History of Cider Part III: The Decline of Cider in Europe

March 15, 2010

In Europe, cider began its rise in 1200 with a golden age during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, where cider was sometimes used as payment until 1878.

  • Watson laments that the popularity of cider in England is what lead to its decline in the middle part of the eighteenth century. Cider making was a rural practice by farmers for home and local use, or it was made by estates with money and resources to experiment with apple varieties and production techniques. However, the Industrial Revolution shifted the farmers to the cities, causing the quality of English cider to drop despite demand reaming the same. As a result, “Unscrupulous cider merchants began buying large volumes of sweet, unfermented juice and producing adulterated or watered-down beverages that resembled real cider in name only. The “Devonshire colic,” a palsy-like sickness caused by lead leaching into cider from the joints and pipes of manufacturing equipment, further damaged cider’s reputation, as did the rough drink known as scrumpy, which might be made from rotten fruit, other fruit juices, surplus vegetables, sugars – just about anything that would ferment. The new British ales like Whitbread, Bass, and Guinness were seen, quite rightly, as being more healthful that these degraded ciders, which came to be considered a beverage of the urban lower classes as a cheap, quick way to get drunk.”
  • At the end of the century, plant breeder Thomas Andrew Knight published Treatise on Ciders which he followed up with Pomona Herefordiensis in 1811. They included information on all the cider apples and perry pears growing in Hereford. Knight had begun to make crosses between apple varieties to help genetically prevent apple canker. His progress sparked new interest in fruit breeding programs.
  • About the same time, wooden screws were being replaced in the cider press by cast iron screws, along with the development of the much smaller scatter mill for the old horse-drawn mechanical means of crushing apples. This allowed for the development of the travelling cider maker, who went from farm to farm crushing apples.
  • 1837: an excerpt on growing and making cider and perry from British Husbandry; Exhibiting the Farming Practive in Various Parts of the United Kingdom, Volume the Second.
  • As England became more industrialized, cider went from being made on the small scale to industrial production lines. Herefordshire had more than a dozen cider factories open between 1870 and 1900. During this period, in 1887, H.P. Bulmer Ltd opened, which is now the largest cider maker in the world with seventeen brands. Half of what they produce is consumed in Britain.
  • Real Cider states, “The latest chapter in the story of cider really belongs to the growth of a few large manufactures of cider. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, in response to the massive urbanisation occurring and a commensurate decrease in the numbers of agricultural labourers due to the scale of mechanisation, the needs and the purposes behind the old farm-based tradition of making cider steadily began to die. The process continued well into the twentieth century, and saw perhaps another dramatic stage in decline with that great turning point in British society – the First World War. After that, while the tradition lingered on here and there, and even survived in isolated spots beyond the Second World War, to all intents and purposes the tradition was dead. And yet, perhaps we are already witnessing something of the proverbial phoenix. While it is certainly the factory-produced cider which dominates the market today, perhaps the renaissances of interest in real cider which has arisen in the last few years will, in the forms of the small-scale producer, and the ‘domestic’ and community production of cider come to represent the vigor of a new variety grafted onto old stock” (page 12).
  • Yet, Real Cider credits that same time period of decline with better documentations, “Chronicling the rich traditions surrounding every aspect of cider in Britain didn’t really begin until our own century, and even then most has been accomplished since the Second World War. It draw upon a rich seam of archival material, mostly from the nineteenth century, corresponding to a time when the society slowly became more literate, increasingly industrialized (bringing profound changes to people’s lives and customs) and saw the advent of such inventions as photography. In that century, and even up to the First World War and beyond, we discover it was made largely for consumption by the farm household and farm workers – so basic and unobtrusive a practice that it rarely even entered into the farm accounts” (page 11).
  • Lea points out that not everything about the Industrial Revolution was bad for cider popularity, “The growth of rail transport and bottling technology, however, enabled a new market to be established in towns and cities throughout the 20th century, dominated by a few large manufacturers. From the 1990’s there has been a new divergence, between the mass-market producers on the one hand and the smaller specialist producers on the other.”

Part VI will be on March 22, 2010

My sources include:

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One Response to “History of Cider Part III: The Decline of Cider in Europe”


  1. […] was originally a mystery and some of the techniques that have been abandoned today. The traveling cidermaker is the next section, talking about how a man with equipment would go around the country side making […]


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