On Groats and Grigglers

Issue: 59, October 1988

Round about  a hundred years ago a common expression in Somerset and Dorset was ‘as near to a groat as fourpence’. A groat was a silver coin to the value of four pence so the meaning was clear.

The groat was first coined in 1279 during the reign of Edward I and last under Victoria in 1888. A hundred years ago cider was sold at about one penny a pint but was often drawn off in quarts – cost, one groat.

And about a hundred years ago, at about this time of year, the grigglers reappeared in Somerset and Dorset.

Long-standing readers will of course be asking ‘Groats and grigglers? Another ridiculous joke?’

Please – this is serious.

One upon a time, as Granfer will confirm, vast apple orchards covered thousands of West Country acres. Then, every village had its cider maker. Then, even the village inn sold cider made from English apples.

Now the bulk of your average ‘Somerset’ cider is 99% foreign, concocted from concentrated apple juice imported from Czechoslovakia. (But let’s keep this to ourselves, shall we, or the grockles might stop drinking the stuff.)

grIn the good old days the good-natured farmer picked his fruit with care, leaving small unsaleable applesand pears on the trees. When this crop was gathered the poor folk of the village were allowed into his orchard to glean the remnants.

Except they didn’t call it ‘gleaning’, as in the corn fields, they called it ‘griggling’. And they’m who griggled were called grigglers, and their harvest was known as griggle apples. They carried their spoils home in rush baskets to be made into griggle tarts and griggle pies, and surely griggle cider too.

Corn fields are no longer gleaned but gleaning as remained part of our language. Griggling was a word used only in West Country dialect and has disappeared from our language. Groats are well known to historians and collectors.

Few people will have heard – will ever hear – of grigglers.