This morning was not the best time to turn up at Cilla Clive’s Fruit Farm, Redbank, close to Ledbury.
Cilla Clive Fruit Grower
Despite the pressures of harvesting, monitoring ripening apples and huge decisions to be made as the fruit market across Europe reels at the fallout from Russian blockades, Cilla was welcoming.
“I grew up on a farm growing hops, cider, blackcurrants and Hereford cattle. My father believed that women should have proper roles and, when I planned to go to agricultural college at Seale Hayne, he suggested I study agriculture, rather than specialise in dairy from the start. He didn’t want me to be tied to a cow’s tail”.
Cilla’s Father, Denys Thompson.
Her father wasn’t the only person to encourage Cilla to furnish herself with the knowledge that she needed to be an independent woman and fruit grower. In 1974 she embarked on a “crash” course in fruit growing with instruction from Dick Clive.
Dick Clive Grafting
The winter of 1976 found Cilla planting strawberries in the snow on the south-facing banks of Wall Hills, near Ledbury which became Red Bank – the nucleus of a many enterprises in later years. The strawberries were a cash crop to help fund the longer-term investment in orchards which have been Cilla’s main concern in the intervening years.
‘Long term’ is a phrase that crops up around fruit growing – commercial fruit tree nurseries and marketeers need to know what you will be planting in the next five years and what you will be harvesting in the next decade.
Preparing the Ground 1976-1977
Redbank before Fruit 1976
Clearing Orchard Boundary 1976
Planting the First Strawberries 1976
Building the First Apple Store 1978
First Strawberry Harvest 1978
Weighing them up 1978
Work starts at Red Bank at 8am at this time of year when workers arrive and the length of the day depends entirely on the season.Cilla at 73 yrs, has only just, under advice from medics, given up tractor driving but is firmly in the driving seat making decisions daily if not hourly.
Cilla Preparing the Ground 1976
First Apple Harvests
Buckets of Apples
First Apples for the Apple Store
Of course, Cilla takes advice and she takes it widely and with great care. I was struck by the way she is constantly comparing fruit growing across the world, listening and filtering facts and anecdote. What in her working day would she gladly be rid of?
“There is a ton of office work, which is a pain, but I am lucky to have the back-up of my son’s business, Haygrove, which allows some relief from it. I am a grower – that’s it”.
Orchards on a Misty Morning at Redbank, Sept 2014
So what to grow in the future and what drives her forward?“Inheritance Tax!” she exclaims, and, as it turns out, global warming. The champagne regions are on the move North and growing grapes for wine is becoming a real option in Ledbury. But this isn’t the first time that the slopes of Red Bank have been vineyards.
In 1266, Thomas Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford and last English Saint, visited his palace in Ledbury to hunt boar on the Malvern Hills, instructed that the vineyards on the south facing slopes of the Wall Hills be re-planted. Now Cilla is doing it again. Bacchus (grape variety) is gradually re-claiming the slopes, and in this, its first year, looking good.
“I realised that apple growing was unlikely to be of interest to my son whereas grape-growing and wine-making would excite him. I put it to him and was delighted by his interest.”
Cilla’s excitement at this new area of activity is tempered by her practical, business-like approach and years of experience; she explained that it is always important to grow for demand rather than personal preference and to spread risk in this weather-dependent realm of horticulture. The world of wine-making is short of Bacchus, hence Bacchus……
First fruitings of Bacchus at Redbank 2014
Cilla has no plans to retire, she enjoys being part of a multi-generational and international fruit growing community all around her home in Ledbury and making research trips nationally and internationally.
“I had a great road trip two years ago to see my first batch of young grape vines growing in a specialist nursery in Luxembourg. The nursery-man was surprised to see me, apparently nobody visits their young plants, but it’s good to make the connection and I think people make a special effort in response”.
Jazz Apples at Red Bank
Many thanks to Cilla Clive for an hour of her time – in the middle of apple picking! I look forward to a Spartan, Jazz, Cox or Bramley soon and a little later, a glass of something from Bishops’ Vineyard.
Sam Prentice’s workshop is crammed with furniture. It’s always this way when I visit. Sam is self conscious about it, ‘You can’t photograph here, it’s too messy’ he protests. Over the years I’ve come to understand that any upholsterer that isn’t busy isn’t very good. Once people find a good upholsterer, commissions for small footstools quickly progress into a set of dining chairs, a sofa or two; as one job gets finished and delivered, another is picked up ‘I am never short of work but trying to make a plan or manage it, well that’s more difficult.’
Sam set up Hartpury Upholstery in 2005 when he and his wife, who had family ties with the area, decided that Gloucestershire was a good place to bring up a family. ‘I couldn’t do this in London, the overheads would make it impossible. You do need a bit of space’ and getting started with his own workshop? ‘Around here it’s all word of mouth, you do a bad job and everyone knows about it – but that’s been really good for me, because it works the other way too’
Being a one man band Sam has to cover every aspect of his business; part of the week will be spent heaving furniture in and out of the van either when collecting furniture to be reupholstered or delivering finished pieces ‘My friends joke ‘how’s the stitching?’ but, when they’ve lent a hand delivering, they realize it’s a bit more physical than that’.
Every job is different; the age and condition of the piece will dictate what is done, the materials used and how the work is done. The day starts at 8.30am and finishes around 6.30pm ‘If I’ve nearly finished something I will carry on until it’s done if I can, family permitting. I like to start the day with something new.’ Of course there’s the inevitable paperwork; invoicing and ordering supplies to keep on top of, as well as being a sales person. ‘I’m a tradesman, not a salesman. It’s not me. Some of the people I’ve worked for were quite ruthless about it and I’ve wondered if I shouldn’t take some of that, but it’s just not my nature.’ Sam reflects.
So why upholstery? ‘It’s in the blood, my Dad and Uncle were both upholsterers, I did my apprenticeship with them and then worked with them. Seven years in total; they worked for a chain of hotels in London doing restoration and new furniture’. It was 1982 when Sam began his apprenticeship as a 16 year old school leaver. ‘The country was in recession, it’s felt a little like that ever since’. Sam’s Dad had been in the trade all his life. ‘At weekends he would have projects going at home. One of my earliest memories is the sound of the treadle on his sewing machine going in our front room.’ Being trained in the era of piece work and very exacting standards Sam’s Dad & Uncle kept a close eye on the apprentices. ‘I am so glad I had that time with them, the stories they had, working with my Dad I had seven quality years with him’.
Sam’s father’s union cards
After the hotel chain Sam went to work for small independent shop in Islington that offered a re-upholstery service, with a wide variety of furniture coming through the door it gave him a chance to increase his knowledge and suited him in other ways. ‘I’m an Arsenal supporter, so I could get to all the midweek home matches.’ Five years later, ‘We were in recession proper and that business went under,’explains Sam, whose move to work with an interior design business and later for an antique dealer showed him another world with a high end clientele and where qualities like longevity were not so important. ‘It was a real eye-opener: it was all about the look of it.’
When I ask how things have changed in the trade over his working life it becomes clear that things have gone full circle. ‘Customers today say to me,‘I want this to see me out.’ Excellent workmanship and good quality cloths, with an emphasis on value and long life, are once again the order of the day. I asked Sam whether he still liked his work, whether he’d change direction, “I didn’t realise what I was missing until I set up my own workshop. It’s very rewarding to see my customer’s reactions to the finished pieces. I think if you don’t enjoy it, it reflects in your work. You’ve got to have job satisfaction”.
Sam Prentice www.hartpuryupholstery.co.uk Tel:01452 700 004
Sitting in the Velvet Bean’s chocolate kitchen, beside the shop in Church Street, Ledbury, was a deep breathing moment for me. Paddles slowly turning the gently warming chocolate in three “bain mairies” that look like they mean business immediately attract my attention . Ben Boyle, Ledbury’s chocolatier, offers me a seat.
Tempering Chocolate at The Velvet Bean
This is not Ben’s first career, he spent many years teaching horticulture and worked as a landscape gardener and taught horticulture in colleges across the South of England. Ten years ago Ben and his wife, Mel moved to Herefordshire. “We looked around the area and agreed it was a settling down sort of a place”, explains Ben; at the same time the couple looked for a career that would allow them to work from home and combine looking after their young family.
Chocolatier, Ben Boyle with his wife, Melanie.
“I’d always loved cooking, my Mum got me going. There seemed to be a gap in the market for independent chocolate-makers and the process gave me scope to be creative. I am an optimist at heart so I just launched in and taught myself. It was a slow start, working from home and selling at farmers’ markets”.
The naked chocs – waiting to have their chocolate coats.
Ben’s day length varies, the year being punctuated by regular chocolate-friendly occasions – Christmas, Valentine’s Day and, of course, Easter which can extend his normal 9-5pm day to midnight or beyond. The first thing he does each morning is to temper the chocolate which has been very slowly heating in the paddled bowls from early morning, thanks to automatic timers. Tempering is a process in which chocolate, in this case Belgian couverture chocolate with high cocoa butter and cocoa solids, is heated and cooled in a specific way. One of the properties of couverture is its polymorphous crystallization; tempering stabilises five different types of fat crystal by heating to 45 degrees centigrade, followed by careful cooling to 28 degrees and then heating again to the working temperature of 35 degrees. The process prevents “bloom” and allows the chocolate to work well with moulds and as a “robe” to Ben’s truffles and a variety of his original fillings.
Church St entrance to the chocolate shop
“I’m not computer-minded, I enjoy the chance to experiment and play with new ideas. I’m very happy running the shop – people come, buy and then call for one-offs or something particular. I think its good to have a High Street with artisan products – a more independent High Street. I’d like to see more makers here. When you make what you sell the future is yours, you are in control” says Ben. One of the creative parts of making cased chocolates is to formulate unusual recipes: rum and plum, vodka and orange, grappe, champagne, peanut butter and masses more, changing all the time. A novelty millennium falcon alongside a very decorative stiletto shoe also caught my eye.
Milk chocolates here with freehand piping so that the shop staff can identify them.
Talking of future, Ben and Mel have exciting plans to move up the road to number 33 The Homend – still on the “High Street” but into their own premises, formerly known as “The Cartoonery”. The new shop which will open after Christmas 2014, will allow them more scope to, for example, run chocolate-making day courses.
The New Velvet Bean (to the left of the apothecary shop) will open in January 2015.
Just as we finished talking, I asked whether the Chocolatier was keen to nibble a choccy or two of an evening or whether working with it all day long put him off. “Why wouldn’t I? A good strong 96% chocolate without too much sugar, full of anti-oxidants, good for seritonin levels and coupled with a nice bottle of wine”, Ben says with some relish.
Portion Control? Long and thin or short and stout, all the chocolates are very generous portions.
After taking a few close-up photographs of The Velvet Bean’s selection, I could stand it no longer and packed little collection to take back to Tinsmiths, convincing myself that the rum and plum filling counted as one of my five a day – needless to say they didn’t last until evening.
I really wouldn’t mind staying on to clean up the surfaces……