Moorhayes Farm has been in our family since 1899, but the house itself is much older. There are no exact records of when it was first built but it was certainly during the reign of Elizabeth the First. The house’s most notable owner was Jerome Dibben (or Jherom Dibien), a Roman Catholic who refused to renounce his faith, for which he suffered monetary loss. The records show that he purchased land in the area in 1570. In 1583 he was found in possession of papistical books in his house in Charlton Musgrove and he was prosecuted at Wilts assizes. It is thought that Jerome the elder built the farmhouse around this time, before 1600. The house’s many tenants have altered and extended it over the years, but the original turret staircase remains an unusual feature.
John Bridle moved into the house in 1899 with his wife Sarah and their four children, Oliver, Mary-Jane, Francis Ann and George Henry. The Bridle family rented the farm until 1920 when George, bought it from the London landlords for £6685. Mary-Jane (known as Aunt Ginny) made cheddar cheese, mainly in the summer when milk was plentiful, in the copper vat that has pride of place in the farm office.
Aunt Ginny’s method of making unpasteurised cheddar cheese was passed down to her niece Dorothy, who was one of the first cheesemaking students at Cannington College, near Bridgwater. Dorothy married Donald Keen in 1941 and George Bridle retired.
Dorothy and Donald had three children, Victoria, Stephen and George and worked together for 23 years until Donald’s death in 1964. Stephen and George continued to farm with their mother and both family and farm grew. Dorothy passed away in 1991 and Stephen and George now manage the business with their sons Nick and James who are the fifth generation of our family to farm the land and make cheddar cheese here. In the 1960’s Moorhayes Farm consisted of 160 acres of land and a herd of 60 cows. Nowadays we have over 400 acres of land and a herd of 200 milking cows. Cheesemaking was always an important part of life on the farm and in the 1960’s Victoria, who had followed in her mother’s footsteps studying at Cannington, took over the cheesemaking until she married and a cheesemaker was employed, still under Dorothy’s watchful eye. James is the latest member of the family to undertake the task, taking over as head cheesemaker in 2001. He enjoys delving into his grandmother’s carefully kept daily records.
Initially the cheese was made in the dairy beside the kitchen in the farmhouse and then stored on the floor above the living room. Two or three cheeses weighing about 60lb were made each day and carried upstairs for storage. George remembers the monthly upheaval of getting the cheeses back down when the lorry came to collect them for maturing by the cheese factors. In the corner of the living room was a cupboard used for toys, but also concealing a pulley and trap door. George would have to move the toys so that the space could be used to bring down the month’s cheese, with two people working upstairs and two below.
In 1990, a stone barn was converted into a purpose-built modern dairy. The process of making Keen’s Cheddar cheese is much the same as it always has been, but we now do it on a larger scale. We rely on the skill and experience of the cheesemaker to bring out the natural flavour of the raw milk, which comes straight from the cows across the yard. More recently we have extended the farm buildings to make a temperature-controlled cheese store which allows us to mature our cheese on the farm until they are ready to be tasted and enjoyed.
We pride ourselves on our family-oriented business, and on producing a traditional cheddar cheese full of flavour and bursting with life.