Diana Temperley

‘I often wish I had talked to my mother and father more about their wartime lives. My father was in Burma, a major at 24, spying on the enemy, but managed to come home unaffected by the extreme dangers he’d experienced. My mother was also in the Army, based in Cheltenham, and seems to have had a great time riding a motorbike. We lived in Billericay which I remember as quite rural. I would peer through the doors of the shed on the farm next door which was full of old machinery, and there were goats out the back. We were only there about 5 years, then we moved nearer London, and I went to school in Stepney Green. That involved a train journey, which wasn’t great, and I remember smog, which thankfully seems a thing of the past.
We moved to Bath when I was 13, which I loved. My formative years were spent there, so I think of myself as coming from Bath. I enjoyed the freedom of being able to walk everywhere I wanted to go. I went to an all-girls’ school, then went to an art college in Birmingham, although I didn’t enjoy that much. Birmingham was too built up, and the course was mostly about design rather than the arts, which was perhaps what would have interested me more. I went to work in London for a year, then moved back to Bath.
A friend of mine and I began making leather belts while I was still in London, then in Bath I started designing and making carpet bags. I would buy carpets with nice borders at auctions, and made the bags using the borders which were much less worn than the rest. I also made leather and suede coats for people, just working for myself. And I learned silversmithing, and weaving, so I was always busy making and crafting; I made silver rings which I sold at the Devon Guild, but mostly I sold to friends and acquaintances.
I was looking after a cottage at Butleigh, about half an hour from here, for a friend who had gone on a sailing trip. I was asked to a party, and it was there I met my husband Julian. That would have been 1974. For a couple of years we picked apples and made cider on an ancient press, then we got a better one, built in the 1930’s. We still have the original one in our shed, which had a huge metal spanner to turn the screw. It needed 3 or 4 strong people to operate it. After loading and pressing the juice out it had to be left overnight and pressed again in the morning, meaning we could only produce about 100 gallons of juice a day. Nowadays, with a more up-to-date press we can squeeze juice all day and be picking at the same time.
Our farm has produced cider for about 200 years. We now use about 40 varieties of cider apple, the art and craft of cider making being mainly about the skilful blending of those varieties. Julian began planting trees here in 1975, which was when I had my first daughter, Alice. We have 2 more daughters, Mary and Matilda, and a son, Henry. I always helped when we were pressing apples, making the cheeses, which involves layering apple pulp with straw before the pressing takes place. I was often selling cider as well, so it could be tricky to look after and feed the baby at the same time. The day we took on our first worker, a boy aged 16, was a big moment. We have a brilliant team working here now.
We started making cider brandy in 1987, and sold our first bottle in 1991. A great friend who lived in France suggested when we visited him we should make it. Using him as a translator, we bought our first mobile still in France, and brought it back. We now have two copper stills, both from northern France, called Fifi and Josephine, and have been perfecting the art of distilling ever since. In the early days we had the labels designed by Elizabeth Frink, although I don’t think we quite realised how famous she was. It was kind of her to do it, her design featuring a ram’s head. In those days we changed the label design every year, but it became too expensive so we don’t do it now. We never know how many bottles we’re going to sell, but the different label designs have made them collector’s items. Artists have included Peter Blake, and James Lynch, who lives nearby. We now sell cider brandy in America, and Japan, as well as all over the UK.
We have about 200 sheep on the farm, mostly Lleyns. They are mainly kept as lawn mowers for the orchards. Apart from this year I’ve always been involved with lambing, which has just finished for this year. We used to lamb in sheds, then we realised it might be easier outside simply because you don’t get mismothering. Inside, if two or more ewes lamb close together, the lambs can get muddled up and nobody knows who belongs to whom. In a field they can lamb in isolation, which is more natural, although they are more at the mercy of bad weather. This year, after we had shorn the flock, the Wool Board weren’t buying the wool, so we just had to dump it in a pile in the field which seemed tragic. I don’t know what’s going to happen this year. I’ve also been spinning our own wool, which is nice to do on cold winter evenings, although I’ve had terrible trouble with moths which has put me off a bit.
As a child I’d learned to ride with my father in Epping Forest. After I had my first daughter Alice I looked after a friend’s horse, which I loved to ride. The horse was harness trained, so I bought a gypsy caravan from someone else I know, often the way things just seem to happen to me. We would go for picnics on the moors on Sundays with the children, who just loved it, and I ended up buying quite a few carts. The kids all learned to ride and went to Pony Club, apart from my son Henry who said he wasn’t interested. The girls did reveal to me later how much they hated Pony Club, but they all had their own ponies. I’ve always kept a pony and still have a pony and cart; at the moment I’m looking forward to going out for a ride as I haven’t been out all winter.
Alice is our oldest daughter. She went to Art College, became a fashion designer, and now has her own shop in Ilminster. Mary has 4 children, makes and sells her own body creams and lotions, and loves keeping her shop where she sells beautiful fabrics, bags, and pottery. She made hand sanitiser during the pandemic using our own eau de vie, which sold really well, supplying hospital staff with sanitiser for free. Our youngest daughter Matilda, after a successful career as a photographer, is more or less running the farm now, and has very recently had her first baby. Our son Henry is a film maker living in London.
I’ve always made things, from the early days with the belts, bags, and jewellery, to making clothes for the girls, although there were many years when making and selling cider took priority. About 5 years ago I started making pottery, because someone who was no longer using them gave me a wheel and a kiln. I started going to classes, and soon got hooked. I found the fact that you never know what you’re going to get when you open the kiln very exciting. I would also dearly like the time to do more painting, and I’ve done mosaic classes recently which I loved.
At the moment I’m trying to fix the garden before we go to Glastonbury Festival otherwise it’ll be a jungle when we get back after a week. We’ve always gone, since the very start, and have always sold cider there. The children have always been with me, and will never miss a Glastonbury. It’s changed a lot over the years, so I wish I’d taken more photos, but it’s still enormous fun. I’ve also got a new collie bitch I’m training to work with the sheep. She’s showing great potential, but I’m always amazed at how much ability is already there. I love to be outside, doing farm-type things. I go mad if I have to be indoors for long.’