Over the last couple of weeks I have been photographing tree planting at Compton Bishop where Thatchers have been busy planting 100,000 young apple trees – putting in some classic cider apple varieties such as Vilberry and Dabinett, as well as traditional varieties such as Tom Putt and Stoke Red. The weather has been kind and the planting swift, and it’s been great to view the team working together, as many of the office staff and members of Martin’s family have turned out to help.
Below is a selection of pictures from last weeks shoot and of course another extract with pics from the new thatchers book, Then and Now.
Planting continued as demand grew, so that by the
late 1980s Myrtle Farm was surrounded by flourishing
apple trees. By the end of the next decade there
were about 180 acres of orchards containing many
thousands of trees, from Webbers to the more recent
Nye Road, Shipham and Sacofs Orchards (all planted
From time to time particular orchards have been
commemorated in ciders that have born their name,
such as the company’s first single orchard cider,
Christon Orchard, which was launched in 2005 as a
companion to Katy and the newly-released Vintage.
These ciders were sold in sleek green 75cl bottles,
similar in size to wine bottles but distinctively
streamlined, reflecting in their design Thatchers’
desire to emulate the high standards of wine
producers while remaining determinedly different.
The orchard itself is a familiar sight to travellers
on the M5, lying just across the motorway from the
Webbington Hotel and Crook Peak; first planted with
standard trees in the 1920s it was then replanted by
Thatchers near the end of the century, with Somerset
Redstreak, Katy, Morgan Sweet and Ashton Bitter
growing alongside older varieties like Porter’s
Perfection and Harry Masters Jersey. For the single
orchard cider each variety was pressed and fermented
separately, then the ciders blended for the desired
I was a little anxious about starting the ‘Then and Now’ posts with ‘Winter’ images, but as spring now seems to have declared itself as a false start and the chill winds of Eastern Europe have blown in, I can now comfortably post them without them appearing too incongruously out of time.
Below is a montage of chilly winter images, including the Green Man (more of him and Wassailing next winter) that appears in the ‘Apples and Orchards’ section of the book, plus an extract that describes the not so dormant winter period. I have also added a winter poem by somebody called Shakespeare.
THE CIDERMAKING YEAR:
Winters in Somerset are not usually harsh, but in the
dark depths of January the spring can seem a long
way off. In the orchard, this is the time when the trees
rejuvenate, their roots pulling nutrients up into the
dormant tree ready for new growth, and it is the time
when the orchard manager tends to the trees, pruning
Pruning is an essential job, especially in bush
orchards where trees need to be kept in the best
possible health. An unpruned tree will yield less
fruit than a tree that has been carefully cut back in
the winter, and pruning has been a valued skill –
almost an art form – since the days when Roman
fruit growers left their pruning knives lying around
for us to find. The aim is to focus the tree’s energy
on producing fruit rather than on growing, and to
give the fruit access to the sunlight that will help
it develop from blossom to ripe apple, so untidy
growth is removed and the branches trimmed so as
to encourage growth in particular directions. Treeplanting
too takes place at this time of year – once
an arduous job that would take weeks but now, as we
have seen, a whole lot easier.
A poem for Winter…
Blow, blow, thou winter wind
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most freindship if feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.
Freeze, freeze thou bitter sky,
That does not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As a friend remembered not.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.
Tagged Apple, Apple Orchard., Apple tree, Cider, frost, Green Man, Pruning, Sandford, Snow, Thatchers Cider, Wassail, Winter
I’ve been wandering around Thatchers Orchards for over 15 years now – and, over that time, I have built up a large library of images, documenting the working life of a cider farm through the different seasons.
While much of my work at Thatchers has been commissioned photography, for general marketing and PR uses, at particular times of year – when the light has been good, the blossom extra white and apples extra shiny and red – I would pick up my camera and travel down to Sandford or Criston, at the break of dawn or during a snowstorm, to film and photograph this glorious landscape.
I would do this for pleasure, and perhaps to fulfil that itching need all photographers feel when the light is either good or dramatic: that I should be out there taking pictures.
Of course it got to the point where I wondered how many of the photographs I took would ever see the light of day. So I was delighted when Martin Thatcher asked me to search through my archive of images, to illustrate a book the Thatchers wanted to produce – ‘Thatchers Then and Now’, the story of a cider making family.
So over the past year, I’ve been working with Bristol Books producing a book on the family history of Thatchers Cider. It’s been a fascinating process working with writer James Russell, matching the correct images with words and making sure the book has a natural flow, a contemporary look and an enduring feel.
What I have decided to do on this blog is to publish some of the photographs from the book, with extracts from the text, to put the images in their correct context.
I hope you enjoy my posts during the next few months – and, if you like the images and stories behind them, you never know, you might even want to buy the book…
I enjoy the long lazy wasted days between Christmas and New Year, for once the thought of work doesn’t tug away at me and I allow myself to watch daytime TV and eat too much cheese and chocolate.
The Phillips family do have a lively dog to walk though these days ( thanks kids ) so twice a day I have to pull on the wellies and venture out. The mornings have been gloriously cold and frosty so I took ‘Fudge’ (the dog) to Thatchers Orchards where I could make good use of the time by also taking photographs of the Orchards.
Some images from the apple day
It’s been a busy few months for me in the photo, film and cider/apple juice making world. I know it’s a strange combination, but during late summer/ autumn, my job and my favorite hobby become inextricably linked. One of my favorite clients is Thatchers Cider and at this time of year, they keep me very busy documenting the harvesting season.
As they weren’t running an open day I suggested they do an Apple juice making Day. I’ve helped run a few in the past and I know how much people love these events. Surprisingly Thatchers went for the idea and I quickly became chief organizer, equipment supplier (believe it or not I was the man with the apple press), photographer and filmmaker.
I do love a challenge though and the chance to photograph families enjoying the orchards was too good an opportunity to miss out on.
Thatchers had just finished their new Meeting rooms, the Thicket Building, a stunning thatch cottage next to a small pond and surrounded by 0rchards and they suggested holding the event there. As part of the Made in Somerset food festival 20 families attended the event, Mariet Paul and Richard from Thatchers were wonderful hosts and were on hand to impart their vast knowledge of cider making.
I arrived at 8pm with my basket apple press and the milling machine, which I put my daughter katy in charge off and spent a wonderful morning filming and photographing the families going through the process of apple juice making.
I’m a better photographer than writer so I’ll let the pictures and film do the talking,
The Day finished around 12pm ish and I then spent a couple of hours pastuerizing the left over juice which I was able to to sale at the Wrington apple day to raise funds for our project.
The day for me wasn’t finished as i had a 3 hour shoot photographing Port Marine for a housing company.
It was a tiring day, but I love my hobbies, one became a full time job but as I generally manage every year to make pretty awful cider nobody will be offering me any money soon to make cider !
2 mins long, no bands, no faces, lots of cider :-)
Frank Naish (Oldest Cider Maker) have passed peacefully away in his sleep aged 89 5/2/1924 29/11/13
A poem for a man whom I had the pleasure to meet and photograph on a number of occasions. commiserations to all his family and friends
After Apple Picking
My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still.
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples; I am drowsing off.
I cannot shake the shimmer from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the water-trough,
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and reappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
And I keep hearing from the cellar-bin
That rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking; I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall,
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised, or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.
Michelin, medium bitter sweet with soft tannin
Tagged Apple Orchard., Cider Apple, cider making, Forgotten Fruit, Frank Naish, Neil Phillips Photography, Oldest Cider Maker, Orchard, The Scrumping Project, Willsbridge Apple Day, winter sleep