An Introduction to Cider Apple Culture in the Parish of Kingsbury Episcopi

For its small geographical size the Parish of Kingsbury Episcopi has a rich, extensive, history and tradition of all matters relating to the business of cider production and the propagation and cultivation of cider apple trees.

Historically and typically, families in the Parish have been engaged in a number of agricultural practices. These have included beef, dairy cattle and sheep farming, cider apple growing and cider making, the growing of withies on Westmoor and gloving. This mixture gave economic opportunity for families to engage in a combination of possibilities from this ‘opportunity mix’.

These possibilities have given opportunity for inventiveness and the application of transferable thinking and practical skills to the tasks relating to all and any of these economic opportunities. For instance, the harvesting of apples along with their collection has led creative minds in the Parish to develop leaf-blowers, apple collecting machinery and devising creative solutions for bulk handling of apple crops. With regard to cider apple tree cultivation, nurseries in the Parish have been responsible for a number of varieties which are now household names in the global world of cider.

The botanical illustration below is of the Dabinett and is one such apple. It came from East Lambrook.
Source : Heather Briggs

Between the late 1800’s and the outbreak of WW2, nurseries within the Parish developed at least 28 varieties which were registered at the Long Ashton Research Station. They include such varieties as Dabinett, Porters Perfection, Kingston Black and the Chisel Jersey. It is on this tradition and legacy that subsequent producers have built and developed further varieties as well saving and propagating rare varieties.

The horticultural and arboriculture skills going hand-in-glove with this tradition, also led to the refreshing of hundreds of acres of orchards through renovation and top-grafting in the 1940’s and 50’s.

In the 1960’s and 70’s the Parish provided the people with the skills and knowledge of orchard development and management who undertook the planting of 1000’s of trees in Devon, Dorset and Somerset on behalf of the original Taunton Cider Company.
In the past five years, 1000’s of the new generation of trees have been planted – The Girls. These evolved from the Long Ashton breeding program for early maturing cider apples in the late 1990’s. The aim of the breeding program was to produce new cultivars with all the desirable criteria: regular free cropping, early maturing, large fruited, easy to manage and relatively disease free. The Girls in the parish include Angela, Amanda, Helen’s, Jane & Three Counties. Consequently, the Parish contains visible evidence in maps, trees, orchards and their management of a traceable cider continuum – a heritage of at least almost 200 years.

Documents of 1891 in the form of a farms log book show the names of workers engaged in making and racking cider.
Other old maps and documents whether they be from the Tithe Map & its Apportionment of 1836 or estate maps drawn up at the time of Enclosure in the Parish, give evidence of apple production and extensive orchards in the Parish.

Orchards around the village of Kingsbury Episcopicirca 1820
Source : South West Heritage Centre
Geology of The Parish : Source Geological Survey

The Parish has a unique terroir – a micro climate and a geology based on the Pennard Sand giving it basically two soil conditions. One is more sandy than the other – which has a greater ‘clay’ content. Both are excellent for apples.

Blossoms & Apples together………. Coombe Lane.
Photo – Steve Cooper
Illustration from John Worlidge Treatise on Cider 1678 from
ISBN 0 9537103 0 0

Also by James Crowden : Ciderland ISBN 10:1 84158 627 7 a journey around some of the orchards of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire …… Ciderland. Both books well worth getting.
Whilst working at Burrow Hill Cider Farm – James wrote the following poem. One of many things by him worth searching out. Our thanks to him for supporting our work. Above – James & Carla Crowden- pictured in the Bath & West Cider Tent 2019.

………has been the title of a Parish-wide project which, working with families in the Parish, has brought together many of the materials and insights for this section of our website. Our work continues………

The heritage and culture of cider apple tree propagation, cultivation and orchard management is maintained and is being developed through the current guardians. They are operating in various markets and scales, from household, local, national through to global.