Cider Musings

Captain Silas Taylor, cidermaker soldier, antiquarian musician and spy!

Little is known about Silas Taylor although he was an important person in the story of cider. Time has been harsh to many. History concentrating on the major players. Another person of who we have no image of. Although there are snippets of his life still to be found in accounts of others.

The son of Silvanus Taylor, who amassed significant monies in London as a financier before returning to the West to serve on the county committee and Commission of the Peace in Herefordshire. He bought considerable church lands for Silas. Silas is reported to have owned Litley Court just a few miles upstream of Lord Scudamore at Holm Lacy.

Silas was born in 1624. He was educated at Shrewsbury and Westminster, and entered New Inn Hall, Oxford, in 1641. New Inn College was literally 2 minutes walk or 175 yards from Ralph Austen's orchard and cidery between Shoe Lane (off New Inn Hall Street) and Queens Street)

He left the university without taking a degree to join the Roundheads, where he obtained a commission as Captain of Horse under Edward Massey, (Lieutenant Colonel in Parliamentary Army before switching sides in the 3rd Civil war to support Charles 2nd). Massey easily took Hereford without a fight. Taylor remained there.

Silas was similar a good soldier of moderate views, as this story will show. "One Sunday morning Royalist soldiers waited till the family of Sir John Brydges was at church in Bridstow before setting fire to their house, which was situated within the medieval castle walls. Everything was destroyed. Silas Taylor describes the events surrounding this fire from a Parliamentarian perspective: "At his return out of Ireland his designe was recruits for his comand there and staying awhile at this house he found himself in great odium with those that by the late undeserving king were as undeservedly trusted wth the command of ye country, viz. Henry Lingen of Sutton Esq : and one Barnaby Scudamore, a man of noe fortune, intrusted with ye government of ye city of Hereford, who betwixt them ordered the burning of this house, formerly ye Castle of Wilton, wch savoured more of spleen and malice than of souldierlike designe, in regard ye place was very unlikely to have made a garrison (it being seated not in a castle-like but house-like building) unless they wd have been at ye cost and paines to pull downe the house and built it a castle; but however burned it they would and did ..." . Interestingly this Barnabas Scudamore was the younger brother of Lord Scudamore the cider maker and future ambassador to France.

During the First English Civil War, 1642-6, he became, by his father's influence, a sequestrator in Herefordshire. Initially the position was joint with Captain Benjamin Mason; after a sharp quarrel over the details of distraining (seizing) money, Taylor emerged as the sole holder of the office. Under the Commonwealth Taylor had access to the cathedral libraries of Hereford and Worcester for manuscripts; from the latter he copied an original grant of King Edgar dated 964,  Allegations of the time that he misappropriated the contents on a large scale are now rejected. He was accommodating to the local gentry including Lord Scudamore. Lord Scudamore was imprisoned in London for 4 years after the 2nd fall of Hereford this time more bloodily to Sir William Waller General of the Parliamentary army in the South West with sequestration of his home and possessions in Petty France, Westminster, and Holm Lacy Herefordshire, and Llanthony just over the border in Wales.

But through the early intersession of his wife Elizabeth at Holm Lacy to Waller there was little looting. I suspect Silas continued the fairly benign arrangement as the Parliamentary Sequestrator . Hence we still have valuable records of Lord Scudamore's cider making. The policy of sequestration was implemented by Parliament during the English Civil War and Interregnum as a method of punishment and financial gain. It enabled them to legally confiscate the real and personal property of anyone supporting King Charles, as well as all Catholics, irrespective of whether they were actively involved in the war or not.

At the Restoration of 1660, Taylor had to rely on patronage of Sir Edward Hartley who was appointed governor of Dunkirk, ( an English possession from 1658 to 1662, after which sold to the French for 320,000 pounds It was captured from the Spanish) , in June 1660, Sir Edward took Taylor with him in the capacity of commissary for ammunition. He returned to London in 1663, and was out of work for nearly two years. However his mild behaviour while exercising the ungracious office of parliamentary sequestrator was not forgotten, by Sir Paul Neile, another cider maker, and founder member of the Royal Society, found him the post of resident commissioner or keepership of naval stores at Harwich Essex, a post with an income of 100 pounds/yr. Harwich was an important naval yard at the time.

Silas had helped Paul before -‘whom he had before obliged’

In 1665, he leased part of the bishop’s palace Hereford from Colonel John Birch so still had aspirations to return to Herefordshire.

Silas held this post at Harwich held the post until his death, which took place on 4 November 1678 at age 54, sadly in debt. He was buried in the chancel of St Nicholas Church Harwich.

In this post he did some spying for the English against the Dutch for Sir Joseph Williamson, probably organised by Samuel Pepys for the Admiralty leading up to the 3rd Anglo Dutch war. . After instructions from Williamson, he jumped on a packet steamer to Holland but alas was not much use. "Although well versed in naval affairs, he was not otherwise well qualified as a spy; except by the gentlemanly and amateurish standards of the time". Packet or postal ships plied between these 2 important trading countries despite the war.

Shortly on return from Dunkirk he wrote a letter to the Royal Society dated 14th July 1663 which was read at the 22nd of July meeting, on his Observations on Cider which were ordered to be registered. Papers were read to the audience, often by a member if the paper was not of a member.

This includes the important statement, "To preserve Cider in Bottles, I recommend upon you my own experience, to is, not to bottle it up before Fermentation: .... but after Fermentation in two or three or four months .... lay it in a repository of cool springing water ...This makes it drink, quick and lively; it comes into the glass not pale or troubled, but bright yellow, with a speedy vanishing nittiness which evaporates with a Sparkling and whizzing noise." ie he is describing Pét-Nat (pétillant naturel) or Méthode Ancestrale technique now of sparkling wine; but cider before it.

Silas' relationship to the Royal Society is interesting. He gave 2 papers ( one on how to catch rattlesnakes in Virginia!) and attended several meetings. He gave money on 3 occasions, once to the building fund of new premises, but he never was a member.

Silas Silas Taylor was a cultured antiquary , who tended to prefer the company of the old county elite as we have seen above. He documented the local history of Herefordshire and then after his move to Harwich, that of East Anglia. His attempt to publish Antiquities of Hereford did not find a publisher ( writing was not his forte). He published a book The History of Gavel-Kind. He was also a composer and had Playford and Purcell amongst his acquaintances. Samuel Pepys found his music boring! He composed anthems and 27 two-part English and Latin psalms and hymns. Most of his surviving anthems are incomplete, but four parts of "God is our hope" are in the Gostling partbooks at York and two others are in Ely organ books now at Cambridge University Library. Playford printed Taylor's setting of Cowley's The thirsty earth drinks up the rain in Catch that Catch Can and two suites for treble and bass viol in Court Ayre.

So Silas Taylor is a man central to the story of cider from his own endeavours, and also thankfully in retaining documents pertaining to cider by being the 'nice' guy in a difficult position. Hopefully patching together detail from many sources has placed him a little more in the limelight.