 acres of apple orchards running along the lake shores. All those apples have to go somewhere, so you’ll not be surprised to learn that cider is a local speciality, from the Thornbury Village Cider House & Brewery. Which connects us back nicely to the West Country, and our own Torneberie.

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