*STOP PRESS* new archives have come to light - see below "Rudgwick Cider at key moments in history"

The earliest records of cider making on the site that would become known as Rudgwick date from 42-54AD. By examing clay tablets found at Fishbourne Palace, near Chichester, historians have deduced there was a Roman villa on a site just South West of the current Rudgwick Church that housed a despotic tyrant, Olivius Wardicus. Wardicus it seemed had a right to rule over the indigenous tribes and had a tithe right payable in apples, firewood, and the option to take a virgin from the village each year. The potent "apple wine" that Wardicus fermented was held in high esteem and was tended by a local called minstrel called Bristovius (the locals by this time had taken to assuming Roman names). Whilst the historical record of this time is not complete by any means it would seem that there were other people involved in this Apple Wine enterprise. We find a foully worded request for silver coins from Wardicus to someone (presumably a book-keeper or scribe) called Baddicus, another to a man called Flicklivius asking for a supply of clay pots at lowest price to store the apple wine (it seems Wardicus was somewhat tight-fisted). Wardicus, as the records show from Fishbourne, met an untimely death when he, gorged on suckling pick and no doubt his own very strong Apple Wine, fell into a effluent pit and drowned.

The next mention of Apples and or Cider on the site of Rudgwick is at the time of the Viking invasions. Rudgwick (whilst not yet called this) appears to have been a small village much visited by raiders from the South Coast who pushed up the Arun watershed from current day Littlehampton (then still known by its Roman name - Grotticus Arcadia). The object of their visit was the legendary fermentation of apples by a secretive villager called Sawnders (A Sawnder in olde english being a brewer). Sawnders, its appears, hid his brew in secret locations to avoid detection by Viking types and other outliers. He was assisted in this secretive brewing by a another local called Nashe. Nashe was the keeper of the Arun Watershed, he knew it's secrets, its mysteries, and harvested its rewards. Whilst we find no mention of Nashe actually being a shaven headed maniacal Druid type mystic, it is easy to believe it.

At this point in history we find our first mention of a ceremony day to worship the Apple (paganism being alive and well it appears in what would become Sussex). This festival was linked to a cycle of the moon, that would place it in mid-October, using our modern day calender. Records show it was held by the Arun, on Nashe's land, and the ceremonies were presided over by a war-queen called Bowena "The Spike". Bowena of flaxen hair and firey eyes threatened all local villagers to donate to the festival on pain of death. Held in the British Museum is a record of a nomadic villager called Francis son of Mark, who was deemed by Bowena not have donated enough to the celebrations. Whilst we do not the full details, after this event Bowena was known as "The Spike" and the parchments show Francis, son of Mark, walked in strange gait-legged manner. The only other survivng record is of Bowwhat, husband of Bowena, venerable illuminator and one-time carter (he is credited with the invention of the mor or morrick - after which little was heard until his invention resurfaced near Oxford), who dispensed strange brews from the high table at the ancient Exfold Manor, particularly to salve those that had been savaged by his wife.

Whilst there is no doubt Apple Wine, Mead and Cider making will have continued in Rudgwick it only reappears in the historical record at the time of 1066 and the Battle of Hastings - and in an unexpectedly pivotal way. The English army was on it way to meet the threat of the Norman Invaders. King Harold was marching to Hastings, but detoured to visit the village of Rudgwicke. The Army slaked its thirst on the local apple brew and moved to battle, taking with it a large amount of the Mead brewed at Rudgwicke. Whilst largely ignored by English historians - in an attempt to preserve the memory of Harold, and to gain virtue from defeat -  there are intriguing French references to the English army taking the field at Hastings somewhat the worst for wear. In fact, it is said by cross referenced sources that Harold personally had had too much of the Rudgwicke brew and was actually flat on his back incapacitated when a stray arrow struck him in the eye. The French called Harold "Le blinde drunke" which has become a part of popular vernacular and slang langauge across the english speaking world. The servant that served Harold too much Meade on that day, Oliver Waarde, was taken capture by the French, and is believed to have nurtured the apples and brewed cider in Normandy.

Whilst Rudgwicke cider is constantly mentioned in the archives, and its reputation seems to grow, we have no major record until the time of the Plague. Plague: The countryside is quarantined. Each village chases out potential carriers of the disease. Rats abound. The village Brewer Bristow, son of Bristow the pig fiddler, in search of the ultimate finings for his brew (finings being a source of protein that makes cider and beer less cloudy, and adds its unique own flavour) went to Cranley to try their rats (Rats being a great fining). This was a mistake. The Cranley rats carried the deadly Plague Virus, and Bristow the Brewer had imported death to Rudgwick. Quickly people started to die. Mysteriously Bristow lived, so did Fickling the bald, and Bad Hugh the swindler, Nash the water diviner, and Sanders the village drunk. It was the village priest Jackson who realised all the survivors were imbibers of the Bristows Brew...

Rudgwick Cider at key moments in history number 84

The Battle of Trafalgar

“England expects.....” the famous signal sent to the fleet as the British approached the combined French and Spanish fleets was taken very seriously by 2 Rudgwick sailors and a soldier from Loxwood commanding a party of marines  on HMS Victory. A contemporary account from the  French pamphleteer,  Simon de la Rue Eglise, criticised the lack of verve shown by the French commander Villeneuve. De la Rue Eglise pointed specifically to the ferocity shown by all the British combatants from Nelson down. He made a study of the victuals supplied to the fleet just before the battle and discovered  that much was the same on both sides, with one striking exception. Most of the ships-of-the-line in the British fleet had quantities of barrels marked only with the sign of a hatchet or chopper. Intrigued to know what this was he travelled to the Normandy coast where he was sure he’d be able to find smugglers (the illicit trade was still booming regardless of the state of war existing – as it still does today) who’d be able to establish what this secret weapon was.

By chance he stumbled on an Anglo-French band connecting Le Havre with the ports on the River Arun in Sussex (being much the same size in those days). As a famous critic of the government it didn’t take him long to gain their trust. He was permitted to watch amazed  as fine brandies from the south were being exchanged with the English barrels with nothing but the chopper mark on them.  The exchange rate seemed to be 3 casks of brandy to 1 of “the chopper”. He needed to know what this was. He followed one of the barrels to an inn on a quiet cove near Cap Grande Nez – where he was finally able to sample a cool and refreshing draft – his first taste of cider. This he determined must be the difference between the two sides.

[As an aside, it is also interesting to note that cider wasn’t produced in Normandy until the Duke of Wellington banned the export of chopper (or Vieux Coup as the Frogs called it), as part of the punishment meted out to France following final defeat at the battle of Waterloo. The Haven cider gang, perfidious competitors of the chopper producers, gave the secret of cider making to the Normands  so they could get around this ban, but they’ve never managed to replicate anything like what they had become used to, creating a rather sweet and sickly, fizzy thing they called Cidre – they even got the spelling wrong].

But back to our story....

Long after hostilities ceased de la Rue Eglise travelled himself to Sussex, still fervently determined to find out how such a brew could make the difference. Travelling up the Arun in a spate he arrived at Rudgwick – as high as was navigable in those days. Of course you can go all the way to Dedisham now.   He chanced on the 3 heroes of our story. The 2 old tars, Dickie Cheap (and his Monkey) and D’Arcy Flagman (who hoisted the first version of the famous signal as “we’re doomed, run for it”) were slumped in a corner of what was the Seaman’s rest which was run by the Order of St John under the saintly guidance of Venerable Stretch Brown.  Capt. Home* St. Pierre had stopped by to offer the King’s Shilling to anyone prepared to go with him to Crawley on a Saturday night.

De la Rue Eglise first discovered that what he had seen in the barrels was Old Chopper (of course!)  and then listened first memorised, then stunned, and finally chilled by what the three old comrades had to tell.

On that fateful day in 1805 Cheap and Flagman (having run for his life when the signal he’d flown was discovered not to have accurately reflected the Admiral’s wishes)  were avoiding the bosun, mate, midshipmen, lieutenants, Captain and Admiral – anyone who could find them something to do or punish them. They’d joined up together having been forced to live in very close proximity in Rudgwick when they were boys and when things were tight they stuck together like honey to a blanket.   Down in the fetid bowels of the ship, they’d found a barrel of chopper and were giving it a good seeing to.  Oblivious to the fact that the 2 fleets  had come within range, it was with a good deal of surprise that the next thing they knew was they were cradling a spent 20lb cannon ball that had arrived through the side of the ship, leaving a gaping hole just above the waterline some way above their heads.  Thinking quickly, they found that the empty barrel of Old Chopper neatly filled the hole, and with the addition of an old flag (Jamaican, Flagman assured) soaked in tar, they sealed the vessel just before she changed tack and healed over, thereby avoiding the loss of the flagship.  St Pierre, was looking for any stray marine, and happened to witness this amazing stroke of brilliance. Ignoring the battle raging all around he invited them back to his cabin where he too had some Old Chopper (sent to him by his dear old mother in Loxwood) where he toasted their health and quick wittedness.

As the battle drew to a close our 3 heroes were stumbling around Victory when they entered the cock pit, to see their beloved Admiral taking his last breaths. The Admiral, recognising Flagman as the incompetent signaller,  raised himself up  and with almost his last breadth shouted “kill he Hardy”. Again thinking fast for his friend , Cheap turned to the Captain (for it was Hardy of legend) and said “beg pardon your ‘onour but didn’t he say “Kiss me Hardy”? Best get on then – pucker up, and we’ll be orf”.

De la Rue Eglise therefore had all the proof he needed that Old Chopper was indeed the difference between them. If it could bring that level of decisive action to avoid imminent catastrophe twice as well as the sang froid  to celebrate one’s success ignoring the blood, chaos and ear splitting roars of the cannon, the enemy never had a chance. De la Rue Eglise never left Rudgwick researching the Cider of Rudgwick back to the middle ages and before.

The final chapter concerns the return of our heroes. Our trio were given the honour of guarding Nelson’s body on the long journey back to England. When it became apparent that the original fluid used to preserve the body in the barrel had all disappeared, they felt that there would be no more fitting tribute to the Nelson spirit than to keep his body and soul together with Old Chopper. The stains can still be seen on the floor of  the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral where the barrel was broached prior to his state funeral.


....to be continued.

hic in cider veritas

*pronounced Hume as is the case with our former Prime Minister