Cider Musings

Percy Bulmer starts the age of industrial cider production


Hereford

The founder was Henry Percival "Percy" Bulmer, the  younger  son of the rector the Reverend Charles H. Bulmer and his wife Mary at Credenhill, just NW of Hereford.

                                            Rev Henry Bulmer 

Using apples from the orchard at his father's rectory glebe and an old stone press on the farm next door, Percy Bulmer made the first cider, upon which the family fortune would be made.

                                                 Percy Bulmer

As a child Percy missed a lot of schooling due to asthma and his prospects were not good. However he is said to have taken his mother's advice to make a career in food or drink, "because neither ever go out of fashion".

He had been primed for cider by his father's interest in cider. In fact he was so esteemed that he wrote a chapter on cider in Hogg and Bull's Pomona , "The Orchard and its products, Cider and Perry" 

In 1889, on leaving King's College Cambridge his elder brother Fred (Edward Frederick Bulmer), turned down the offer of a post as tutor to the children of the King of Siam ( Thailand) to join Percy in his fledgling cider business.

                                                   Fred Bulmer

With a £1,760 loan from their father, the brothers bought an 8 acres (3.2 ha) field just outside the city at Ryelands and built their first cider mill. It was little more than a barn initially.

This grew in several stages as the company grew and became more industrialised.

 

Compare this  to the huge modern stainless-steel computer-controlled cider-making plant that has grown up on a 75 acres Moorfields site nearby.  One tank in ~1980 was the largest vat in the world at 1.6M gallons.

Fred showed an ability in sales, Percy in manufacture and factory organisation. This allowed them to expand the business based on winning several cider competitions in France and UK. They exploited the increasing fast trade routes in the UK that rail enabled and Fred travelled the from the Isle of Wight to Dundee.

Also the increasing shipping of Imperial Britain  was exploited. A ledger entry shows cider was sold to the Hudson Bay company in 1890 and by 1893 they were selling to South Africa. 

Sadly Percy died early in middle age leaving more responsibility on Fred. Fred was an excellent salesman and the company continued to grow ( with specialist help in the manufacturing team lead by Herbert Durham. A friend  of Fred's at college) His  microbiology knowledge helped make the yeast consistent. needed for mass production.)

Fred was a complex person and as well as being an excellent salesman he had a strong social conscience often taking up cudgels on his workers and locals  behalf. He worried about alcoholism and brought in a non alcoholic cider Cidona. 

As the business grew, Bulmers began to accept apples from surrounding farms. They then imported cider varieties from France. The Norman series. They planted orchards themselves. They encouraged the setting up of the National Fruit and Cider Institute which morphed in time into the Long Ashton Agricultural Station. The were also instrumental in the setting up of a trade association the National Association of English Cider Makers NACM which is still active.

By the turn of the century Bulmers did not have the field to themselves. Gaymers started 1891 Whiteways in Devon soon after, Taunton Cider Company in 1913. Factory production enhanced the reputation of cider through its quality uniformity stability and presentation but still the majority was local farm produce. In 1920 ~75% was farm produced and local. 

As Bulmers expanded the supply of apples did not keep up especially in 'off' years and Bulmers started importing apples from Normandy in 1911.

Times were changing though despite and in fact because cider was successful. Cider makers were being bought out by beer breweries to stock their tied houses. Coates Gaymers and Whiteways were acquired by Showerings ( of Babysham fame)  and then by Allied Breweries 1968. The national consumption of beer being 50x that of cider.

Bulmers boxed on in many imaginative ways, extending relationships with local farmers by supplying cider apple trees for fruit production in 1947  by Edward Ball a Bulmers employee  ( who also introduced the cider apple, Ball's bitter sweet) . They started importing cider from France for blending and then a major step in commercialising cider importing apple juice concentrate  from 1939. This initially was to help out in an off year  as Bulmers at that stage were producing once a year, the traditional way with an extended season. Concentrate however opened up the opportunity to year round production and better use of capital and equipment. 

Thus cider became an industrial product. And the decline in quality began from artisan cider which can be superb, and terrible! The rise of mediocrity) 

With the demise of many early directors and principals and Bulmer family, the company went public in in 1970. Initially successful the trading situation in the UK was difficult, and combined with over zealous expansion the company was acquired in 2003 by Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, who slashed jobs to restore profitability. Sadly they were also in decline and further rationalisation occurred and were bought out by international  brewers Carlsberg and finally Heineken, and Bulmers now exists only as a brand name.