Skip to main content area
    Keyboard Shortcuts |  Home |  About Us |  Contact Us |  Sitemap |  Help |  News | 
 
Main Content Area

Weston's Cider

"If anyone is desirous of going in for fruit farming and cider making, let him first of all be well grounded with information, choose the best trees suitable to the district and then go into the work, not in a half hearted, happy-go-lucky style, in an earnest, practical and above all thorough manner." Henry Weston, Hereford Times, 1st December 1894.

Weston's Cider was started at The Bounds in Much Marcle in 1880 by Henry Weston J.P., who was already farming locally at Upton Bishop. He had moved to The Bounds in 1878 as a tenant farmer of the Homme House Estate. The 100 acre farm did not provide enough income in the first year to support Henry Weston and his wife, and so he was encouraged to make his cider commercially by his neighbour C.W. Radcliffe Cooke, who lived at Hellens and was a Member of Parliament for Herefordshire. Radcliffe Cooke was an enthusiastic promoter and supporter of cider, something which earned him the nickname "MP for Cider".

Henry Weston used the fruit from the farm's orchards and the horse-powered stone mill and hand press outside the farmhouse. The cider sold well through merchants and Henry invested in a steam engine to drive a scratter mill with stone rollers that crushed the apples with less labour than the horse mill, and also provided motive power through a worm wheel to mechanical presses. This machine remained in operation for Westons until the early 1900s.

Henry Weston's early cider was sold to the merchants in barrels and then sold onto cider houses as "Weston's Rough". Henry was sure that he could make more money by selling directly to the public rather than through merchants, who often preferred to buy cheap or inferior cider. Henry's vision was of a cider made from single varieties of fruit, milled and fermented in clean conditions, then blended to produce a pure product, free from infection and off flavours. To achieve this he only sourced fruit from neighbouring farms, carefully sorting each variety of apple and removing the rotten fruit.

Using the steam-powered mill, about four tons of fruit could be milled in an hour, the pulp from which was pressed twice on two chain-driven power presses. The juice flowed into slate-lined tanks before being pumped uphill into wooden fermenting vats.

Fermentation was by ambient temperature, relying on the wild yeasts present on the fruit skins, so it could take up to three months. Once the cider had stopped fermenting it was rough filtered through linen bags into conditioning vats in a cellar carved out of local stone. The cider was then blended before being filtered again through an Invicta Filtering Machine and poured into steam-cleaned wooden casks.

Will Smith, a family friend, joined the company as its first salesman, promoting Weston's ciders and perries in Birmingham. Soon orders were coming in from cider houses and private individuals as far away as Scotland. In 1885 a railway opened at Dymock, only two miles from the Westons' farm, with direct links to Newent, Ledbury and Gloucester. Soon almost 75% of the company's products were being sent to customers by rail. C.W. Radcliffe Cooke had also appointed Weston's cider and perry suppliers to the House of Commons.

Henry Weston had hoped to replace the steam milling equipment with the latest hydraulic system. An order was put in with the Hereford firm Naylors, but the First World War intervened. Henry Weston died in 1917 before seeing his vision become reality.

Henry had nine children, and three of his four sons - Hubert, Leonard and Stafford - became the company's new directors. Hubert took on the farm, Stafford the cider mill (including the blending of ciders and perries) and Leonard developed the company's transport and distribution networks. In 1919 Weston's bought their first lorry and used it for bulk deliveries to Bristol and Birmingham.

In 1920 the steam mill was finally replaced by the Naylor mill and hydraulic presses powered by a paraffin internal combustion engine that also ran a generator to provide electric light. In 1922 Weston's purchased The Bounds and two smaller adjoining farms from the Homme House Estate. This gave the brothers 450 acres of land, 20 acres of which was under orchard (in 1938 this was increased to 50 acres).

The cider that Weston's produced was supplied to the public in either wooden casks, or corked and wired bottles with foil capsules. Sold in casks of 10, 12, 18, 20, 28, 30 or 36 gallons were Supreme Brand (their first quality cider), Bounds Brand and Farm Brand, described as rough or medium rough cider. There was also Marcle Brand Perry, especially recommended for those suffering from rheumatism. In champagne quarts and pints were sold: Sparkling Marcle Cider, Gold Seal or Red Seal - old, dry mature ciders. Marcle Specialite Perry, Green Seal or Black Seal and Apple Brand, full bodied ciders, were bottled and sold in quarts, pints, half pints or nips.

Leonard Weston introduced new bottles with elaborate screw tops that had previously been used to bottle beer. He saw the potential of the easy to open and fill flagons and persuaded his brothers to adopt the same packaging for quart and pint bottles. Weston's were one of the first cider-makers in the country to use the new flagons, which proved a success with both the public and the licensed trade. The popularity of the flagon led to an increase in the workforce to between 60-70 permanent staff, plus an additional 30-40 workers at pressing time.

By 1925 Weston's had a fleet of vehicles and a garage was built to service them. In 1926 Leonard arranged the first local bus service to take children and shoppers from Much Marcle to Ledbury and other towns, and to provide transport for cider mill workers.

In 1929, Hubert died and in 1932 his son Norman joined the company to work with the cider mills.

In 1930 Weston's opened their first and only cider mill on the Harrow Road in London. It sold only Weston's products and was furnished in the Victorian style with barrels as tables. The cider house became such a success that it was even mentioned in London guide books. In 1970 it was closed and demolished as part of a road improvement scheme.

By the mid 1900s sales had built up to include distribution to all the main breweries in Birmingham and the West Midlands. There was also direct trade to privately owned houses and individuals in the West Country (itself cider country), Wales, Oxfordshire and London.

As part of Weston's ongoing commitment to producing good cider, quality control laboratories were added to the mill at Much Marcle in 1952.

At one time Westons had 72 oak vats, each holding between 1,200 and 42,000 gallons. All the vats and fermenters were given names after the founding family, composers, counties and football teams (Leonard Weston was Chairman of Hereford United Football Club). Vat 52 was named the Queen Elizabeth after the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1952. The three biggest vats - called Pip, Squeak and Wilfred - had been rescued from a West Midlands brewery.

In 1971 Leonard and Stafford died within a few months of each other and their places on the Board were filled by their wives Doris and Frances. In 1972 Norman's son Henry (great-grandson of Henry Weston) joined the firm, followed by his sister Helen, who later became Managing Director. Norman's other son Timothy also joined the company later.

By 1985 the Weston's range had developed further. Bounds Brand (sweet, medium and dry) was still the premium cider. Farm Brand had been joined by County (medium dry) as a draught cider, along with Special Vintage which was made from selected vintage apples and matured for over a year. A special cider, Vat 53, was on offer but was reputedly difficult to get hold of. The champagne-style ciders had been previously discontinued. Draught ciders and perries were now sold in polycasks of five or eleven gallons, or in glass flagons and bottles.

Weston's had produced a keg cider, Stowford Press, for Cameron's Brewery in Hartlepool, which was sold as a house cider. It was sent to the brewery 3,000 gallons at a time in a tanker and kegged by the brewery. When Cameron's Brewery was sold, Weston's bought the name and continued to produce the brand. This cider is found in many pubs of Herefordshire on draught, as well as at other pubs around the country.

The demand for Weston's ciders and perries, along with the projected growth, meant that the company needed to produce more cider and do it faster. So in 1998 the company began an investment programme worth £500,000, spread over a two-year period. The mill and presses were replaced and automatic fruit handling introduced. Three stainless steel holding tanks for finished cider were also installed. Weston's continued to ferment and condition cider in wooden vats, as well as sourcing home-grown fruit from their own orchards and 200 other local farms. A new bottling line was also installed.

The two main types of apples used by Weston's are bittersweets (low in acid, high in tannin) and bittersharps (high in both acid and tannin). The fermented juice of these fruits are blended to produce a distinctive cider.

In 1999 Guy Lawrence (son of Helen and the fifth generation of Westons) joined the company.

Today Weston's is still an independent family cider producer based at Much Marcle. At the site there is now a visitor centre, restaurant, rare breed animal farm and a bottle museum with over 700 bottles of cider and perry from all over the UK. It is thought to be the largest collection in the United Kingdom.

How Weston's Make Their Cider

After harvesting the fruit (much of which is still done manually) it is put into a large silo with a water flume at the bottom. The apples are then conveyed to the mill by the water flume, which also helps to get rid of any dirt, stones and leaves. Since apples are a hard fruit it is necessary to chop them into smaller pieces, and this is done in a rotary mill. Mechanical presses squeeze the fruit pulp, and juice is extracted at the rate of twelve tons of pulp in one hour.

The juice is pumped away to fermenting vessels of traditional oak construction. All Weston's ciders are fermented and matured in old oak vats as opposed to fibreglass and stainless steel. Some of the oak vats they use for maturing cider and perry are over 200 years old. Squeak, the oldest vat, holds 42,107 gallons, which is enough cider to supply a family of four with two pints each daily (four pints at New Year!) for about 65 years!

Cider needs a period of maturation after fermentation to develop its full character. All Weston's ciders are matured for at least six months in old oak vats after fermentation has ceased. However, maturation times vary from company to company and it may be as little as one month from the beginning of fermentation to a bottled product being offered for sale by one of the larger cider makers.

In 1990 Westons became the first cider company in the world to receive the prestigious British Standard Award BS5750 ISO 9002 for quality management. They have also received the ISO 9001 for new product development, again a first in the cider industry.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2005]


Last Updated: 08/01/2013 11:42:56