The Three Counties Cider & Perry Association is lucky to have had a number of truly inspiring cidermakers among its membership, none more so than Jean Nowell, one of the original founders. While it is more than a year since her passing, her influence is still palpable. The desire to encourage others to get involved and to get stuck in and the quest to craft cider and perry of real quality are just two of the legacies we strive to carry forward.
With kind permission of her son, Max, a cidermaker himself up in Dumfries & Galloway with Steilhead Cider and a member of our association, we here reprint his Eulogy. I realise this has taken too long to reach our website – for that I apologise – but we think everyone will still enjoy this personal tribute. Memories of a dear and determined person who played a significant part in the world of cidermaking.
For another glimpse, please head to our YouTube site, where we share the video of one of Jean’s last public appearances, at the unveiling of the perry pear sculpture at Greggs Pit during The Big Apple’s Harvestime Festival, 2017, with kind permission of James Marsden and Helen Woodman, Check out also the wonderful film from the timeless Golden Fire App.
In Jean’s honour, the Three Counties Cider & Perry Association has instituted an annual Jean Nowell Memorial Croquet Tournament, the first of which was held in late July, arranged by our secretary, Tom Tibbits and kindly hosted by Eardisley Tennis & Croquet Club. Some of the pictures here come from this. As it happens, the hard-won final was won by Max and Eardisley’s own Jen Johnston, seen here with fellow finalists, James Forbes and Dave Sanders.
One of my favourite quotes from Jean is from the Golden Fire film:
“Cider has similarity with WD40 really. If you put some in the right places it makes things happen.”
Too true. Wassail Jean.
13th April 1930 – 5th November 2017
“Thank you to everyone for coming today and giving Mum such a tremendous send-off. She would have been astonished by such a gathering just for her. Well, no, actually she wouldn’t; she revelled in her position as “Mother of all cider-makers” and she could soak up adulation like she could a glass of Kingston Black!
“Mum’s great loves included her family, dogs, horses, painting and alcohol. Also croquet. There’s a very brief outline of the game on your Order of Service, which I hope you’ve all read.
“Mum took up her mallet on April 13th, 1930, not far from here, at Lowcop, near Glewstone. Possibly not the best time to be born. Childhood and teenager-hood, as it’s now known, were a tricky first hoop for her to run.
“Although she and her elder brother Michael had the run of the farm as kids, a troubled home, the inter-war farming depression and then the onset of WW2 led to her and Michael being packed off to boarding schools near Cheltenham under the care of loving grandparents, as their own parents’ lives and marriage fell apart. But Mum characteristically toughed all this out, and as a very young woman she enrolled at Art College in Bristol to study painting and ceramics. Hoop 1 was thus successfully negotiated, albeit with difficulty.
“On the approach to Hoop 2, play was a bit easier. She began to swing her mallet with more confidence. She loved her new student life. She met and fell for Dad, a debonair ex-serviceman several years older than herself. Even when this well-struck hoop shot was badly deflected by her parents’ vociferous opposition to her engagement to Dad, she rallied, married him in March 1951 and passed through the second hoop into a new life in the Trendy Set, an arty, bohemian life-style all, Ercol chairs, Barbara Hepworth and chaps with beards. This was especially so after their move to Hayling Island in 1953. Homes & Gardens even came to do a feature on them!
“And, of course, I arrived to brighten her life still more.
“Her approach to the third hoop began with a move to Pangbourne in Berkshire, in 1960. She made what seemed a great shot here, but she missed an easy roquet when she realised how cold, damp and tiny the new house was, especially in the terrible winter of 61/62.
“And then – a terrible set-back: she was croqueted right across the court by the arrival of my younger brother, Howard. So was I, to be honest!
“He turned out to be a naughty, head-strong little so-and-so, but by taking the bravest of long range shots and pouring loads of money into his education she spectacularly ran Hoop 3 and proudly ended up with the urbane, intelligent son we see here today.
“The next Hoop was the building up of her business, called Granary Kennels, based on her on-going love of dogs, particularly Shetland Sheepdogs, firstly breeding and showing them, then expanding into setting up a commercial boarding kennel.
“It’s a long way from Hoop 3 to Hoop 4, but Mum found the court to be flat and dry here, the grass short and level. This was the 60’s – play was easy! As she ran Hoop 4 there was one moment of alarm, when Dad’s position at Maidenhead College of Art became untenable as art moved away from traditional values and skills. But despite the dreaded “du-dunk” noise as her ball hit both sides of the hoop, it passed through ok, and the business thrived.
“Mum and Dad moved again in 1970, just a few miles, and developed their boarding and quarantine kennel business seriously. Mum was the driving force as usual. She was unstoppable. Every time she struck her ball it was a perfect stroke, it rolled to exactly where she wanted it; other players’ balls were croqueted and despatched to every corner of the lawn. Soon, Mum was mistress of the country’s most highly-regarded kennels business, patronised by diplomats and dignitaries from around the world. She played on for a few years like this, then across the immaculate turf she approached the 5th Hoop of early retirement.
“Hoop 5 – The Cider Years. When she was a little girl approaching Hoop 1, Mum had been allowed to help herself to cider in the cellar at Lowcop, as long as she shut the taps properly, and that love for cider re-emerged upon her move to Lyne Down in 1984. Playing conditions around Hoop 5 remained perfect, and with her usual vigour she catapulted herself and poor old Dad into her new obsession. Using the antiquated press and scatter she found at Lyne Down, she almost single-handedly sparked the resurgence of interest in craft cider, (some have said that it’s all her fault!), and she made a huge number of close friends in the process.
“Her energy was phenomenal. At one point, in what must have been her late 60s, she grabbed the old idea of the travelling cider kit, and brought it up to date. She felt that there were numbers of small, scattered cider-makers who could make use of a biggish, efficient mill and press but didn’t have the money to buy a modern one for themselves. She acquired the trailer from an articulated lorry, a big belt press and a mill, fitted them to the trailer, and set about testing and using them. In the end, she couldn’t get it working as well as she’d hoped, and sold it on, but it shows how she never stopped working for the good of the craft cider world as a whole.
“She weathered the loss of Dad in 1992; she won numerous prizes and accolades for her cider and perry; she travelled the world to gather and share cider-flavoured knowledge, and she had a bloody good time doing it.
“But Hoop 6 approached; the hoop of old age. Never an easy hoop to run – the grass seems a little slower; there are unseen bumps and hollows that deflect your best shots from their targets. But Mum played strongly, not just metaphorical croquet, but real croquet, too, and was a ruthless opponent right to the end. For a good number of years, our family has gathered from Scotland and England at Mum’s to play for this – the Kittles Cup. That weekend was one of her annual highlights, and winning the Cup something she seriously enjoyed!
“In her latter years, she overcame osteoporosis, several broken bones, the loss of favourite dogs and relatives, but she kept her fantastic circle of friends and colleagues right until she ran Hoop 6, with a beautiful little shot, just the other day, on November 4th.
“Once a ball has passed through the 6th hoop, but is still in play, it is known as a “Rover.” Mercifully, Mum was only a rover for a few, quiet hours, and after a long and satisfying game, she pegged out in the early hours of November 5th, under the light of a Super-moon, and to the sparkle of fireworks.”