Cider Musings

Cider at Canterbury Priory/Cathedral

Orchards and cider are often associated with monasteries through the Ages. Monasteries were important centres of knowledge. As the Roman Empire collapsed these communities became the centres of knowledge necessary for the preservation of their Christian knowledge. Royalty had less need for the skills of reading and writing; their needs of maintaining order were more immediate and visceral. At the peak there were  over 700 monasteries in England. These houses consisted of between twenty and up to 400 monks. But the intellectual  influence of the monasteries was not proportional to their numbers and is not germane to our story.  It was a free and highly-skilled labour force available to the monastery in the form of monks, with the help of many  peasants and paid craftsmen that made them economic powerhouses. Even though time was reserved for prayer  the production of the monastery was often more organised and efficient than of the secular world. This is why monasteries became rich in their heyday of the 12th C.  A monastery needed to feed all the people in the institution and visitors ands although the diet was often simple, the monastery needed to cultivated plants wheat hay graze sheep cattle , raise livestock, make wine for the Sacrament and beer and cider to drink, cheeses to eat and spirits initially for medicines.

Initially any surpluses were sold but over time became the  mainstay of supporting the House economically. 

Remains of Canterbury Priory buildings

Orchards are often associated with monasteries to provide apples as food and sometimes to make cider.  There are several 13th century references to the Canterbury Priory’s orchard and cider, a 1427 reference to Dunster Priory’s orchard, a 1239 reference to an orchard let from the abbot of the convent of Coventry, a 1405 and 1429 reference to the orchard of the Priory and convent of St Oswalds at Wotton, Gloucester, another to the Priory of St James, Bristol.


The first reference to an orchard at Canterbury in the Cathedral Priory complex is a map from about 1170! The monk/scribe Eadwine produced a well illustrated psalter.

Included is a curious map that appears to be a detailed plumbing map of the buildings and surrounding lands. Why that would be produced on a high quality vellum is a mystery. However it shows the fresh water stream entering flowing through an orchard of apple trees or pomorium. 

The trees even have red apples on them.

There is no mention of cider or a press house but the production of cider can be inferred by a later reference by Giraldus Cambrensis in his book Speculum Ecclesiae of 1216. 

There he states “there is a great abundance of wine and cider … and everything that can make you drunk”.

Information baaed from an entry in this book  Laura Angotti