It is difficult to imagine today but hop picking once touched countless families all around the country.
In the East End of London alone, on a good year, up to 200,000 people may have spent a month picking hops. Even on a normal year around 70,000 people, mainly mums and kids, would travel to the hops fields of Britain and spend their 'working holiday' picking the brown gold or 'Grapes of the South' as some called them, so sought after by brewers for their beer. One hop farm in Paddock Wood took over 4,000 Londoners most years. Each person needed to be housed and fed for a month in a military operation long lost today.
Rows of hop tents or tin huts were opened up as the families poured in from train stations. One of the first jobs was to clean them up and make them liveable again after a year lying dormant. Mice were chased out, pigeons were shooed away, and the odd owl or two that had made a nice quiet roost. Then beds were made, clothes unpacked and sometimes a few decorations, even a few hop bines strung around the walls. Partitions were hung up, occasionally even wallpaper was applied! Faggots of wood were collected for the open fires and the kettle boiled.
For a few short and enjoyable weeks in autumn these little 'shanty towns' became home, new friends were made and old acquaintances reunited.
Many families would travel to the hop fields of Kent and elsewhere on special 'hop trains' or 'hoppers', laid on for the unique mass movement of humans on their yearly pilgrimage.
It is hard today to understand how important hop picking was. Many families could not afford holidays but they could escape the grime and smog of the big cities and for a few short weeks and earn money towards the family coffers. For many women it was the only money that they earned all year and went towards everything from new shoes to Christmas presents.
Many farms paid in tokens rather than money and had their own farm shops where the tokens could be exchanged for food and goods. At the end of the month the tokens were exchanged for cash. These hop tokens are just museum pieces now.
Hop picking was mainly a female activity with mum and the kids. Men would often join them on weekends. If the husbands could get time away from work, they may even stay a week or more with the family. On the whole however, tens of thousands of women, once a year, 'up sticks' and escaped for a month.
Don't get me wrong, it was hard long work and sometimes the kids were ill. One particular problem that children managed to catch was the dreaded 'hop eye' caught on the cold damp mornings when the sulphur from the oast houses drifted across the fields like mustard gas. Other problems arose like drunk husbands in the local pubs and even occasionally something went missing from one of the huts or a fight broke out, but all these were rare occurrences.
On the whole for many thousands of families, hop picking was remembered with great fondness and possibly the best time of their lives. We are going on a journey back in time to one particular family and their story. Follow along with Doll as the long lost world of hop picking comes back to life.
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|Size: ||2.2 MB|
|Publisher: ||Crows Nest Publications|
|Date published: || 2015|
|ISBN: ||9780953941094 (DRM-EPUB)|
|Read Aloud: ||not allowed|