A Book of the West/Volume 1/6
Red stone and red cob—Cob walls—The river Creedy—Birthplace of S. Boniface—See of Crediton—The Church—Kirton, serge—Apple orchards and cider-making—France'mass—Apple the basis of many jams—Song of the apple trees—The picking of apples—"Griggles"—Saluting the apple trees—The apple-crusher—Pomage—The cider-press—Apple cheese—Cider-matching—Racking—Cider for rheumatism—A Cornish cider song—John Davy—Seats near Crediton—Elizabeth Buller and Frances Tuckfield—The Coplestone—The North Devon savages—Lapford—Churches round Crediton—Rev. S. Rowe.
A CURIOUS, sleepy place, the houses like the great church built of red sandstone, where not of the red clay or cob. But in the latter case the cob is whitewashed. No house can be conceived more warm and cosy than that built of cob, especially when thatched. It is warm in winter and cool in summer, and I have known labourers bitterly bewail their fate in being transferred from an old fifteenth or sixteenth century cob cottage into a newly-built stone edifice of the most approved style. As they said, it was like going out of warm life into a cold grave.
The art of building with cob is nearly extinct. Clay is kneaded up with straw by the feet, and then put on the rising walls that are enclosed in a frame-work of boards, but this latter is not always necessary as the clay is consistent enough to hold together, and all that is required is to shave it down as the wall rises in height. Such cob walls for garden fruit are incomparable. They retain the warmth of the sun and give it out through the night, and when protected on top by slates or thatch will last for centuries. But let their top be exposed, and they dissolve in the rain and flake away with the frost. They have, however, their compensating disadvantage—they harbour vermin.
Crediton takes its name from the Creedy river that flows near the town. The river is designated (Crwydr) from its straggling character, crumbling its banks away at every flood and changing its course. At a very early period the Saxons hadsucceeded in establishing a settlement here, a tun, and here Wynfrith, better known as S. Boniface, was born in 680. Willibald, a priest of Mainz who wrote his life, tells us that his father was a great householder, and of "eorl-kind," or noble birth. He loved his son Wynfrith above all his other children, and for a long time withheld his consent to his embracing the monastic life. During a serious illness, however, when death seemed near at hand, he relented, and Wynfrith was sent to school at Exeter. Thence he moved to Nutschelle, where he assumed the name of Boniface. At the age of thirty he was ordained. King Ina, of the West Saxons, honoured him with his confidence, and he might have risen to a high office in his native land, but other aspirations had taken possession of his soul. No stories were listened to at his time in the Anglo-Saxon monasteries with greater avidity than those connected with the adventurous mission of Archbishop Willibrord among the heathen Frisians, and Boniface longed to join the noble band beyond the sea. The abbot opposed his design, but Boniface was obstinate, and with three brethren left Nutschelle for London; there they took ship and landed in Frisia in 716. But the time was unpropitious, and he was forced to return to Nutschelle.
Next year he went to Rome, and then the Pope urged him to establish papal authority in Germany, which had been converted by Celtic missionaries, who had their own independent ways, that were not at all relished at Rome. Boniface, who hated the Celts and all their usages, eagerly undertook the task, and he went into Thuringia. He did a double work. He converted, or attempted to convert, the heathen, and he ripped up and undid what had been done independently by the Irish missionaries. In his old age he resumed his attempt to carry the Gospel into Frisia, and was there killed, A.D. 755.
A Saxon see was established at Crediton about 909, and was given three estates in Cornwal—Poulton, Lawhitton, and Callington. The Bishop was charged to visit the Cornish people year by year "to drive away their errors," for up to that time "they had resisted the truth with all their might, and had disobeyed the Apostolic decrees," that is to say, they clung to their ecclesiastical independence and some of their peculiar customs.
Crediton remained the seat of the Romano-Saxon bishops till 1046, when Leofric got the see moved to Exeter, where his skin would be safer behind walls than in exposed Crediton.
The church, dedicated to the Holy Cross, is a very stately building; the tower is transition Norman at the base. The rest is Perpendicular, and a fine effect is produced by the belt of shadow under the tower, with the illumined choir behind, which has large windows. The east window was mutilated at the "restoration." It was very original and delightful; it has been reduced to the same commonplace pattern as the west window.
Crediton was a great seat of the cloth trade, and many of those whose sumptuous monuments decorate the church owed their wealth to "Kirton serge." Westcote says that the "aptness and diligent industry of the inhabitants" (in this branch of manufacture) "did purchase it a pre-eminent name above all other towns, whereby grew this common proverb, 'as fine as Kirton spinning' (for we call it briefly Kirton), which spinning was very fine indeed, which to express the better to gain your belief, it is very true that 140 threads for woollen yarn spun in that town were drawn together through the eye of a taylor's needle, which needle and threads were for many years together to be seen in Watling Street, in London, in the shop of one Mr. Dunscombe, at 'The Sign of the Golden Bottle.'"
Crediton is now a great centre of apple culture and cider-making. The rich red soil lends itself admirably to the production of delicious apples.
When there is going up a general cry for legislation to ameliorate in some way the condition of agriculture, it is a satisfaction to think that one act of Government has had a beneficial effect on the English farmer, if not throughout the land, at all events in the West of England and in other cider-making counties, and that act was the laying of heavy duty on foreign sparkling wines. Quite as much champagne is drunk now as was before the duty was increased, but unless we are very much mistaken some of that champagne comes from the apple and not from the grape.
A story is told that a gentleman the other day applied to a large apple-orchard farmer in the West of England for a hogshead or two of his sparkling cider. The farmer replied that he was very sorry not to be able to accommodate him as in previous years, but a certain London firm had taken his whole year's "pounding." He gave the name of the firm and assured his customer that he could get the cider from that house. The gentleman applied, and received the answer:—
"Sir,—We are not cider merchants. You have made some mistake. We are a firm of champagne-importing merchants from the celebrated vineyards of MM. So-and-so, at So-and-so,"
Well, the money goes into English pockets, into those of the hardly-pressed and pinched English farmers. And cider is the most wholesome and sound of beverages. So all is well.
There are, as may have been noticed, three cold nights in May—not always, but often. At Crediton, and throughout the apple-growing districts in North Devon, these are called "Francémass" or "S. Frankin's days;" they are the 19th, 20th, and 21st May. When a frost comes then it injures the apple blossom. The story relative to this frost varies slightly. According to one version there was an Exeter brewer, of the name of Frankin, who found that cider ran his ale so hard that he vowed his soul to the devil on the condition that he would send three frosty nights in May to annually cut off the apple blossom. The other version of the story is that the brewers in North Devon entered into a compact with the Evil One, and promised to put deleterious matter into their ale on condition that the devil should help them by killing the blossom of the apple trees. Accordingly, whenever these May frosts come we know that his majesty is fulfilling his part of the contract, because the brewers have fulfilled theirs by adulterating their beer. S. Frankin, according to this version, is an euphemism for Satan.
Our dear old friend, the apple, not only serves as a kindly assistant to help out the supply of wine, but also forms the basis of a good many jams. With some assistance it is converted into raspberry and plum, but no inducement will persuade it to become strawberry. It is certainly instructive to pass a jam factory in October and thence inhale the fragrance of raspberries.
For some twenty or thirty years the orchards were sadly neglected. The old trees were not replaced, there was no pruning, no cleaning of the trunks, the cattle were turned into the orchard to gnaw and injure the bark and break down the branches, no dressing was given to the roots, and the pounding of apples was generally abandoned. But thanks to the increased demand for cider—largely, no doubt, to be drunk as cider, also, it is more than suspected, to be drunk under another name—the farmers in Somersetshire, Devonshire, Hereford, and Worcestershire have begun to cultivate apple trees, and care for them, as a means of revenue.
In former days there were many more orchards than at present; every gentleman's house, every farmhouse had its well-stocked, carefully pruned orchard. Beer ran cider hard, and nearly beat it out of the field, and overthrew the apple trees, but the trees are having their good times again.
There is a curious song of "The Apple Trees" that was formerly sung in every West of England farmhouse. It was a sort of Georgic, giving complete instructions how apples are to be grown and cider to be made. It is now remembered only by very old men, and as it has, to the best of my knowledge, never appeared in print, I will quote it in full:—
"An orchard fair, to please,
And pleasure for your mind, sir,
You'd have—then plant of trees
The goodliest you can find, sir;
In bark they must be clean,
And finely grown in root, sir,
Well trimmed in head, I ween,
And sturdy in the shoot, sir.
O the jovial days when the apple trees do bear,
We 'll drink and be merry all the gladsome year.
"The pretty trees you plant,
Attention now will need, sir,
That nothing they may want,
Which to mention I proceed, sir.
You must not grudge a fence
'Gainst cattle, tho 't be trouble;
They will repay the expense
In measure over double.
O the jovial days, &c.
"To give a man great joy,
And see his orchard thrive, sir,
A skilful hand employ
To use the pruning knife, sir.
To lop each wayward limb,
That seemeth to offend, sir;
Nor fail at Fall, to trim
Until the tree's life end, sir.
O the jovial days, &c.
"All in the month of May,
The trees are clothed in bloom, sir,
As posies bright and gay,
Both morning, night and noon, sir.
'Tis pleasant to the sight,
'Tis sweet unto the smell, sir,
And if there be no blight,
The fruit will set and swell, sir.
O the jovial days, &c.
"The summer oversped,
October drawing on, sir;
The apples gold and red
Are glowing in the sun, sir.
As the season doth advance,
Your apples for to gather,
I bid you catch the chance
To pick them in fine weather.
O the jovial days, &c.
"When to a pummy ground,
You squeeze out all the juice, sir,
Then fill a cask well bound,
And set it by for use, sir.
O bid the cider flow
In ploughing and in sowing,
The healthiest drink I know
In reaping and in mowing.
O the jovial days, &c."
This fresh and quaint old song was taken down from an ancient sexton of over eighty near Tiverton.
The young apple trees have a deadly enemy in the rabbit, which loves their sweet bark, and in a night will ruin half a nursery, peeling it off and devouring it all round. Young cattle will break over a hedge and do terrible mischief to an orchard of hopeful trees that promise to bear in another year or two. The bark cannot endure bruising and breaking—injury to it produces that terrible scourge the canker. Canker is also caused by the tap-root running down into cold and sour soil; and it is very customary, where this is likely, to place a slate or a tile immediately under the tree, so as to force the roots to spread laterally. Apple trees hate standing water, and like to be on a slope, whence the moisture rapidly drains away. As the song says, the orchard apples when ripe glow "gold and red," and the yellow and red apples make the best cider. The green apple is not approved by the old-fashioned cider-apple growers. The maxim laid down in the song, that the apples should be "the goodliest you can find," was not much attended to some thirty years ago when orchards were let down; farmers thought that any trees were good enough, and that there was a positive advantage in selecting sour apples, for that then the boys would not steal them. It is now otherwise; they are well aware that the quality of the cider depends largely on the goodness of the sort of apple grown. The picking of apples takes place on a fine windy or sunny day. The apples to be pounded are knocked down with a pole, but those for "hoarding" are carefully picked, as a bruise is fatal. After that the fallen apples have been gathered by women and children they are heaped up under the trees and left to completely ripen and be touched with frost. It is thought that they make better cider when they have begun to turn brown. Whether this be actually the case, or the relic of a mistaken custom of the past, the writer cannot say.
All apples are not usually struck down—the small ones, "griggles," are left for schoolboys. It is their privilege to glean in the orchard, and such gleaning is termed "griggling." What the vintage is in France, and the hop-picking is in Kent and Bavaria, that the apple-picking and collecting is in the cider counties of England. The autumn sun is shining, there is a crispness in the air, the leaves are turned crimson and yellow, of the same hues as the fruit. The grass of the orchard is bright with crimson and gold as though it were studded with jewels, but the jewels are the windfalls from the apple trees. Men, women, and children are happy talking, laughing, singing snatches of songs—except when eating. Eat they must—eat they will—and the farmer does not object, for there is a limit to apple-eating. The apple is the most filling of all fruit. And yet how unlimited seems the appetite of the boy, especially when he gets into an orchard! The grandfather of the writer of this book planted an orchard specially for the boys of the parish, in the hope that they would glut themselves therein and leave his cider orchard alone. It did not answer; they devoured all the apples in their special orchard and carried their ravages into his also.
The farmer knows that the apple is tempting, and the apple-pickers and collectors are allowed to eat—within limits. But he can afford to be generous. In a good year how abundant is the supply on every tree! How every tree resembles those that Aladdin saw in the enchanted world underground laden with topaz and ruby!
There was a curious custom in Devon, now completely gone out, which consisted, on Old Christmas Day, in going at night into an orchard and firing blank charges from fowling-pieces at the apple trees. It was supposed that this ensured there being a good harvest of apples the ensuing year. In Somersetshire the wassailing of the trees continued till within the memory of old folk. Sir Thomas Acland related to Mr. Brand, in 1790, that in his neighbourhood on Christmas Eve it was customary for the country people to sing a wassail or drinking song, and drink the toast from the wassail-bowl to the apple trees in order to have a fruitful year. And Herrick alludes to this when he enjoins:—
"Wassaile the trees, that they may bear
You many a plum, and many a peare;
For more or lesse fruits they will bring,
As you do give them wassailing."
The wassail song was as follows:—
"Old Apple tree, we are come to wassail thee,
All for to bloom, and to bear thy flowers and fruit so free.
Wassail! wassail! all round our town;
Our cups are white and our ale is brown.
Our bowl is made of a good ashen tree,
And here's kind fellows as will drink to thee.
Hats full, caps full, five-bushel bags full,
Barns full, floors full, stables full, tallats full,
And the little hole under the stairs, three times three!
Hip, hip, hurrah! shout we."
When the apples are considered fit to pound, which is usually in November, they are taken to the crusher. This consists of a large circular stone trough with a rim about it, and in this rolls a great stone wheel, set in motion formerly by a horse attached to a "roundabout." The great wheel revolved and crushed the apples to a pulp. The crushing was, however, also done by the hand, in small quantities. There is, however, a method of cutting them small between rollers. The machine is now commonly set in motion by water.
The pounded apple pulp is called pomage, or apple-mock (mash). The apples are ground to one consistence, with kernels and skins. The kernels give flavour, and the skins colour; or are supposed so to do.
The pulp is next conveyed to the cider-press, where it is placed in layers, with clean straw or haircloths between the layers. Below is the vat; in Devonshire and Cornwall commonly called the "vate." Above are planks with a lever beam weighted, so as to produce great pressure, or else they are pressed by means of a screw. The pressing-planks are locally termed the "sow." The cider now begins to flow. The first flow is by no means the best.
The pulp thus squeezed is termed the "cheese." This is pared down, and the parings added to the block and again subjected to pressure.
The cider as it flows away is received in "kieves." No water whatever is added to the apples. What comes away is the pure unadulterated juice. When, however, the cider has been wholly pressed out, then it is customary to make a hole in the "cheese" and pour in some water, which is left to be absorbed by the spongy matter. This is afterwards pressed out, and goes by the name of "beverage." It is not regarded as cider. It is sharper in taste, and is appreciated by workmen.
Outside old farms is often to be seen a huge block of stone, with a ring at the top. This was the weight formerly attached to the beam. The pressing of the "cheese" was anciently performed by men pulling the wooden beam, weighted with the great mass of granite or other heavy substance that pressed down the "sow." A later contrivance was a wheel with a screw, by means of which far more pressure could be brought on the "cheese." The cider that oozed out under pressure ran out of the trough by a lip into a flat tub called a "trin;" or into the "kieve." The great scooped-out stones in which the apples were crushed were often of great size, as much as ten or even twelve feet in diameter. The stone that rolled in them was termed the "runner." Where much pains was taken with the cider, there the several kinds of apples were crushed separately, and also pressed separately. But the usual custom was to throw in all together into the "chase" or crushing basin. In a good many places small discarded "chases" may be seen. These were employed not for making cider, but cider spirit, which was distilled. This is indeed still manufactured in some places on the sly. In Germany it is largely distilled and sold as "schnaps," and very fiery, nasty stuff it is. The manufacturers of British spirits know the use of cider spirit as a base for some of their concoctions.
Formerly a duty of ten shillings a barrel was imposed on the making of cider, but this was repealed in 1830.
The "cheese" of the apples is of little value. It is given to pigs. Keepers are glad of it for the pheasants they rear; and made into cakes it serves as fuel, smouldering and giving forth a not very aromatic smoke.
The juice of the apples is left in the "kieves" for a period that varies according to the weather and the temperature, but generally is from three to four days.
During this period fermentation commences, and all the dirt and impure matter come as a scum to the surface. This head is skimmed off as it forms. If this be not done, after a time it sinks, and spoils the quality of the cider. The liquid, by fermentation, not only develops alcohol, but also cleanses itself. The fresh, sweet cider is of a thick and muddy consistency. By fermentation it purifies itself, and becomes perfectly clear.
The cider is now put into casks. In order to make sweet cider the cask is "matched." A bucketful of the new cider is put in, then brimstone is lighted in an old iron pot, and a match of paper or canvas is dipped in the melted brimstone and thrust into the cask through the bung-hole, which is closed. The fumes of sulphur fill the vessel, and when the barrel is afterwards filled with cider all fermentation is arrested. Sweet cider, if new, is often rather unpleasant from the taste of the sulphurous acid.
This may be avoided by "racking," that is to say, the cider when made may be turned from one hogshead to another at intervals, whenever it shows signs of fermenting. This continuous "racking" will arrest the progress of fermentation as effectually as "matching."
The sweet cider is in far greater demand by the general public than that which is "rough," but a West Country labourer will hardly thank you for the cider that will be drunk with delight by the cockney. He prefers it "rough," that is to say acid, the rougher the better, till it almost cuts the throat as it passes down.
Unless bottled, cider is difficult to preserve owing to the development of lactic acid. Moreover, in wood it turns dark in colour, and if allowed to stand becomes of an inky black, which is not inviting. This is due to having been in contact with iron. It is bottled from Christmas on till Easter, and so is sold as champagne cider; sometimes as champagne without the addition, we strongly suspect. The amount of alcohol produced by fermentation varies from five and a half to nine per cent. In the sweet sparkling cider the amount is very small, and it would take a great deal of it to make a man inebriate.
Much difference of opinion exists as to the good of cider for rheumatic subjects. The sweet cider is of course bad, but it is certain that in the West of England a good many persons are able to drink cider who dare not touch beer—not only so, but believe that it is beneficial. Others, however, protest that they feel rheumatic pains if they touch it.
The manufacturers of champagne cider very commonly add mustard to the liquid for the purpose of stinging the tongue; but apart from that, cider is the purest and least adulterated of all drinks.
In conclusion I will venture to quote another West of England song concerning cider, only premising that by "sparkling" cider is not meant that which goes by the name in commerce, but the homely cask cider; and next, that the old man who sang it to the writer of this article—a Cornish tanner— claimed (but the claim may be questioned) to have composed both words and melody, so that the song, though of country origin, is not very ancient:—
"In a nice little village not far from the sea,
Still lives my old uncle aged eighty and three,
Of orchards and meadows he owns a good lot,
Such cider as his—not another has got.
Then fill up the jug, boys, and let it go round,
Of drinks not the equal in England is found.
So pass round the jug, boys, and pull at it free,
There's nothing like cider, sparkling cider, for me.
"My uncle is lusty, is nimble and spry (lively),
As ribstons his cheeks, clear as crystal his eye,
His head snowy white, as the flowering may,
And he drinks only cider by night and by day.
Then fill up the jug, &c.
"O'er the wall of the churchyard the apple trees lean
And ripen their burdens, red, golden, and green.
In autumn the apples among the graves lie;
'There I 'll sleep well,' says uncle, ' when fated to die.
Then fill up the jug, &c.
"'My heart as an apple, sound, juicy, has been,
My limbs and my trunk have been sturdy and clean;
Uncankered I 've thriven, in heart and in head,
So under the apple trees lay me when dead.'
Then fill up the jug, &c."
Near Crediton, at Creedy Bridge, was born John Davy, the composer of the popular song "The Bay of Biscay." He was baptised on Christmas Day, 1763, at Upton Hellions, and was an illegitimate child; but he was tenderly brought up by his uncle, a village blacksmith, who played the violoncello in Upton Hellions Church choir.
When in Crediton one day as a child with his uncle, he saw some soldiers at the roll-call, and was vastly delighted at the music of the fifes; so much so that he borrowed one and very soon learned to play it. After that he made fifes with his penknife of the hollow-stalked weeds growing on the banks of the Creedy, locally called "bitters," and sold them to his playfellows.
A year later the chimes of Crediton made such an impression on this precocious child, that he purloined twenty or thirty horseshoes from his uncle's smithy, and the old fellow was sadly perplexed as to what had become of them, till he heard a mysterious chiming from the garret, and on ascending to it, found that John had suspended eight of the horseshoes from the rafters so as to form an octave, and with a rod was striking them in imitation of the Crediton chimes.
This story getting to the ears of the rector of the parish, Chancellor Carrington, he felt interested in the child and showed him a harpsichord, on which he soon learned to play. Davy also at this time applied himself to learn the violin.
When Davy was eleven years old the rector introduced him to another parson, named Eastcott, who possessed a pianoforte, an instrument of recent introduction. With this the boy soon became familiar. An effort was now made by these two kindly clergymen, and they placed him with Jackson, the organist of Exeter Cathedral, with whom he remained some years and completed his musical education.
He then went to London, where he was employed to supply music for the songs of the operas of that day, and was retained as a composer by the managers of the Theatre Royal until infirmities, rather than age, rendered him incapable of exertion, and he died, before he was sixty-two, in penury. It was due only to a couple of London tradesmen, one of whom was a native of Crediton, that he was not consigned to a pauper's grave. He wrote some dramatic pieces for the theatre at Sadler's Wells, and composed the music for Holman's opera of What a Blunder, which was performed at the little theatre in the Haymarket in 1800. In the following year he was engaged with Moorhead in the music of Perouse, and with Mountain in that of The Brazen Mask. His last opera was Woman's Will. Some of his songs have obtained a firm hold, as "Just Like Love," "May we ne'er want a Friend," "The Death of Will Watch the Smuggler," which I have heard a village blacksmith sing, and "The Bay of Biscay."
He was buried in St. Martin's churchyard, February 28th, 1824.
There are some fine seats and parks near Crediton Creedy Park, that of Sir H. Fergusson Davie, Bart, that of Shobrooke, the seat of Sir I. Shelly, Bart, and Downes, the property of Sir Redvers Buller. This latter place takes its name from the dun which occupied the hill-top between the Yeo and Creedy, which unite below it. All traces of the old ramparts have, however, disappeared under cultivation. There is a somewhat pathetic story connected with Shobrooke and Downes. The latter belonged to William Gould, and James Buller, of Morval, obtained it by marrying his eldest daughter and heiress Elizabeth, born in 1718. The younger and only other sister, Frances, married John Tuckfield, of Shobrooke Park, then known as Little Fulford. This was in 1740, when she was only eighteen. The respective husbands quarrelled about money and politics, and forbade their wives to meet and speak to each other. John Tuckfield was member for Exeter 1747, 1754, 1760, when he died. The sisters were wont to walk every day to a certain point in the respective grounds and wave their handkerchiefs to each other, and they never met in this world again, for Elizabeth died in 1742.
There is not much of great interest in the neighbourhood of Crediton. Perhaps the church that most deserves a visit is Colebrook, with its curious wood carving and a fine original and late piece of screen-work. There is also Coplestone Cross, a very remarkable piece of early Celtic interlaced work, such as is not to be found elsewhere in England except in Northumbria. It is mentioned in a charter in 974, but it is far older than that. It stands at the junction of three parishes, and has given a name to a once noted family in the county, that comes into an old local rhyme, which runs:—
"Crocker, Cruwys, and Coplestone,
When the Conqueror came were found at home."
But who the ancestors of these families were at the time of the Conquest we have no means of knowing. Of the few English thegns who retained their lands