Strong Stuff – The story of Forncett cider


A brief comment from Sally Tovell (née Weatherington) who lived at Forncett End Stores in the 1950s – "People in Forncett made excellent cider" - prompted me to investigate the history of cider-making in the parish.

In 1845, White's Directory described how "orchards are numerous in Norfolk, especially on the south side of the county, where many of the farmers make cider for their own consumption, and some little for sale."

There were indeed extensive orchards in Forncett in the 19th century, most of them being in Forncett End. There were orchards on Tabernacle Lane, at the end of West Road, and to the west of Bentley Road where they are commemorated today in the name of Orchard Close. More orchards were located to the west of Chestnut Tree farm and behind Limetree Farm. Apples from all of these were almost certainly largely used for cider-making.

The Brookes brothers of Tharston crushing apples for cider in 1979

The "excellent cider" referred to by Sally Tovell was made by Reggie Smith (1895-1968) who farmed at Maltings Farm in West Road, and the potency of Reggie's cider was attested to by his son, Vic, who now lives in Australia.

"My Dad (Reginald) was "FAMOUS" for his cider making: it was potent stuff. I remember the local policeman, who I believe used to call on my Dad on a regular basis to check his book-keeping. On one occasion I remember my Dad offering him a glass of his cider which he drank quite quickly and said "that was like nectar I would love another one of those". My Dad warned him that because he had to ride his bicycle it would be better not to drink any more. But the policeman insisted he could handle two glasses of cider any day. So, Dad went back to the barrel and drew another glass for him. 

After complimenting my Dad several times on what a great brew it was he set off on his bicycle. BUT instead of heading straight for the gate he cycled into the pond. One very wet and drunk policeman staggered from the pond minus his bike, then slept it off in the shed next to the cider barrels.

When the barrel was empty of liquid there remained all the solids that my dad had added during the brew. One of these was wheat. This was thrown out in the yard for the chickens and it wasn't long before dozens of chickens were staggering around like that policeman. Unfortunately, my Dad's recipe for brewing the cider went to the grave with him. A few years later my brother Donny tried his hand at making cider but it was never the same."

Sadly, we have no photos of the Smith's cider shed but the art of cider making was continued into the 1980s by George and Claude Brookes in Tharston. The Brookes brothers used a 100 year-old cider press and crush that came originally from a farm in Forncett! So, the photo above could just as well have been taken on a Forncett farm.

For a much more detailed story of cider-making in Forncett see: