The Museum of Cider is in the original 1888 Bulmer’s cider factory in the West Midland town of Hereford. The museum has an unusual asset because of its industrial past: Victorian champagne cider cellars.
The museum tells the history of cider-making in Britain. “It’s not as well documented a history as that of beer,” says the venue’s director, Elizabeth Pimblett. “But we know for sure that cider was around in 14th-century Hereford before hitting its stride in the 17th century.”
After the factory was refurbished, it was opened as a museum in 1982. It was set up as a trust in 1973 by two key cider makers, Bertram Bulmer and Norman Weston, plus John Hudson, the head of Long Ashton Research Station, near Bristol.
The founders set about collecting all things cider-related with a focus on Herefordshire. These included manufacturing artefacts, oral histories and archive material. “The collection ranges from large farm equipment to rare 18th-century cider glasses,” Pimblett says.
“The first thing visitors see is a massive 17th-century oak beam press from Normandy, brought over by Bulmer. He also got the museum the first licence to distil cider brandy in about 200 years. Sadly, the museum has discontinued this practice. Pimblett stresses the dynamic story of the drink, from its early history to today’s craft cider movement. “Our challenge is to capture that in contemporary collecting,” she says.
Pimblett says the venue’s 18th-century engraved table cider glass collection, watercolour illustrations for the Herefordshire Pomona (a 19th-century book about heritage varieties of apples) and champagne cider cellars with original Victorian equipment sets it apart from other cider museums.
“Many people still think of cider as a rough farm drink or a fizzy pub pint,” she says. “In actual fact, under the diarist John Evelyn’s influence, cider was the subject of the first report given at the Royal Society in 1660, and it was the drink that provoked riots across England and Wales when a new tax was introduced on it in 1763.”
Help at hand
Everyone except for Pimblett works part-time. There is an archivist, two administration staff, five front-of-house members and volunteers who help with the archives. Budget Income comes from the shop and tearoom, the hiring out of meeting rooms, grants and admission fees (adults £5.50, concessions £3-£5). “We sell craft ciders, but it’s the local brands that visitors want,” Pimblett says. She is wary of those that add lots of fruit. “There is a precedent for adding fruit: we have a 17th-century recipe that adds mulberries, but some modern brands can be a bit like Ribena. Horrendous.”
“The old building stored up its troubles waiting for my appointment,” Pimblett says. “Its first gift was late at night in October 2016 when I’d been here for just a month. We had a flood from a burst water heater on the ground floor down into the display cellar beneath, so we had to close the museum, dry it out and have a new floor put in.”
Don’t get lonely. “Working in a small museum can get isolating after working in a larger professional team,” says Pimblett. “Meeting up with other museum colleagues through organisations such as the Rural Museums Network provides valuable stimulus.”
12,000 in 2019.
A recent grant from the John Ellerman Foundation will allow the team to develop their curatorial skills.
Louise Gray is a freelance writer