Origins of Cider

Cider has a long and fascinating history in the UK.  Although it had been assumed that cider was introduced after the Norman Conquest, it is now thought to have been here long before that.

Apple trees were growing in the UK well before the Romans came but it was they who introduced organised cultivation.  It is likely that the wandering peoples, who travelled through the countries which we now know as Spain and Northern France, introduced their ‘shekar’ (a word of Hebrew origin for strong drink) to the early Britons.

However, it is true to say that the Normans had the most positive effect on the history of cider making.  Northern France was renowned for the volume and quality of its orchards and vineyards, as indeed was Southern England, but owing to climatic changes these areas became less suitable for the growing of grapes.  Gradually cider began to replace wine.

In the UK and France, cider apples tended to be grown towards the western extremities because the climatic and soil conditions were most suitable.  Under the influence of the Gulf Stream, the weather was relatively mild and the areas concerned had a fairly heavy annual rainfall.

These combined factors of climate and history established the cider producing areas of England as we know them today.

After their conquest of England in 1066, the Normans introduced many changes - perhaps the drinking of cider was one of the best! The popularity of cider grew steadily; new varieties of apples were introduced, and cider began to figure in the tax records.

It became the drink of the people, and production spread rapidly. By 1300, there were references to cider production in the counties now known as Buckinghamshire, Devonshire, Essex, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Kent, Norfolk, Somerset, Suffolk, Surrey and Sussex and in most other counties as far north as Yorkshire.

Cider was produced in substantial quantities on farms; every farm would have a few cider apple trees as well as cooking and dessert apple trees in the orchard, and it became customary in the 18th Century to pay part of a farm labourer’s wage in cider.  A typical allowance on a farm would be 3 - 4 pints per day.  Labourers were rated by the amount they drank; one comment was that a 2 gallon a day man was worth the extra he drank!  In the western counties of England in particular, a farm worker could receive perhaps one-fifth of his wage in cider. In the latter part of the 19th Century, a campaign to stop payment in the form of alcoholic beverages brought about the addition of a clause to the Truck Act of 1887 which prohibited the payment of wages in this way.

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