Colin ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins

‘I was born in Bridport, and went to St Mary’s primary school near the old cattle market, then the comprehensive, although it was a grammar school for the first 6 months before it changed over. My father was a stonemason for Gundry’s until he got cancer, then he worked for Humphreys at Wyke’s Court, which is a car park now. Later on he worked at their DIY store in South Street. We lived in Parsonage Road.
I moved to Chideock in 1962. I worked for Stuart Warren at Hell Farm, contracting. I was a tractor and bulldozer driver, clearing sites and doing drainage work, but also did relief milking when the dairyman had a day off. Stuart was killed in an accident, when a bulldozer fell off a lorry, so I carried on working for his wife and son for another couple of years or so. Then I worked for another contractor, Gerald Glyde at Wootton. It was then my first wife died, aged 21, of Hodgkins Disease, on Christmas Day, and I went a bit haywire. We had a daughter aged 10 months, and my mother looked after her. I had started to drink a bit, but I managed to get a job on the motorways. We were building the M5 at Weston, and the money was way better than farm work, but it needed to be at that time for me. I was working for Costain’s, and one job I was involved with was the Flood Relief scheme in Cerne Abbas in the early eighties. I married again, and have two sons from that marriage; Daniel, who has an electrical business, and Tom who has a stainless-steel business. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last, and in 1986 Loraine and I got married. Her first husband was a mate of mine; they were both very good to me when my first wife died, so I’d known her for many years already, and we’ve been married now for 37 years.
Loraine and I ran the shop, Chideock Hill Stores, for 12 years. We had a big paper round; in those days only certain shops were allowed to run one. We did all the caravan sites round here, Loraine would get the papers ready and I’d take them round. That meant early starts, and the only day off we had was Christmas Day. You would be surprised how many phone calls we had on Christmas Day—“I’m short of a pint of milk”, or more often, it was batteries for the new toys. In those days I knew everyone who lived in Chideock, but not now. And out towards North Chideock it was all fields belonging to the Manor, but now it’s mostly built on. We lived in a caravan while our house was being built. We’d bought the ground, watched it being built, so I’ll have to be carried out feet first one day.
I’ve been involved with the Cider Shed since I first moved to Chideock. The shed, which we call the cellar, is where we make the cider, and meet to drink it. Although we own the actual shed, it’s in a yard owned by the Manor, and we have all the apples from the Manor orchards. When Charlie Weld sold the Manor to its present owner Mr Coates they agreed we should carry on as before. We meet at the cellar on a Tuesday night, usually around 20 chaps, and Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes it’s open, when women come too. People can join if they’re asked to, or they can ask to join. We do the whole job, pruning the trees, picking up the apples as soon as they start to fall, and we’ll start pressing in October, carrying on until December. There are three orchards at the Manor, and we’ll get apples from a local farm as well as what people bring in from their gardens. We make around 2000 gallons a year, none of which is sold, otherwise we’d have to pay duty on it. Anyone who wants cider, for weddings or parties, will make a donation per barrel. The proceeds all go to charity, so we’ve raised a great deal of money over the years. On Tuesdays, everyone attending will just put £2 in a pot for the bread and cheese. So, it’s not surprising we’re getting more and more members, considering what you have to pay in pubs today—and ours is the proper stuff.
When we’re picking up apples, whatever arrives at the shed that day goes in the press together, there’s no blending of varieties. To pulp the apples before pressing, my son made a chute in which we pre-chop the apples by hand, then feed them into a converted garden shredder. The pulp is then stacked in several cakes, which are layers of pulp wrapped in cloth, together called a cheese, in the press. We use old camouflage nets for that – we used to use straw, but it’s been sprayed so many times these days it’s no good any more. Our press is at least 100 years old, hand operated with spanners about 8ft long. After leaving the juice to run overnight, we come back in the morning, re-fold the cheese, and tighten the press again. The juice is pumped into large fruit juice containers for the fermentation process, lasting about three months, then it’s pumped back into oak barrels in the cellar, and drawn off as needed.
I expect the Cider Shed’s been going 100 years or so. I took it on in 1962, and I can remember the old boys like Bill Bartlett, Reg Biles, Sid Clothier, Phil Barter, all long gone now, who taught me and the others the traditional methods of cider making. Our members now come from villages around the area, not just Chideock. I don’t think our methods have changed much, there’s nothing added but apples. There’s enough natural yeast in the skins. Our cider varies in alcohol percentage, but we don’t measure it now; you just need to take a little care when drinking it. Years ago, we measured it, but don’t bother now—we don’t sell it, so there’s no point. And if you start selling it, the fun’s gone. The interest in cider making in this area has increased no end in the last few years, and it’s great to see such a variety of local ciders available in pubs. At one time nearly every farm in this area would have made their own cider, from thousands of acres of orchards. It was part of a farm worker’s wages, and huge amounts were consumed, especially during busy times such as haymaking. In days gone by it was probably safer to drink than the water.
I’ve also been captain of our skittles team, the “Cast-Outs”, since 1962. I used to play with my father’s team. Then in the hard winter of ‘62, my mate Johnny Smith and I were walking through the snow to the farm where he worked, and he said why don’t we start a team of our own. There were 6 or 8 of us used to go down West Bay on bicycles for a pint, so that’s how we got together. Johnny said you can be captain, and I’ve been captain ever since. We’re playing at the Clock at the moment, as the George hasn’t got an alley. We used to play at the Castle too, but most of the skittle alleys have been closed down now. I’m president of the Bridport league now. We used to have four men’s and two women’s leagues, now we only have two leagues, and the women are included with the men. We play during the autumn and winter, at alleys in Bridport, Wootton, and Loders as well as here in Chideock.
My daughter Caroline and her husband own the Foundry in Bridport and have a farm which their children run. My wife and I go to Melplash Show most years, and Dorchester, and I’ll go to farm sales for a look around, although under strict instructions not to bring anything back. I’ve always been a keen gardener. I grow the vegetables and won a few prizes for them a few years ago at shows. Loraine does the flower borders.
The old ticker isn’t so good now. I had a heart operation—called an ablation—which lasted seven and a half hours. Loraine didn’t think I was coming out. That was about 15 years ago, and I’m on tablets now, so I have to take things easy. But I’m still here, and that’s the main thing.’