Picking Hops In Kent – 1900-1949

For centuries families have travelled to Kent to pick hops

“We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us”
– Charles Bukowski, Life Magazine, December 1988

 

Wateringbury in Kent hope pickers

‘Hoppers’ in Wateringbury, Kent, England  – 1928

The English county of Kent is synonymous with growing hops, a tall climbing perennial branded with the exquisite Latin name humulus lupulus (‘wolf of the woods’) used to make beer. The hop plant is “dioecious” – the female and male plants are separate; the female plant bears the hop. Farming the hop necessities supporting it with tall wooden poles (typically up to 5m), wire and string. In spring, the plants are trained up the string, reaching the summit in early July, when they begin to flower and develop cones.

The British Hop Association informs us:

The hop cones consist of layers of soft tissue petals where the lupulin glands form and they look like large yellow pollen grains. Each lupulin gland contains the oil resins which confer bitterness, preservative properties plus the aroma and flavour. It is the alpha acid in the lupulin that imparts the bitterness in the beer. A stiff oily substance, lupulin is sticky to touch and with a complex chemistry found nowhere else in the plant kingdom. It is made up of several volatile oils, which formulate the flavour used in beer.

These subtle differences are evident in the cones of different hop varieties, which individually contribute to the flavouring of the beer.

 

Hops 1932 Faversham Kent

Hop pickers in Faversham, Kent – 1932

In September the cones are harvested – those strings are long so hop pickers often used to wear stilts. The hops are then dried in a Kiln or Oast house. From there the crop is sent to breweries.

Tradition has it that the first English hop garden was created near Canterbury in 1520, as Kent was the earliest centre for hop culture due to its suitable soil, established enclosed field system and good supply of wood for the poles and charcoal for drying.  Furthermore, Kent farmers could afford the high initial capital outlay as they were among the most prosperous of the time.

One of the simplest and most economic methods of training hops was developed in Kent by Henry Butcher in about 1875.  A great deal of manpower was always required in all hop-growing regions of England to pick the hops in September, as the value of the crop depended on it being picked quickly and at the right moment.  Kentish records of the mid 17th century mention some ‘strangers who came a hopping’ indicating that there was not enough local labour.  The majority of Kent’s manpower came from London and at the industry’s peak, more than 80,000 people poured into Kent every autumn…

Between the wars, East Londoners regarded the picking season as a holiday with pay as they got to exchange their cramped town life for a month’s rural freedom and whole families were known to visit the same Kent hop yards for several generations.

 

Hop picking 1900 england kent

Picking cones – 1900

1930 Hoppers at work at Whitbreads Farm at Beltring, Kent.

Whitbreads Farm, Beltring, Kent – 1930

 

1907 A family of hop pickers stand beside their packed cart.

Hoppers – 1907.

1919 A family of hop pickers at Victoria Station in London

A family of hop pickers at London’s Victoria Station – 1907

Hops Kent England 1900

1900

1910 Hop pickers arrive at the Kentish hop fields.

1910, Kent

Hop pickers 1910 Kent

1910, Kent

1906 hoppers

1906

hops kent 1910

1910

Kent hops picking farm kent england

1910

1933 Hops

1933

1936 hop pickers

1936

1937 hop picking Paddock Wood Kent

Paddock Wood Kent – 1937

1938 hops

1938

Boston Manor Maidstone Kent 1949

Boston Manor, near Maidstone, Kent – 1949

paddock Wood Kent 1934

Paddock Wood, Kent – 1934

1944 hop picking Kent

1944