Devonshire Characters and Strange Events/Hugh Stafford and the Royal Wilding

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HUGH STAFFORD, Esq., of Pynes, born 1674, was the last of the Staffords of Pynes. His daughter, Bridget Maria, carried the estate to her husband, Sir Henry Northcote, Bart., from whom is descended the present Earl of Iddesleigh. Hugh Stafford died in 1734. He is noted as an enthusiastic apple-grower and lover of cyder.

He wrote a "Dissertation on Cyder and Cyder-Fruit" in a letter to a friend in 1727, but this was not published till 1753, and a second edition in 1769. The family of Stafford was originally Stowford, of Stowford, in the parish of Dolton. The name changed to Stoford and then to Stafford. One branch married into the family of Wollocombe, of Wollocombe. But the name of Stowford or Stafford was not the most ancient designation of the family, which was Kelloway, and bore as its arms four pears. The last Stafford turned from pears to apples, to which he devoted his attention and became a connoisseur not in apples only, but in the qualities of cyder as already intimated.

To a branch of this family belonged Sir John Stowford, Lord Chief Baron in the reign of Edward III, who built Pilton Bridge over the little stream of the Yeo or Yaw, up which the tide flows, and over which the passage was occasionally dangerous. The story goes that the judge one day saw a poor market woman with her child on a mudbank in the stream crying for aid, which none could afford her, caught and drowned by the rising flood, whereupon he vowed to build the bridge to prevent further accident. The rhyme ran:—

Yet Barnstaple, graced though thou be by brackish Taw,
In all thy glory see that thou not forget the little Yaw.

Camden asserts that Judge Stowford also constructed the long bridge over the Taw consisting of sixteen piers. Tradition will have it, however, that towards the building of this latter two spinster ladies (sisters) contributed by the profits of their distaffs and the pennies they earned by keeping a little school.

I was travelling on the South Devon line some years ago after there had been a Church Congress at Plymouth, and in the same carriage with me were some London reporters. Said one of these gentry to another: "Did you ever see anything like Devonshire parsons and pious ladies? They were munching apples all the time that the speeches were being made. Honour was being done to the admirable fruit by these worthy Devonians. I was dotting down my notes during an eloquent harangue on 'How to Bring Religion to Bear upon the People' when chump, chump went a parson on my left; and the snapping of jaws on apples, rending off shreds for mastication, punctuated the periods of a bishop who spoke next. At an

From the original painting in the collection of the Earl of Iddesleigh

ensuing meeting on the 'Deepening of Personal Religion' my neighbour was munching a Cornish gilliflower, which he informed me in taste and aroma surpassed every other apple. I asked in a low tone whether Devonshire people did not peel their fruit before eating. He answered leni susurro that the flavour was in the rind."

Cyder was anciently the main drink of the country people in the West of England. Every old farmhouse had its granite trough (circular) in which rolled a stone wheel that pounded the fruit to a "pummice," and the juice flowed away through a lip into a keeve. Now, neglected and cast aside, may be seen the huge masses of stone with an iron crook fastened in them, which in the earliest stage of cyder-making were employed for pressing the fruit into pummice. But these weights were superseded by the screw-press that extracted more of the juice.

In 1763 Lord Bute, the Prime Minister, imposed a tax of 10s. per hogshead on cyder and perry, to be paid by the first buyer. The country gentlemen, without reference to party, were violent in their opposition, and Bute then condescended to reduce the sum and the mode of levying it, proposing 4s. per hogshead, to be paid, not by the first buyer, but by the grower, who was to be made liable to the regulations of the excise and the domiciliary visits of excisemen. Pitt thundered against this cyder Bill, inveighing against the intrusion of excise officers into private dwellings, quoting the old proud maxim, that every Englishman's house was his castle, and showing the hardship of rendering every country gentleman, every individual that owned a few fruit trees and made a little cyder, liable to have his premises invaded by officers. The City of London petitioned the Commons, the Lords, the throne, against the Bill; in the House of Lords forty-nine peers divided against the Minister; the cities of Exeter and Worcester, the counties of Devonshire and Herefordshire, more nearly concerned in the question about cyder than the City of London, followed the example of the capital, and implored their representatives to resist the tax to the utmost; and an indignant and general threat was made that the apples should be suffered to fall and rot under the trees rather than be made into cyder, subject to such a duty and such annoyances. No fiscal question had raised such a tempest since Sir Robert Walpole's Excise Bill in 1733. But Walpole, in the plenitude of his power and abilities, and with wondrous resources at command, was constrained to bow to the storm he had roused, and to shelve his scheme. Bute, on the other hand, with a 'power that lasted but a day, with a position already undermined, with slender abilities and no resources, but with Scotch stubbornness, was resolved that his Bill should pass. And it passed, with all its imperfections; and although there were different sorts of cyder, varying in price from 5s. to 50s. per hogshead, they were all taxed alike the poor man having thus to pay as heavy a duty for his thin beverage as the affluent man paid for the choicest kind. The agitation against Lord Bute grew. In some rural districts he was burnt under the effigy of a jack-boot, a rustic allusion to his name (Bute); and on more than one occasion when he walked the streets he was accused of being surrounded by prize-fighters to protect him against the violence of the mob. Numerous squibs, caricatures, and pamphlets appeared. He was represented as hung on the gallows above a fire, in which a jackboot fed the flames and a farmer was throwing an excised cyder-barrel into the conflagration, whilst a
Scotchman, in Highland costume, in the background, commented, "It's aw over with us now, and aw our aspiring hopes are gone"; whilst an English mob advanced waving the banners of Magna Charta, and "Liberty, Property, and No Excise."

I give one of the ballads printed on this occasion: it is entitled, "The Scotch Yoke, and English Resentment. To the tune of The Queen's Ass."

Of Freedom no longer let Englishmen boast,
Nor Liberty more be their favourite Toast;
The Hydra Oppression your Charta defies,
And galls English Necks with the Yoke of Excise,
The Yoke of Excise, the Yoke of Excise,
And galls English Necks with the Yoke of Excise.

In vain have you conquer'd, my brave Hearts of Oak,
Your Laurels, your Conquests are all but a Joke;
Let a rascally Peace serve to open your Eyes,
And the d nable Scheme of a Cyder-Excise,
A Cyder-Excise, etc.

What though on your Porter a Duty was laid,
Your Light double-tax'd, and encroach'd on your Trade;
Who e'er could have thought that a Briton so wise
Would admit such a Tax as the Cyder- Excise,
The Cyder-Excise, etc.

I appeal to the Fox, or his Friend John a-Boot,
If tax'd thus the Juice, then how soon may the Fruit?
Adieu then to good Apple-puddings and Pyes,
If e'er they should taste of a cursed Excise,
A cursed Excise, etc.

Let those at the Helm, who have sought to enslave
A Nation so glorious, a People so brave,
At once be convinced that their Scheme you despise,
And shed your last Blood to oppose the Excise,
Oppose the Excise, etc.

Come on then, my Lads, who have fought and have bled,
A Tax may, perhaps, soon be laid on your Bread;
Ye Natives of Worc'ster and Devon arise,
And strike at the Root of the Cyder-Excise,
The Cyder-Excise, etc.

No longer let K—s at the H—m of the St—e,
With fleecing and grinding pursue Britain's Fate;
Let Power no longer your Wishes disguise,
But off with their Heads—by the Way of Excise,
The Way of Excise, etc.

From two Latin words, ex and scindo, I ween,
Came the hard Word Excise, which to Cut off does mean.
Take the Hint then, my Lads, let your Freedom advise,
And give them a Taste of their fav'rite Excise,
Their fav'rite Excise, etc.

Then toss off your Bumpers, my Lads, while you may,
To Pitt and Lord Temple, Huzza, Boys, huzza !
Here's the King that to tax his poor Subjects denies,
But Pox o' the Schemer that plann'd the Excise,
That plann'd the Excise, etc.

The apple trees were too many and too deep-rooted and too stout for the Scotch thistle. The symptoms of popular dislike drove Bute to resign (8 April, 1763), to the surprise of all. The duty, however, was not repealed till 1830. In my Book of the West (Devon), I have given an account of cyder-making in the county, and I will not repeat it here. But I may mention the curious Devonshire saying about Francemass, or St. Franken Days. These are the 19th, 20th, and 21st May, at which time very often a frost comes that injures the apple blossom. The story goes that there was an Exeter brewer, of the name of Frankin, who found that cyder ran his ale so hard that he vowed his soul to the devil on the condition that his Satanic Majesty should send three frosty nights in May annually to cut off the apple blossom.

And now to return to Hugh Stafford. He opens his letter with an account of the origin of the Royal Wilding, one of the finest sorts of apple for the making of choice cyder.

"Since you have seen the Royal Wilding apple, which is so very much celebrated (and so deservedly) in our county, the history of its being first taken notice of, which is fresh in everybody's memory, may not be unacceptable to you. The single and only tree from which the apple was first propagated is very tall, fair, and stout; I believe about twenty feet high. It stands in a very little quillet (as we call it) of gardening, adjoining to the post-road that leads from Exeter to Oakhampton, in the parish of St. Thomas, but near the borders of another parish called Whitestone. A walk of a mile from Exeter will gratify any one, who has curiosity, with the sight of it.

"It appears to be properly a wilding, that is, a tree raised from the kernel of an apple, without having been grafted, and (which seems well worth observing) has, in all probability, stood there much more than seventy years, for two ancient persons of the parish of Whitestone, who died several years since, each aged upwards of the number of years before mentioned, declared, that when they were boys, probably twelve or thirteen years of age, and first went the road, it was not only growing there, but, what is worth notice, was as tall and stout as it now appears, nor do there at this time appear any marks of decay upon it that I could perceive.

"It is a very constant and plentiful bearer every other year, and then usually produces apples enough to make one of our hogsheads of cyder, which contains sixty-four gallons, and this was one occasion of its being first taken notice of, and of its affording an history which, I believe, no other tree ever did: For the little cot-house to which it belongs, together with the little quillet in which it stands, being several years since mortgaged for ten pounds, the fruit of this tree alone, in a course of some years, freed the house and garden, and its more valuable self, from that burden.

"Mr. Francis Oliver (a gentleman of the neighbourhood, and, if I mistake not, the gentleman who had the mortgage just now mentioned) was one of the first persons about Exeter that affected rough cyder, and, for that reason, purchased the fruit of this tree every bearing year. However, I cannot learn that he ever made cyder of it alone, but mix'd with other apples, which added to the flavour of his cyder, in the opinion of those who had a true relish for that liquor.

"Whether this, or any other consideration, brought on the more happy experiment upon this apple, the Rev. Robert Wollocombe, Rector of Whitestone, who used to amuse himself with a nursery, put on some heads of this wilding; and in a few years after being in his nursery, about March, a person came to him on some business, and feeling something roll under his feet, took it up, and it proved one of those precious apples, which Mr. Wollocombe receiving from him, finding it perfectly sound after it had lain in the long stragle of the nursery during all the rain, frost, and snow of the foregoing winter, thought it must be a fruit of more than common value; and having tasted it, found the juices, not only in a most perfect soundness and quickness, but such likewise as seemed to promise a body, as well as the roughness and flavour that the wise cyder drinkers in Devon now begin to desire. He observed the graft from which it had fallen, and searching about found some more of the apples, and all of the same soundness; upon which, without hesitation, he resolved to graft a greater quantity of them, which he accordingly did; but waited with impatience for the experiment, which you know must be the work of some years. They came at length, and
his just reward was a barrel of the juice, which, though it was small, was of great value for its excellency, and far exceeded all his expectations.

"Mr. Wollocombe was not a little pleased with it, and talked of it in all conversations; it created amusement at first, but when time produced an hogshead of it, from raillery it came to seriousness, and every one from laughter fell to admiration. In the meantime he had thought of a name for his British wine, and as it appeared to be in the original tree a fruit not grafted, it retained the name of a Wilding, and as he thought it superior to all other apples, he gave it the title of the Royal Wilding.

"This was about sixteen years since (i.e. about 1710). The gentlemen of our county are now busy almost everywhere in promoting it, and some of the wiser farmers. But we have not yet enough for sale. I have known five guineas refused for one of our hogsheads of it, though the common cyder sells for twenty shillings, and the South Ham for twenty-five to thirty.

"I must add, that Mr. Wollocombe hath reserved some of them for hoard; I have tasted the tarts of them, and they come nearer to the quince than any other tart I ever eat of.

"Wherever it has been tried as yet, the juices are perfectly good (but better in some soils than others), and when the gentlemen of the South-Hams will condescend to give it a place in their orchards, they will undoubtedly exceed us in this liquor, because we must yield to them in the apple soil. But it is happy for us, that at present they are so wrapt up in their own sufficiency, that they do not entertain any thoughts of raising apples from us; and when they shall, it must be another twenty years before they can do anything to the purpose, though some of their thinking gentlemen, I am told, begin to get some of them transported thither, (by night you may suppose, partly for shame and partly for fear of being mobbed by their neighbours) and will, I am well assured, much rejoice in the production.

"The colour of the Royal Wilding cyder, without any assistance from art, is of a bright yellow, rather than a reddish beerish tincture; its other qualities are a noble body, an excellent bitter, a delicate (excuse the expression) roughness, and a fine vinous flavour. All the other qualities you may meet with in some of the best South-Ham cyder, but the last is peculiar to the White-Sour and the Royal Wilding only, and you will in vain look for it in any other."

Mr. Stafford goes on to speak of his second favourite, the White Sour of the South Hams.

"The qualities of the juices are precisely the same with those of the Royal Wilding, nay, so very near one to the other, that they are perfectly rivals, and created such a contest, as is very uncommon, and to which I was an eye-witness. A gentleman of the South-Hams, whose White-Sour cyders, for the year, were very celebrated, (for our cyder vintages, like those of clarets and ports, are very different in different years) and had been drank of by another gentleman, who was a happy possessor, an uncontested lord, facile princeps, of the Royal Wilding, met at the house of the latter gentleman a year or two after: the famed Royal Wilding, you may be sure, was produced, as the best return for the White-Sour that had been tasted at the other gentleman's; and what was the effect? Each gentleman did not contend, as is usual, that his was the best cyder; but such was the equilibrium of the juices, and such the generosity of their breasts (for finer gentlemen we have not in our country) that each affirmed his own was the worst; the gentleman of the South-Hams declared in favour of the Royal Wilding, and the gentleman of our parts in favour of the White-Sour."

As to the sweet cyder, Mr. Stafford despises it. "It may be acceptable to a female, or a Londoner, it is ever offensive to a bold and generous West Saxon," says he.

Mr. Stafford flattered himself one year that he had beaten the Royal Wilding. He had planted pips, and after many years brewed a pipe of the apples of his wildings in 1724. Mr. Wollocombe was invited to taste it. "The surprise (and even almost silence) with which he was seized at first tasting it was plainly perceived by everyone present, and occasioned no small diversion." But, alas! after it was bottled this "Super-Celestial," as it had been named, as the year advanced, appeared thin compared with the cyder of the Royal Wilding, and Hugh Stafford was constrained after a first flush of triumph to allow that the Royal Wilding maintained pre-eminence.

According to our author, the addition of a little sage or clary to thin cyder gives it a taste as of a good Rhenish wine; and he advises the crushing to powder of angelica roots to add to cyder, as is done in Oporto by those who prepare port for the English market. It gives a flavour and a bouquet truly delicious.

At the English Revolution, when William of Orange came to the throne, the introduction of French wines into the country was prohibited, and this gave a great impetus to the manufacture of cyder, and care in the production of cyder of the best description. But the imposition of a duty of ten shillings a hogshead on cyder that was not repealed, as already said, till 1830, killed the industry. Farmers no longer cared to keep up their orchards, and grew apples only for home consumption. They gave the cyder to their labourers, and as these were not particular as to the quality, no pains were taken to produce such as would suit men's refined palates. The workman liked a rough beverage, one that almost cut his throat as it passed down; and this produced the evil effect that the farmers, who were bound by their leases to keep up their orchards, planted only the coarsest sort of apples, and the higher quality of fruit was allowed to die out. The orchards fell into, and in most cases remain still in a deplorable condition of neglect. Hear what is the report of the Special Commissioner of the Gardeners' Magazine, as to the state of the orchards in Devon. "They will not, as a rule, bear critical examination. As a matter of fact Devonshire, compared with other counties, has made little or no progress of late years, and there are hundreds of orchards in that county that are little short of a disgrace to those who own or rent them. The majority of the orchards are rented by farmers, who too often are the worst of gardeners and the poorest of fruit growers, and they cannot be induced to improve on their methods." The writer goes on to say, that so long as the farmers have enough trees standing or blown over, to bear fruit that suffices for their home consumption, they are content, and with complete indifference, they suffer the cattle to roam about the orchards, bite off the bark, and rend the branches and tender shoots from the trees.

"If you tackle the farmers on the subject, and in particular strongly advise them to see what can be done towards improving their old orchards and forming new ones, they will become uncivil at once."

It is sad to have to state that the famous "Royal Wilding" is no longer known, not even at Pynes, where it was extensively planted by Hugh Stafford.

Messrs. Veitch, the well-known nurserymen at Exeter and growers of the finest sorts of apples, inform me that they have not heard of it for many years. Mr. H. Whiteway, who produces some of the best cyder in North Devon, writes to me: "With regard to the Royal Wilding mentioned in Mr. Hugh Stafford's book, I have made diligent inquiry in and about the neighbourhood in which it was grown at the time stated, but up to now have been unable to find any trace of it, and this also applies to the White-Sour. I am, however, not without hope of discovering some day a solitary remnant of the variety."

This loss is due to the utter neglect of the orchards in consequence of the passing and maintenance of Lord Bute's mischievous Bill. This Bill was the more deplorable in its results because in and about 1750 cyder had replaced the lighter clarets in the affections of all classes, and was esteemed as good a drink as the finest Rhenish, and much more wholesome. Rudolphus Austen, who introduced it at the tables of the dons of Oxford, undertook to "raise cyder that shall compare and excel the wine of many provinces nearer the sun, where they abound with fruitful vineyards." And he further asserted: "A seasonable and moderate use of good cyder is the surest remedy and preservative against the diseases which do frequently afflict the sedentary life of them that are seriously studious." He died in 1666.

Considerable difference of opinion exists as to the advantage or disadvantage of cyder for those liable to rheumatism. But this difference of opinion is due largely, if not wholly, to the kinds of cyder drunk. The sweet cyder is unquestionably bad in such cases, but that in which there is not so much sugar is a corrective to the uric acid that causes rheumatism. In Noake's Worcestershire Relics appears the following extract from the journal of a seventeenth-century parson. "This parish (Dilwyn), wherein syder [sic] is plentiful, hath and doth afford many people that have and do enjoy the blessing of long life, neither are the aged here bed-ridden or decrepit as elsewhere, but for the most part lively and vigorous. Next to God, wee ascribe it to our flourishing orchards, which are not only the ornament but the pride of our country, yielding us rich and winy liquors." At Whimple, in Devon, the rectors, like their contemporary, the Rev. Robert Wollocombe, the discoverer of the Royal Wilding a century or so later than the Dilwyn parson, were both cyder makers and cyder drinkers. The tenure of office of two of them covered a period of over a century, and the last of these worthy divines lived to tell the story of how the Exeter coach set down the bent and crippled dean at his door, who, after three weeks 'cyder cure' at the hospitable rectory, had thrown his crutches to the dogs and turned his face homewards "upright as a bolt."[1]

The apple is in request now for three purposes quite distinct: the dessert apple, to rival those introduced from America; that largely employed for the manufacture of jams—the basis, apple, flavoured to turn it into raspberry, apricot, etc.; and last, but not least, the cyder-producing apple which is unsuited for either of the former requirements.

In my Book of the West I have given a lengthy ballad of instruction on the growth of apple trees, and the gathering of apples and the making of cyder, which I heard sung by an old man at Washfield, near Tiverton. The following song was sung to me by an aged tanner of Launceston, some twenty years ago, which he professed to have composed himself:—

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 cyder 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 cyder, sparkling cyder, for me.

My uncle is lusty, is nimble and spry,
As ribstones his cheeks, clear as crystal his eye,
His head snowy white as the flowering may,
And he drinks only cyder by night and by day.
Then fill up the jug, etc.

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, etc.

"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, etc.