Fascinating historical photos show families picking hops in the English countryside, 1900-1950


This help came in the form of families, usually women and children from London, who arrived in Kent for three weeks in September to take the hop. Many saw it as a holiday of sorts, a chance to exchange city life for the lush fields of the countryside.

Hops are the flowers (also called seed cones or strobiles) of the hop plant Humulus lupulus, a member of the Cannabaceae family of flowering plants.

They are used primarily as a bitter, flavoring, and stabilizing agent in beer, in which, in addition to bitterness, they impart a floral, fruity, or citrus flavor and aroma.

Hops are also used for a variety of purposes in other beverages and herbal medicine. There are separate female and male hops plants, and only female plants are used for commercial production.

In Britain, hopped beer was first imported from Holland around 1400, yet hops were condemned as an "evil and harmful weed" in 1519.

In 1471, Norwich, England, banned the use of the plant in the brewing of ale ("beer" was the name of a bitter fermented malt liquor with hops; only in recent times the term was often used as synonyms. Huh).

Hops used in England were imported from France, Holland and Germany and were subject to import duties; It was not until 1524 that hops were first grown in the south-east of England (Kent), when they were introduced as an agricultural crop by Dutch farmers. As a result, many of the words used in the hop industry are derived from the Dutch language.

Kent was the earliest center of hop culture as it had good soil, an enclosed field system and a good supply of wood for poles and charcoal, which contributed to the creation of the first English hop garden near Canterbury in 1520.

Hop-picking as a job gained immense popularity in the Victorian era, and by the 1870s railway companies provided 'hop-picker specials' to transport workers to Kent.

Entire families attended and lived in Hopper's huts, with even small children helping in the fields. The final chapters of W. Somerset Maugham's Human Bond and a large part of George Orwell's A Clergyman's Daughter contain a vivid description of the London families participating in this annual hops harvest.

In England, many of those who hopped into Kent were from the east of London. It provided a break from the urban conditions that were spent in the countryside. People also came from Birmingham and other Midlands towns to hop into the Malvern area of ​​Worcestershire. Some photos have been preserved.

The often appalling living conditions endured by hop pickers during the harvest became the subject of scandal in Kent and other hop-growing counties.

Eventually, the Rev. John Young Stratton, Rector of Ditton, Kent, began to gather support for the reform, which resulted in the formation of the Society for the Employment and Improved Lodging of Hop Pickers in 1866.

In Kent in particular, due to the region's lack of small denomination coins, many producers issued their own currency to labourers. In some cases, the coins issued were adorned with imaginary hop images, making them quite beautiful.

In 1922 the first hop-picking machine used in this country was imported from America by a Worcester producer. Machine picking was not to be widely practiced until the late 1950s because American machines were not suited to conditions in England and hand pickers were still available.

However, when change came, it was the West Midlands producers who led the way. The first British-made picking machine was produced at Martley in 1934 and the two main makes were manufactured at Suckle and Malvern.

Eventually, in the 1950s, mechanized harvesting began to replace labor on hop farms, and the tradition declined. Hopper huts were demolished or converted into homes, although some were preserved in museums.

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