Bulmer, Henry Percival [Percy]
- B. W. Clapp
Bulmer, Henry Percival [Percy] (1867–1919), cider maker, was born on 28 January 1867 at the rectory, Credenhill, Herefordshire, the second son of Charles Henry Bulmer (1833–1918), rector of Credenhill, and his wife, Mary Grace Parnel Bulmer (née Cockrem). The rector was the son and grandson of Hereford wine merchants and cider makers, and himself won prizes for his bottled cider and perry. Bulmer, who was usually known as Percy, suffered from asthma as a child, and his interrupted education at Hereford Cathedral school between 1880 and 1886 gave him no chance of going to university. In 1887, at the age of twenty, he began to make cider out of the apples grown in his father's glebe orchard, borrowing the family pony and a neighbour's cider-mill for the purpose.
At that time most cider was made by farmers with ancient and primitive equipment out of any apples that came to hand, to be drunk as payment in kind by their thirsty but undiscriminating labourers. Bottled cider, carefully made from selected apples, for sale in hotels, public houses, and off-licences, was a rarity. It was this select market that Bulmer meant to supply. In the autumn of 1887 he moved to Hereford, where in his first full year of business he made forty casks (4000 gallons) of cider, that sold for a mere £157. His elder brother, Edward Frederick Bulmer (1865–1941), cider maker, born on 26 May 1865, at the rectory, Credenhill, lent a hand with the manual labour in the long vacations. Unlike Percy, Fred Bulmer went from Hereford Cathedral school to Shrewsbury School, and thence to King's College, Cambridge, with an exhibition in classics. On graduation in 1889, he joined his brother in the cider business. The brothers only had one employee at first, but, small though the firm was, it produced cider of excellent quality, winning prizes in Paris in 1888 and at the Royal Agricultural Show in 1889. These successes almost certainly reflected not only the rector's skill and experience, but also his financial support, as the brothers had little capital. They borrowed from some of Fred's Cambridge friends and from the local bank; the rector, by pledging his life insurance policy, raised a further £1760. With these funds they bought land, erected some buildings, and invested in equipment typical of the industrial age—a steam engine, hydraulic presses and pumps, and some large vats.
There was an informal division of labour between the two brothers: Percy Bulmer concentrated on production, organizing the factory, reading Pasteur on yeasts, visiting Rheims to learn the techniques of champagne making (transferable to cider), and Germany to study the handling of sugar beet (what was good for beet was good for apples). He also studied bottling at the works where the Apollinaris mineral water was produced. The firm consulted analytical chemists from time to time, and from 1905 had a small laboratory of its own, where important discoveries were made by H. E. Durham. Fred Bulmer undertook purchase and marketing, and was, inter alia, the commercial traveller. Affable and outgoing, he was equal to most situations. Confronted with a blunt Yorkshireman, who asked him who the hell he thought he was staring at, Fred replied 'The rudest bugger I ever saw' (Bulmer, Early Days, 10). The riposte won him a good order and a firm friendship. Nevertheless, he was happy to give up touting for orders when in 1896, with output not far short of 200,000 gallons a year, the firm appointed a full-time commercial traveller. The Bulmers owed their success not only to hard work, access to adequate funds, and a little science, but also to a flair for publicity. In an age well aware of the uses of advertising, they were skilful practitioners of the art: in brochures, by poster, and by the choice of such evocative brand names as Pomagne, Woodpecker, and Strongbow. The firm ran its business on advanced paternalist lines, instituting a superannuation scheme in 1898, and family allowances in 1938. It also built some workers' housing. The housing schemes and charitable trusts continue to benefit the people of Hereford.
Percy Bulmer was chairman and managing director, and also the more single-minded businessman. He was secretary of the short-lived National Association of English Cider Makers, founded in 1894. Fred, as head of the largest firm of cider makers, was the natural choice as chairman when the association was refounded in 1920. Percy had doubted the power of government to effect much social improvement, whereas Fred Bulmer was an ardent ‘new Liberal’, active in local politics. He was a local and a county councillor, and was twice mayor of Hereford. In later years, he moved to the right and in 1931 supported the National Government.
Percy Bulmer married a cousin, Susan Mildred Ball (1870/71–1968), in 1894, and they had four sons, and a daughter who died in infancy. Fred Bulmer married, in 1899, Sophie Rittner (1874–1968), the daughter of a Liverpool merchant of German origin. They had three sons and three daughters.
The brothers ran the business as a partnership until 1918, when H. P. Bulmer & Co. was turned into a private company, as a result of Percy Bulmer's developing cancer; he died at the early age of fifty-two at his home, Longmeadow, Hereford, on 2 December 1919. His brother succeeded him as chairman. By then the firm was a soundly established concern with 200 employees, and produced some three-quarters of a million gallons of cider a year. When Fred Bulmer retired in 1938, the workforce had quadrupled, output was approaching 4 million gallons, and the firm was by far the largest cider maker in the country. Fred died on 2 September 1941 at his home, Adams Hill, Breinton, Herefordshire, at the age of seventy-six. Of contrasting characters and complementary talents, H. P. and E. F. Bulmer can fairly be regarded as joint creators of the firm that bears the younger brother's name. It became a public limited company in 1970.
- E. F. Bulmer, Early days of cidermaking (1937)
- L. P. Wilkinson, Bulmers of Hereford: a century of cider-making (1987)
- ‘Report on the results of investigations into cider making carried out … from 1893 to 1902’, Parl. papers (1904), 16.219, Cd 1868
- R. H. Bulmer, ‘E. F. Bulmer: a man of unique capabilities’, Hereford Times (9 June 1978)
- R. H. Bulmer, ‘Bulmer, Edward Frederick’, DBB
- b. cert.
- d. cert.
- CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1920)
- b. cert. [Edward Frederick Bulmer]
- d. cert. [Edward Frederick Bulmer]
- CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1942) [Edward Frederick Bulmer]
- Hereford Cider Museum, Hereford
- Herefs. RO
- King's Cam., E. F. Bulmer and N. Wedd corresp.
- double portrait, photograph (with Edward Frederick Bulmer), Hereford cider museum, H. P. Bulmer Ltd
Wealth at Death
£35,769 7s. 11d.: probate, 27 Feb 1920, CGPLA Eng. & Wales
£48,369 5s. 9d.—Edward Frederick Bulmer: probate, 15 Dec 1942, CGPLA Eng. & Wales