The Rise and Fall of Bulmer’s Cider
The start of industrial rather than rural farm based cider production. Rev Charles Henry Bulmer the rector at Credenhill few miles north of Hereford city made cider. He was friends with Dr Hogg and was asked by Hogg, a prominent pomologist to write the chapter “The Orchard and Its Products. Cider and Perry” for the Herefordshire Pomona Volume 1 pages 113-160. Dr. Hogg often stayed with the Bulmers. The Reverend’s youngest son, twenty years old took advantage of his fathers work and started making cider from the Glebe orchard. . His mother Mary’s advice was to make a career in food or drink, “because neither ever go out of fashion”. Although that was not considered “proper” by his peers. He suffered from asthma and missed a lot of schooling but worked hard learning French which proved useful later in translating Champagne methods and Pasteur on fermentation.
In 1887 using apples from the orchard at his father’s rectory an old stone press on the farm next door and Tommy the rectory pony , Percy Bulmer made the first cider, from apples at the family orchard at Credenhill in Herefordshire which would be later used to make the cider for which they became known. A year later he moved to premises in Maylord Street before moving to Ryelands in Hereford a year later. With a £1,760 loan from their father, the brothers bought the 8 acres field.
The original buildings, including cider cellars survives today as the Cider Museum and King Offa Distillery.
It was little more than a barn compared to the huge modern stainless-steel computer-controlled cider-making plant that has grown up on a 75 acres (30.4 ha) site nearby. Production moved to the current Plough Lane site in the late 1970s
In 2003, the Hereford-based firm was bought for £278 million by Scottish and Newcastle Breweries after Bulmer’s share price collapsed in September 2002.after the 5th profit warning in the space of a year. The firm shocked the stock market by revealing a £3.8m black hole in its accounts because of previously unidentified promotional costs. A company that had once been worth £250 million was now worth £60 million. 280 of the 1,000 employees were made redundant to try and cut costs, and many of the apple-growing farmers agreed to being paid over six months. Bulmers has already been hit hard by the success of alcopops products such as Diageo’s Smirnoff Ice, and by unsuccessful forays into the US, Australian and South African drinks markets and the British weather which was poor over the summer months, the cider drinking prime season
In 1889, his elder brother Fred (Edward Frederick Bulmer), coming down from King’s College Cambridge turned down the offer of a post as tutor to the children of the King of Siam to join Percy in his fledgling cider business.
Bulmers was first granted the Royal Warrant in 1911 and continues today as Cider Maker to Her Majesty the Queen. It was incorporated as a private company on 27 June 1918 due to illness and deaths in the family.
Percy, decided to go to Rheims and Epernay in France to see what could be learnt. The only firm that they knew in Europe was Taillard of Epernay, from whom they had once purchased a corking machine. Monsieur Taillard, subsequently introduced Percy to a firm of champagne makers called Desmonet. They invited Percy to stay with them and showed him how champagne was made. They then sent him to the Head of the Municipal Wine Laboratory at Rheims where he learnt how to make the most important estimations in the production of good cider. In 1906 Bulmer’s started to produce champagne cider, marketed under the name of Cider De Luxe until 1916 when it was cleverly renamed Pomagne. Although Bulmer’s won the case they stopped making Pomagne by the expensive champagne process in 1975 and switched to a process of bulk fermentation in which a 6,000 gallon tank was used.
Percy Bulmer died in 1919, aged 52.
Perhaps because of their upbringing as the sons of a rector, Fred in particular had a strong sense of social responsibility and, like the Guinness family in London, the Bulmers used some of the wealth generated by their brewing business to provide social housing in Hereford.
Fred Bulmer had political interests in housing, education, health, law and order and women’s rights. In 1901, appalled at the slum conditions in Hereford, he founded Hereford Dwellings Ltd and built twelve cottages for the poor in Moor Street. In 1908 he founded Hereford Co-operative Housing and built Garden City, a series of modern family homes with gardens in the Penn Grove area of the city.
In 1898 Fred had created a pension scheme for Bulmers employees, with the investment of £100 per annum by the company. In 1920 this was extended, with £1,000 being given to trustees to provide for pensions and gratuities for men over 50 who had served the company well.
The company also pioneered the introduction of sick leave for employees. The food shortages of World War II saw a canteen open in 1941 to ensure that every Bulmer’s employee had at least one good meal a day.
The firm’s “triple bottom line” did not end there either. It planted an experimental orchard in 1907 and new varieties were supplied to local farmers at low cost
Like other businesses, factory produced cider has three aims, to increase output, reduce costs and somehow stave off the competition sufficiently to maintain the selling price. With cider this was achieved by stimulating demand through marketing, reducing costs through mechanisation and production lines. Factory cider production began quite late, with Bulmers (from 1887), Godwins (1898) Westons (from 1880), Ridlers of Clehonger (1870), Symonds of Stock Lacy, and Evans of Widemarsh Common 1880s . At least twelve factories were working in Herefordshire at this time. Railways which were extending into Herefordshire at the time made it possible to distribute cider while it was fresh and at its best. In the 1880s and for about forty years railways reached every corner of the county and carried all manner of heavy goods into the big industrial cities of the Midlands and London .
In 1887 the only difference between the Bulmer’s ‘factory’ and farmhouse cider produced elsewhere in the county was that Percy and Fred Bulmer were determined to make a business of it. They could see that there was money to be made, that the trade was undeveloped and therefore full of potential. The brothers borrowed money and worked round the clock, developing markets, inventing machines and expanding production.
By the turn of the millennium storage at the Bulmer’s plant was on an immense scale. Some cider was stored in original oak casks holding up to 272,760 litres , but for sheer size the Bulmer’s Strongbow tank, which represents the largest alcohol container in the world and can store 68,190,000 litres of cider.
Quite a journey and quite a few milestones