Cider Musings

Cider Tax Riots

Cider was a common drink in the West country from the 14th Century and formed part of wages of labourers until outlawed by the Truck Act of 1887. Unlike beer It had not previously been taxed. However as always Governments look to new taxes to raise revenue. The Cider Bill of 1763 was a proposed measure by the British government of Lord Bute to put a tax on the production of cider as Britain’s national debt had reached unprecedented levels during the early 1760s following the country’s involvement in the 7 Years War. It was proposed that a tax of four shillings would be levied on every hogshead of cider made.

This produced an instant reaction from the cider-producing areas, particularly in the West Country Wales and Devon which elected many MPs. Riots broke out and there was widespread outrage against the bill.

There are tales of surveyors, employed to determine the acreage of cider apples on behalf of the government, being kidnapped only to be released by their captors upon promise of immediate abandonment of their new positions. And in another example, an excise collector in Gloucestershire was abducted and held underground for a month! 

Baron Sir William Pynsent was MP for Taunton between 1715-1722 and Sheriff of Somerset 1741-1742. He had made his fortune in the cider trade.  In desperation, Pynsent wrote to Pitt and vowed to leave his entire estate to him upon his death if he were to challenge the Cider Act. Pitt was more than up to the job – not only was he a gifted speaker, he was well respected and already critical of Bute’s government. 

                                          William Pitt the Younger 
In a passionate speech Pitt argued against the forced entry into peoples homes to collect the unpaid taxes, and for the rights of an individual’s privacy from government intrusion saying:

The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storm may enter; the rain may enter; but the King of England cannot enter — all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!

Sadly this did not defeat the Act , but despite this and the fact he never actually met Pitt, Pynsent kept his word and when he died aged 85 on 8th January 1765 he left his entire fortune to Pitt in gratitude. Pitt in return built a monument to him. The 140 feet (43 m) Burton Pynsent Monument on Troy Hill at Burton Pynsent,  Somerset England, was built in 1767 and is locally known as the Cider Monement. The local alternative name for the tower, which stands on Troy Hill, a spur of high ground is of course Cider Monument. It is clad in Portland stone and was designed by Capability Brown and built by Philip Pear, at a cost of £2,000.

                                          Photo by Bill Bradshaw

This legal stouch lead to the 4th amendment in the US Constitution.

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized"