H. P. Bulmer

Subsidiary of Heineken
Address

The Cider Mills, Plough Ln,
Hereford HR4 0LE

Phone

+44 1432 352000

Website
First Visited

Circa. 1973

Bulmer’s was started at Credenhill to the west of Hereford City by Mr. H.P. Bulmer (Percy) in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.

Percy and his brother Edward (known as Fred), who had been educated at Cambridge University, used to make a cask or two of perry and cider using a neighbour’s stone mill propelled by their pony Tommy. In the autumn of 1887 Percy had managed to make about 40 casks, around 4,000 gallons, of cider. By 1888 Percy had begun to carry out the majority of his business from a property in Maylord Street. Percy moved to Ryelands Street and bought a one acre site from a Mr Lane of The Ryelands, Leominster, after whose house the street in Hereford was named. The site was part of a field of 11 acres on the east side of the present road.

In 1889 Fred Bulmer became a full time worker in the firm at Ryelands Street. The brothers were able to get off to a good start at the new premises with a £1,760 loan from their father, which he raised by taking out a loan on his life insurance. Their original workshop was no more than a shack with a cellar underneath, put up by a local builder, and it cost between £700 and £800. Fermentation of the cider took place in 100-gallon casks and filtering was accomplished with linen bags, similar to those used in jam making. No draught cider was sold, it was all bottled.

In the June 1889, straight after leaving King’s College, Cambridge, Fred went to Windsor Great Park, where Percy had entered some bottled cider in the Royal Agricultural Show. The Bulmers took second prize in every class they entered and Fred tried to pick up orders from visitors to the show. In order to try and drum up more business Percy started on a tour of North Wales but returned fairly soon, discouraged by the way he had been received. Fred soon became a sort of travelling salesman and visited every small town in Great Britain “between the Isle of Wight and Dundee”. He made some useful trade contacts on his travels. In spite of Fred’s efforts on the road it became evident that cider was not known and therefore not wanted in the greater part of England. Many of the people Fred was trying to sell cider to had never heard of it but said that they would stock it if it was asked for, and so the Bulmer brothers realised that they would have to create the demand for them to supply. They could not afford publicity and so they started to write booklets, sending them out to addresses obtained from trade directories. In the course of some years the brothers gathered over 20,000 private customers, creating demand and enabling the business to go wholesale.

At this time there were no engineering companies offering to fit out beginner cidermakers as there were for other growing industries. In 1890 the Bulmers installed a mill and cider press that they had bought from France. The mill was continually being broken by stones, while the press was of the wine variety and not wholly suitable for cider pressing. In 1891 the Bulmers hired a second-hand Clayton & Shuttleworth steam engine of “great antiquity”, of the type which was used for driving threshing machines. The next year they put in hydraulic pumps and an accumulator, and a second and third press. The hydraulic pumps and one of the presses were made by a firm in Leeds, while the third press came from a candle factory and weighed about 17 tons.

Cider-making was then an unpredictable activity, the natural fermentation process being achieved by yeast contained within apples; this meant that the cider often became sour. It was a college friend of Fred’s, Dr Herbert Durham, who, in the 1890s, isolated a wild yeast to create the first pure cider yeast culture, which would ensure that fermentations were consistent. This was the start of commercial cider-making.

In 1894 the brothers decided that they should employ a travelling salesmen. Fred put an advert in the Daily Telegraph and went down to London to interview applicants. The chosen applicant was a Mr. Edwards from Hitchin in Hertfordshire, who was a jovial man and the son of a Shropshire gardener. He was an immediate success for the company. In 1897 Fred and Mr. Edwards attended the Royal Agricultural Show in Manchester where they took orders worth over £1,000 in four days.

In 1904 Percy was invited by Mr. Prince, Chairman of the Directors of the English branch of the Apollinaris Company, to go to the factory in Germany where Apollinaris was bottled. The methods of boiling that Percy learnt there led to the Bull Brand being launched on the market. Mr Prince also suggested that the Bulmers might benefit from a knowledge of beet-sugar making, and he set up an introduction with the owner of the one of the largest beet-sugar making factories in East Prussia. Percy came back with lots of ideas for the business, one of which was the method of floating the apples to the mills, while at the same time washing them. The floating also enabled them to separate out stones and other foreign bodies.

The visit to Prussia also helped the Bulmers make contact with the maker of a machine that dried beet chips, who then made a machine for Bulmers that could dry apple skins. Apple skins left in their natural state formed a product called pomace; until this point pomace had been difficult to get rid of and they had been relying on farmers willing to have it dumped on their land until it had decayed enough to be spread on the fields. The pomace had to be carted from the factory on a daily basis. The machine-dried pomace, however, could be sold on to manufacturers for use in cattle cake. In later years the dried skins became one of the raw materials from which pectin was extracted, and Bulmers brought in two large machines which between them could dry the pomace from 500-600 tons of apples in 24 hours.

n 1906 Bulmer’s started to produce champagne cider, marketed under the name of Cider De Luxe until 1916 when it was cleverly renamed Pomagne. The techniques that Percy had learnt during his visit to the Desmonet Champagne makers in France enabled the whole cider champagne process to be done by hand. Only the juice from the first pressing was used to create Pomagne. This juice was sterilised with sulphur dioxide to kill off any natural wild yeasts present in the fruit, and then specially selected sugars and yeasts were added to achieve the flavour. Bulmer’s continued to produce and market Pomagne as champagne cider until Bollinger (a famous French champagne maker) took them to court in 1974 as they wanted to prevent Bulmer’s from using the word “champagne” when referring to their cider. 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. In 1979 the EEC (European Economic Community, now known as the European Union or EU) ruled that “Champagne” was a designated area of origin and not a process, and could only be used to refer to products made within that area.

Bulmer’s was first granted the Royal Warrant in 1911 and continues today as Cider Maker to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. George V introduced a drink that was pomagne and brandy and this increased its popularity among the upper classes.

In 1948 Bulmer’s acquired Godwin’s Cider of Hereford, along with their premium perry brand “Golden Godwin”, which they hoped to market in smaller-sized bottles as a rival to the popular Babycham. In the same year they also took over the Gloucestershire Cider Company which produced G.L. Cider. A new bottling hall was erected at Plough Lane in 1957, and by 1964 most of the bottling operations had moved there. By the 1960s the two bottling lines at Moorfields were capable of packaging 800 dozen flagons per hour of Woodpecker and 2,000 dozen per hour of Golden Godwin. Cider was pumped to the bottling plant from the Ryelands Street site along bitumen-lined pipes.

In 1960 Bulmer’s also took over the goodwill of W.M. Evans and Co., of Widemarsh Common in Hereford. Evans’ most popular brand of cider was Golden Pippin and until 1925 they had had a mill in Devon as well as Hereford. It had also acquired the interests of cidermakers Ridler’s of Clehonger. The purchase gave Bulmer’s an extra 558,000 gallons of cider storage, as well as the right to sell Bulmer brands in all of Webb’s licensed premises – Webb’s of Aberbeeg had bought Evans’ in 1946.

On December 7th 1970 Bulmer’s was floated on the London Stock Exchange. The family retained 65% of the shares and offered employees first chance to purchase up to 10% of shares – 200 did so.

In 1973 Peter Prior was made Chairman of Bulmer’s, and by the 1980s Bulmer’s had 60% of the UK cider market and was the world’s second largest pectin producer. In 1988 they purchased Symonds Cider from the brewers Greenhall Whitley. Symonds had been founded in 1727 and had remained in family ownership until 1984. Their most popular brand was Scrumpy Jack, a dry, slightly rough cider. In 1996 Bulmer’s bought Inch’s Cider in Devon for its brand “White Lightning”, a strong (7.5%), clear, sparkling cider. Production of Inch’s Cider was stopped two years later, though Bulmer’s retained the company’s orchards and contract growers. White Lightning now became a Bulmer’s brand.

In 2000 Bulmer’s acquired The Beer Seller, a wholesale drinks distribution company, giving them a direct line through which to deliver their brands into pubs and clubs across the UK. The Annual Report of 2001 showed that Bulmer’s had 60% of the UK cider market and that Strongbow was the tenth most popular drink.

By the turn of the millennium storage at the Bulmer’s plant is on an immense scale. Some cider is stored in original oak casks holding up to 272,760 litres (60,000 gallons), but for sheer size look to the west of the city and you will see the Bulmer Strongbow tank, which represents the largest alcohol container in the world and can store 68,190,000 litres (15,000,000 gallons) of cider.

In September 2002 Bulmer’s share price collapsed and at one point it dropped as low as 75p. 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. In 2003 Bulmer’s sold their Australian business.

In 2003, the company was bought for £278 million by Scottish & Newcastle (S&N) with the loss of some 200 jobs initially. In 2008, S&N was bought for £7.8 billion by the Heineken group.[5] Its Australia and New Zealand business interests were sold to Australian brewer Foster’s. Bulmers now survives only as a brand name, with operations in Hereford scaled back considerably, principally producing cider. Apart from the 200 initial mainly administrative jobs lost in 2003 after the initial S&N merger, more losses were announced in 2008 when bottling ceased,[6] although after the last batch of 65 job cuts it was pledged that there would be site production and investment of around £7.5m, including a second can line to be installed by 2011.[7]

In 2006, the company relaunched Bulmers Original in the UK, a premium packaged cider aimed at the “served over ice” market, which grew in popularity. Bulmers Original is a 4.5% ABV cider sold primarily in pint (568 ml) bottles, but also on draught, in 1 litre bottles and in a 500 ml can. In 2007, the Bulmers range was joined by Bulmers Pear cider, and in Spring 2008 by Bulmers Light, with the same ABV as the Original but with 30% fewer calories. However, this was delisted a year later. Amongst the other brands produced by Bulmers is Jacques, a 5.5% ABV cider. This is available in Fruit De Bois (cider with cherry, raspberry and blackcurrant flavours) and Jacques Orchard Fruits, launched in 2008.

As of 2022, the main Bulmers brand has largely fallen out of favour with the public, with only the Original and Red Berry and Lime flavours available in the UK.

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