Rev John Beale, an extraordinary vicar. Central to the early development of quality cider in England
He was baptised in the village of Yarkhill where he was born in Herefordshire on 17 April 1608
He became a Church of England clergyman and writer on agriculture science and natural philosophy, the sixth and youngest son of Thomas Beale (1575–1620), a lawyer and prominent gentleman farmer, and his wife, Joanna, nee Pye (1576–1660). His father was an early exponent of cider orchards, cultivating grafts of the famous Redstreak crab apple on his Yarkhill estate, while the Pyes, one of the wealthiest families in Herefordshire, who were related to the Scudamores of Holme Lacy, (who discovered the famous Hereford Redstreak apple) also helped to establish the county’s cider-making reputation.
Between 1618 and 1622 Beale attended Worcester Cathedral school, where the headmaster, Henry Bright, inspired his lifelong admiration for Erasmus and the classics. From this early age Beale carefully cultivated learning by heart such works as Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Melanchthon’s Logicks . He displayed considerable interest in mechanics and physics and experimented with insects and animals.
In 1622 Beale entered Eton College, coming under the equally seminal influence of the prominent humanist scholar John Hales. The provost, Sir
Henry Wotton, also introduced Beale to Francis Bacon’s utilitarian philosophy and stimulated his interest in astronomical optics.
At the same time Beale studied many agricultural and horticultural works. Although following Baconism he developed a lifelong belief in prophetic dreams and believed in astrology! A complex man.
Through his maternal uncles Sir William Pye and Sir Robert Pye, he had access to court, and considered himself a favourite of Buckingham. He claimed to have received offers of employment from Archbishop Laud and Charles I, which he rejected because of a growing disaffection with their policies being a moderate in his religious views as opposed to Laudism (which Lord Scudamore preferred).
On 20 July 1629 Beale entered King’s College, Cambridge; he became a fellow in 1632, and proceeded MA in 1636. His prodigious art of memory stood him in good stead with the usual undergraduate texts:
“I could at last learn them by heart faster than I could read them—I mean, by the swiftest glance of the eye, without the tediousness of pronouncing or articulating what I read. Thus I oft-times saved my purse by looking over books in stationers’ shops.”
He was subsequently able to lecture without notes to King’s College students, which he did for two years continuing his private study included hermetic and mechanical philosophy experiments with telescopes, thermometers and sundials, and examining the university’s recently acquired eastern manuscripts.
Between 1636 and 1638 Beale travelled in Europe, acting as tutor and guardian to his cousin Robert Pye In Paris they visited their mutual kinsman John, first Viscount Scudamore, who was then English ambassador.
Beale also carefully acquired rare books and manuscripts. On their return Edward Phelips, another distant relative, presented Beale, on 24 February 1638, to the living of Sock Dennis, Somerset.
Finding his scientific views unpopular at Cambridge, he resigned his fellowship at King’s College in late 1640.
With the advent of civil war 1642-51 he lost the living at Sock Dennis and forced to return to Herefordshire, living for a time at Cobhall, near Allensmore, where he had inherited a tenancy. About this time he married Jane Mackworth and had at least 5 children. When Hereford was besieged in the summer of 1645 they were forced to flee to the parliamentary camp at Shrewsbury commanded by Jane’s kinsman, Humphrey Mackworth. When Mackworth shortly afterwards became governor of Shrewsbury, Beale served as his chaplain. Beale was now walking a tightrope: his earlier family connections led to accusations of royalist sympathies, but he was equally castigated for alleged Independent zeal. In reality he was a moderate. In the early 1650s Beale secured his intrusion as vicar of Stretton Grandison, which was then contested by the previous vicar he helped eject! (In August 1654 Beale became a member of the Herefordshire committee for ejecting scandalous ministers in 1657 ). He stayed 10 years here.
Despite the turmoil of these years Beale progressed his practical agricultural pursuits and orcharding and cider making at the manor of Cobwall in Allensmore Herefordshire of 120 acres which he purchased in 1652. He actively promoted use of the Redstreak and Genet Moyle apple varieties in the area, where his knowledge of cider production earned him considerable praise.
Beale now became an active provincial member of the Hartlib circle corresponding weekly , Hartlib introduced him to circle in 1656 , to John Evelyn, Henry Oldenburg, and Robert Boyle. This movement is called ‘the Great Instauration’. This lead to the “Invisible College” in Oxford where Boyle was; the centre of gravity then shifting to London around 1647 and overlapping with alumni in Gresham College and morphing into the larger and later Royal Society.
Hartlib wrote to Boyle on 27 April 1658: “There is not the like man in the whole island, nor in the continent beyond the seas, so far as I know it … that could be made more universally use of to do good to all, as I in some measure know and could direct.”
In 1656, two of his early letters were published as Herefordshire Orchards, a Pattern for All England which contained a review of the earlier work of Lawson . This work, which reputedly gained his native county some £100,000 within a few years, brought Beale to Oliver Cromwell’s favourable notice, but he declined the latter’s offer of employment. Cromwell decided not to take up Beale’s vision of planting orchards throughout England
Within the Hartlib papers is one by Beale to Hartlib praising the virtues of his cider apple Redsreake. “But when the late King came to Hereford, after his overthrowe in Nasby-fight, some of the gentry presented him with the best sort of redstrake, which was so hugely admird by the King, Lord Digby, & all the other Courtiers”
The Hartlib circle also saw him as an important theological commentator on baptism and the eucharist, and empathised with his developing millenarianism, belief in prophetic revelation, and evangelic piety. As a Christian humanist he also espoused a tolerant latitudinarian religious settlement. Beale had continued his astronomical and optical investigations with the assistance of his brother Richard (1599–1656), and in December 1658 argued that education in the use of mathematical instruments, optical glasses, and thermometers provided more … valuable truth in one houre than a carte loade of monckish philosophy”. Beale saw gardening and gardens as a reflection of the Garden of Eden.
Praising the stimulating mutual exchange of information in the search for scientific truth, Beale also communicated details concerning herbal remedies, mnemonic systems, and military ciphers.
Beale’s improving fortunes is shown by key appointments that he held until his death: the rectorships of Yeovil, Somerset (1660), and again of nearby Sock Dennis (April 1661) leaving Herefordshire now for good.
The fellowship of the Royal Society (21 January 1663)
and finally chaplain-extraordinary to Charles II (3 March 1665). This last position, apparently on the recommendation of the Hopton family who had aided him in Herefordshire earlier , granted prestigious status, but was far less onerous than that of chaplain-in-waiting It is unclear whether Beale ever actually attended at court in this capacity.
Oldenburg read Beale’s paper Aphorisms concerning cider before the Royal Society in 1662. His knowledge shines though even to the true scientific understanding was not known then. Naturalists such as Beale involved in the cider-making enterprise called orcharding & cider making by a variety of names such as vegetation, concoction and fermentation; but they all understood it, like Bacon, in terms of sets of “motions of spirits.” His description of the use of sulphur is still spot on four centuries later! Although Beale did not know it the sulphites were bacteriocidal and allowed the yeasts to fluorish. Aphorism 21. “As Sulphur hath some use in Wines, so some do lay Brimstone on a ragge and by a wire let it down into the Cider-vessel and there fire it; and when the Vessel is full of the smoak the liquor speedily poured in ferments the better. I cannot condemn this, for Sulphur is more kind to the Lungs than Cider, and the impurity will be discharged in the ferment.”
The RS were so impressed by the account of the successful transformation of poor Herefordshire rye land into prosperous cider orchards that the Society to appointed a committee to investigate ways of promoting such undertakings elsewhere in England. The newly elected Beale was encouraged to collaborate with Evelyn in the preparation of Pomona (1664), which incorporated the Aphorisms. Beale subsequently bore the cost of distributing 20,000 grafts of Herefordshire Redstreak and Genet Moyle apples and Barland pears to Somerset, Devon, and Dorset. Grafts were also circulated among the Societies members, who were encouraged to propagate them for further distribution. In 1677 several of Beale's letters to Hartlib were published as Nurseries, Orchards, Profitable Gardens and Vineyards Encouraged, advocating the greater availability of timber and fruit trees. Beale’s passionate encouragement provided a crucial catalyst to the expansion of orchard cultivation well into the eighteenth century. Beale’s campaigning embraced many other agricultural subjects, centred on his active membership of the Royal Society’s Georgical committee.
He gave willing assistance to Oldenburg, editor of the Philosophical Transactions between 1665 and 1677, compiling at least one, if not all, of the indexes and contributing numerous articles and reviews, many of them anonymously. Beale’s recurrent themes were improvement, expansion, and reform via the dissemination of knowledge and encouragement of ingenuity. Agriculture, horticulture, forestry, botany, diet, technology, trade, and education were all tackled with relish in a visionary desire to transform England into a prosperous, highly industrious, and fully employed island utopia. Beale continued to report experiments on sensory aids, optical instruments, thermometers, and barometers, but he saw labour intensive agriculture as the key. Enclosure, irrigation, and fertilisers were discussed alongside the diversification from grain and wool into root vegetables, kitchen and market gardening, nuts, and silk.
Beale’s submissions to the Philosophical Transactions reveal his continuing fascination with local accounts of unusual natural phenomena. In 1666 he provided the narrative of a stone taken out of the womb of a woman near Trent in Somerset.
After Oldenburg’s death brought the Philosophical Transactions to an end in 1677 Beale sought a new medium for his views, making anonymous contributions to John Houghton’s weekly Collection of Letters for the Improvement of Husbandry and Trade following its launch in September 1681.
In his last known letter, to Boyle, dated 8 July 1682, Beale indicated that he was suffering from infirmities that required him to dictate extempore and that he lacked a regular amanuensis (scribe or secretary) . Beale was buried at Yeovil on 16 April 1683.