Bradley Manor's sleeping beauty

The Pound House at Bradley which houses the cider press

Just like in the fairy tale, Bradley Manor has its own sleeping beauty in the form of its charming, but long since used cider press that appears as if frozen in time. In the same way the princess had to wait for her prince to awaken her, likewise the Cider Press is on the verge of its ‘awakening’ through current fund-raising efforts, which, if successful, will serve as the ‘kiss of life’ it has been waiting for. Volunteer reporter Fiona went behind the scenes to visit the cider press and find out about its past and the hopes for its future.

A bustling history

At with many period country houses, cider presses were a bustling hub of activity, with people coming and going with their apples for processing into cider. Cider making during the medieval period was a large and important industry, and at Bradley’s cider press, situated conveniently next to a leat for its necessary water, the very size of its press is suggestive of just how busy and thriving a place it would have been, not to mention how dangerous. For here traces of rush lights can be evidenced; these were the common source of lighting for poor people and made by soaking the dried pith of the rush plant in fat or grease, and served as candles, though emitted much dimmer lights. 

Of immense historic value, this seventeenth to early eighteenth century cow shed is nestled at the rear of Bradley Manor and was built using stone imported from nearby Torre Abbey in Torquay. I was kindly given a guided tour from Peter, a member of the donor family, who as one might expect, is an authority on the history of Bradley Manor and its Cider Press. 

I followed Peter to the far end of the cider press building, commonly known as the Pound House, and up a number of irregular, well-trodden steps of huge slabs to the loft.

The cider press at Bradley
The cider press at Bradley
The cider press at Bradley

 

Cider making

This was where, once upon a time, apples were carried up and dropped into the galvanised hopper that for now sits strewn with a scattering of straw, almost as a nod to its former processing days. Layers of straw were infilled with layers of the apple pulp, or pomace as it was known, wrapped in cloth, to create  a ‘cheese’, ready for pressing out the last juices from the apple pomace. It was then someone’s job to collect the juices into barrels and seal them ready for fermentation, then taken and stored in the cellar of the main house where it has been said that the ‘bubbling’ of the cider in their barrels could be heard in the room above. Peter estimated one ‘cheese’ as producing several hundred gallons of cider.

To make the pomace, a very large, horizontal wooden wheel would have been turned, aided by a complex system of inter-connecting cogs, by a very helpful mule. This process resulted in the initial pressing or crushing of the apples into a ‘tongue’, before being shovelled along to its final pressing.