Cider Musings

John Evelyn, Life and Cider

John Evelyn was born on his father’s estate at Wotton Surrey, on 31 October 1620; he was the grandson of George Evelyn, introducer to England and principal manufacturer of gunpowder under Queen Elizabeth, and the second son of Richard Evelyn, high sheriff of Surrey and Sussex in 1633–1634. This family became extremely wealthy from the control manufacture of gunpowder. As the second son he was not expected to be the principal heir but was wealthy from his family wealth. He grew up at his maternal grandfather's ( and Godfather) home in Lewes, Isle of Wight after being sent there by his father to protect the family line from a virulent bout of Plaque that had occurred in London. Both John and his elder brother George survived. 

He refused to go to Eton and remained at school in Lewes until he was seventeen, when he went to Balliol College in 1637, Oxford; at about the same time he was admitted to the Middle Temple, London, but for its social training rather than for study of law. He stayed at Oxford, though with considerable interruptions, for three years. As he later acknowledged, his school was unable to give him a proper grounding; Oxford did not make good that defect either. Evelyn was inquisitive and observant, but had little powers of clear and precise thought and of synthesis.

He had a patron in Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, the great art-collector , who had been helped by Evelyn’s father to buy an estate at Albury near Wotton. He received the young Evelyn kindly and fostered in him a strong interest in the visual arts; and if Evelyn’s love of landscape is to be regarded as something spontaneous, it was probably in Arundel’s household that he learnt to express it.

Evelelyn went on to landscape the gardens even with a tunnel under a hill.

No specific origin for his scientific interests is known. 

On account of the political situation in England he left the country in November 1643 and traveled through France and Italy for the next three years. From June 1645 to April 1646 he was mostly in Padua, studying anatomy and physiology. In July 1646 Evelyn went to Paris, where he attended courses in chemistry by Nicasius Le Fèvre. In June 1647 he married Mary, the daughter of Sir Richard Browne, Charles I’s diplomatic agent in France.

John had Royalist leanings and kept a low profile during the Civil war with his brother's property at Wotton in Parliamentary territory in case it was confiscated. He published an anonymous tract in defence of Royalty.  

He was a devout Anglican. and has a simple tomb in the Evelyn Chapel at Wotton

In February 1652 he finally returned to England and settled at Sayes Court, his new father-in-law’s estate at Deptford in Kent close to London. 

This was to be his home for the next forty years. 

He developed a passion for gardening and garden design, recreating the garden at Sayes Court. Over 300 fruit trees including apples were planted in a new orchard, the previous ‘wild’ orchard being grubbed up. 

He redesigned the house to. Although he was not a trained draughtsman he was accurate. 

This can be seen in this sketch 

Sayes House at the time 

It is not known if he made cider at Sales Court though . He certainly knew of cider making. He translated the French book Le Parfait Jardinier by his friend La Quintinie who was chief director of all the gardens of King Louis XIV. This book mentions apples 13 times and cider twice. La Quntinye visited England and met John Evelyn at Sayes Court. Evelyn wrote, "Monsieur de la Quintinye, being in England, that receiving the Honor of a visit from him at my house, and falling into discourse of Gardens, on my request sent me some directions concerning the Ordering of Melons".

He also translated the  book The French Gardiner by Nicholas de Bonnefons which also discusses apples and cider. However in his masterpiece book Elysium Britannicum although he discusses apple trees he does not mention cider.

He was in correspondence with Beale via Hartlib and likely to have known of Austen. However he only mentions him once in person despite quoting his work. Perhaps because of Austen’s strong Puritan beliefs which he expressed in his books 

He rebuilt and enlarged the house at Sayes Court and, inspired by French and Italian ideas, turned the surrounding orchard and pasture into one of the most influential gardens of his day.

Though all visible above-ground traces of the garden have now been lost, its proposed design is shown in painstaking detail on a map of 1653, ostensibly drawn up for the benefit of Evelyn's father-in-law and owner of the house, who was on diplomatic posting to Paris and so absent while Evelyn was laying out the gardens. Adjacent to the house on the west was a walled garden "of choice flowers, and simples", that is, medicinal herbs, laid out in formal beds surrounding a large fountain. There was also an arbour under two tall elms at the north-west corner, as well as transparent glass bee-hives. This space Evelyn regarded as his own, private garden. The rest of the gardens were on a much grander scale. The main features included: a long terrace walk overlooking an elaborate box parterre a large rectangular area ("the grove") planted with many different species of trees, inset with walks and recesses; large kitchen gardens; a great orchard of three hundred fruit trees; avenues and hedges of ash, elm, and holly; and a long walk or promenade from a banquet house set against the south wall of the garden down to an ornamental lake with an island, fruit bushes and summer house at the north end!

Given Evelyn's polymath interests and his rich associations with the civil service and gentry around London he was on the list of people invited to join the nascent Royal Society. He knew most of the others and had even tried to form a similar Society himself. 

Now considered Evelyn’s principal work, Sylva, was the outcome of his association with the Royal Society. He is often pictured holding the book. 

He tried hard to promote himself and was advanced too many committees. Following inquiries made in September 1662 by the commissioners of the navy to the Royal Society concerning timber trees, he drew up a report which he enlarged and presented to the Royal Society on 16 February 1664. Sylva was the first book published by order of the Society. It was an immediate success, and more than a thousand copies were sold in less than two years. Evelyn received special thanks from the king and the work appears to have had considerable influence on the propagation of timber trees throughout the kingdom. Sylva is not a scientific work but the exhortation of a lover of trees to his countrymen to repair the damage caused by the Civil War It contains practical information interspersed haphazardly with classical references. 

Another source of John’s continuing importance in English History is his diary which he started aged 16 and continued through most of his life. However the content is quite dry compared to that of his friend Samuel Pepys of a similar segment of history. Here is a page on the Dutch fleet.

In fact John was well placed to observe the Dutch Fleet harrowing the English boats on the Thames. He was sitting on a hill above Gillingham overlooking the area the time and sketched it. 

This remarkable map of a remarkable event was interleaved amongst Naval papers and letters to and from Samuel Pepys in a bundle at the Bodlean Library of one of the few examples of enemy action on British soil since 1066, the attack on the River Medway in 1667.

To Sylva was annexed Pomona, a discourse on the cultivation of fruit trees for the production of cider, and Kalendarium hortense, a gardener’s almanac, being a chapter of the unfinished Elysium Britannicum. Evelyn wanted Elysium Britannicum to be his major work. It was begun early in huis career. The first mention is in his dedicated epistle to his translation of Bonnefon's book Le jardinier francois in 1658. Being so extensive in nature and subject continual additions unfortunately it was not completed by his death despite entries much later. The last known entry was in being just 4 years before his death in 1706. In 1679 he admitted to John Beale ( the source of much of the material for Pomona) "...I am almost out of hope, that I shall ever have the strength and leisure to bring [Elysium] to maturity." 

Recently Evelyns manuscripts for the book held in the British Library and Christ College Oxford have been collated and Evelyn MS 45 is the principal manuscript of the book. In addition other more incomplete manuscripts can be inserted to missing parts. John E Ingram has now published this in a beautiful work. Most of Evelyn's planned Book 1 and 2 are present but sadly none of Book 3. 

Again many references to apple trees but none to cider, although tantalisingly a seperate manuscript called Catalogo Evelyni   Inscriptus 1665 Meliora retinete he has hand written "peare for perry' in a list of 8 items crossed out! 


Evelyn was instrumental in obtaining royal patronage and the name of “Royal Society” for the group in 1662.

He had earlier written a panegyric to the King on his coronation ( and even suggested he institute such a body, not being one to miss an opportunity!). He attended the meetings regularly, served on the council frequently, and was offered the presidency. In January 1661 he drew up a “History of Arts Illiberal and Mechanick” (Royal Society Archives). He was appointed a member of several committees of inquiry, including that for agriculture, and contributed papers on various subjects. In 1665 he sat on the committee for the improvement of the English language.

The fourteen years following the king’s return were those of Evelyn’s greatest public activity, although the offices he held were only temporary appointments. He served on several commissions from 1660 to 1674—for the improvement of London streets in 1662, for the Royal Mint in 1663, and for the repair of Saint Paul's Cathedral in 1666, during which he worked with Christopher Wren.

Such was the success of Sylva and the attached Pomona which was essentially a collection of papers on cider by members of the Royal Society and a preface by him, that John has become synonymous with cider. However apart from his writings and having an extensive orchard, there is only scant evidence of Evelyn making cider. In chapter one of the Pomona, which is likely to have been written by John as well as the Preface he acknowledges, he mentions the Turgovian pear from Switzerland for making good Perry. Scions and Perry were sent to him by the ambassador of there at the time, John Pell, in 1664. It was tasted at Sales Court by friends including Sir Kenelm Digby in 1670 but it’s unclear if this was the sent cider or from the scions. I would suspect the former as four years in not sufficient time for the grafts to grow and fruit. Another reference is to the best apples for cider in various parts of England with Redstrake in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire the Bromsbury Crab, around London the Pippin, these are written as from others as a Diarist would, collecting information from others, but he does go on to say that Cider made from the Pippin around London “is “most wholesome and most restorative and it may (in my poor judgement) [ my italics] challenge…”, alas he does not mention his orchard and apples at Sayes Court.

One quote I have found suggests cider making was not that important to him. He was trying to distance himself from taint of radicalism, and as several of the authors in the Pomona were known to have Puritan leanings, he asserted in a letter accompanying a copy of Sylva to George Monck the Earl of Albermarle “I have nothing to answer for the Cider-part beyond a Praeface, they being papers I was order to Insert”. I bet he was pleased he had not mentioned Austen by name more than once in the Pomona! The quote of Austen's was on "Graffs and Infections amongst many others quoted liberally such as Beale with whom he had a long standing friendship. “Some by an happy hand do with good successs graff without cleaving the stock at all, only by incisions in the rind, as the Industrtrious Mr Austin teaches us”.

Evelyn finally inherited Wooton  on the death of his brother and started to landscape it.

Here is a drawing he made of it 

His Italian garden is the remaining change and is considered the best feature.

As an aside his descendant W. J. Evelyn in 1884 approached Octavia Hill one of the three founders of the Natural Trust with the suggestion that the garden should become publicly owned and offering the hall which could be used as a museum, but there was as yet no organisation with the necessary legal powers for holding the property for permanent preservation. Robert Hunter another founder of the NT advised that they should set up a land company with the aim of protecting "the public interests in the open spaces of the country" with the name "National Trust". Unfortunately, the Trust took ten years to reach the point where it could be properly constituted, by which time the opportunity to take ownership of Sayes Court had passed. Only the Mulberry tree he planted remains.

So in conclusion although Evelyn was a prominent landscaper and knowledgeable about cider,  drank cider, he probably did not make any himself. However as the editor of Pomona he has preserved an amazing store of knowledge on the subject.