I was sitting in my study the other day, looking at a map of Wrington in the year 1739, and thought of the first time I came across the village,
50 years ago. I still have my "First Class Hike" journal. As Boy Scouts we hiked up through the valley, came through an orchard full of apple
trees in flower, and camped just over the wall from the churchyard of All Saints’. The village looked very pretty - it had a belt of apple
orchards in flower, on three sides. Today, looking at the 1739 estate map I could see that it hadn't changed that much in the 220 years in
Click to enlarge
1739 map oriented as 1739 map oriented North
published - North to the left to the top, as we ‘see’ the village
Since then these orchards, that were such a feature of the village, have vanished. In the eighteenth century, the map shows me that there
were four pubs in the village, most of whose drinks would have been cider. They were The Golden Lyon,(spelled that way) The Bottle, The
Royal Oak, and the White Heart Inn. The mediaeval Court House was still in existence (called the Manor House), and had a "cider house"
that would have housed barrels and a press, stretching between the house and the church. There was an orchard to the north side of the
grounds of the house that survived until the late '60s, and had a range of apples for cider making, including varieties such as Morgan
Sweets. Bramleys and the small sweet red "Blush in Wine".
The economics of cider production changed in the 20th century. Beer could be trucked in more cheaply. The old apple trees were large,
needing ladders and a lot of labour to pick. I remember one Scout camp when we camped at a farm in exchange for us all spending a day
picking cider apples. We soon found that they did not taste too good eaten raw. In the 1950's the commercial cider makers who had
supplanted local production, gave many farmers cash sums in exchange for becoming those farmers' sole purchasers of apples.
Subsequently the price they then found they were offered was so low that the apples weren't worth picking. The uneconomic orchards’
proximity to the village made them prime targets for house building, and so the orchards were lost.
The appetite for "rough" strong Somerset cider had its downside. A great uncle of mine developed such an addiction to the stuff that he
found himself in Barrow Gurney mental hospital. Those who remember Adge Cutler's "Drink up the Cider" song will recall the line "I'm off to
Barrow Gurney, /for to see my cousin Ernie,/ And there's still more cider in the west". Barrow had more than its share of cider's victims.
We now have Thatcher's cider in the valley, making a success of a local tradition, with a rather more refined product. Wrington's orchards
may have gone, but they do still use a range of local Somerset varieties, rather than importing foreign apple concentrate.
We were in the basement of a comedy club in Glasgow a couple of years ago and the barman asked us where we were from. I explained
that we were from a village, near Bristol." Bristol, where's that?" My daughter piped up, "Wrington is near where Thatchers cider comes
from". To which the Glaswegian replied, "Oh yes, I know where that is”.
Last Court Farm cider apple tree, in what is now Ladywell