Fifty years ago this weekend I embarked upon my last ever hop picking holiday. Some of the bigger farms employed hand pickers right up to the late 1960's, but for me, this was the sad end of an era. It must have been worse for my old gran. She was first taken 'hopping' as a child, (she was born in 1896,) and apart from a gap of a few years when she got married and she and grandad, (once he had returned from the trenches,) started a family, she didn't miss another hopping season until that last one in 1960. From the time she resumed her hop picking habit in around 1922, she occupied the same picker's hut on the same farm right up to that last season. The hopping tradition in my family began in 1867, when my great grandfather walked all the way from Walworth down in to Kent in search of work. By chance, he arrived at Paddock Wood on the very day the hop picking season of that year began. He was smitten by the Kent countryside and never missed another hopping right up to 1951. He died in the spring of 1952 at the age of 85. It's a shame that my generation will be the last to have had first-hand experience of what for many Londoners was a way of life. It seems to be a forgotten era.
We used to go hopping too. My mum's family like yours started late 1800s and rarely missed a season. They would mainly go to Beltring Farm, Paddock wood. My mum would take us kids to Stilstead Farm in East Peckham. We sooo looked forward to our time on the farm. Stilstead still had hand pickers until late 1960s. My last visit was in 1965. A sad time for all when the machines took over :(
These past two years I have been growing hops in the garden, purely for nostalgic reasons. The smell of those plants bring back such memories! Last year I dried some and made small pillows and sent them as a surprise present to my sisters, you wouldn't believe their reaction. I decided not to pick them this year, needless to say I spend a lot of time in the garden taking in that beautiful scent. Such memories!
My friend has some land in paddock wood, and when you go into her woods there still remain some of the long metal 'eye; things that held the bines. many years ago my friend and I decided to dig them up in case the children tripped up when foraging for bluebells,blackberries etc..after a good hour we gave up the darn things must have been at least three foot deep in the ground. I think it was the first small hopfield in paddock wood, willow lane..
there is even a milestone in the depths of it, not quite sure where the mile was from!
Jan, we used to call those things 'anchors.' They were driven into the ground and the hop strings were then tied to them and attatched to the overhead wires. The hops were then trained up the strings. As a precurser to the annual hop picking holiday, some Londoners did a couple of weeks 'hop trianing,' i.e twining the immature bines up the strings to give them their little start in life. None of my family were ever involved in that, too much bending and stretching I guess. My grandad, once he retired and became a regular picker along with my nan, was a 'pole puller.' He used to go around the hop field every half hour or so and, with his long, hooked pole, he would free any hops that had been stranded on the overhead wires after the bines had been pulled.
Just a small, pedantic point. Us Londoners always referred to them as hop 'fields.' The correct term is hop 'garden,' but who cares?
ive recently been following a thread in another bermondsey site , someone said our well they slept when they went hopping with the wonderful smell of the hops in thier noses as they dozed , a reply came , ,"no wonder you slept so well ,the hop plant is related to the cannabis plant".lol sweet dreams
Just like your family my grandmother,then my mother and then myself with my kids.we all loved it as a child it was great to be in the fields.I can remember wheeling the hopping cart up to london bridge to get on the milk train.I also had to fill a pillow case with hops for my nan as soon as we arrived she said it helped her to sleep.great days lovely memories.
do you think the younger generation would sleep on the straw as we did ?
I'd love to do it all one more time, but sleeping on a straw bed with a paraffin lamp flickering two feet away from me might be frowned upon by the Health & Safety Executive. Hopping was indeed a unique experience. Being able to get away from the back streets of south-east London once a year and breath the clean, fresh Kent air was a real treat. People like you and I are the last of the generation who will be able to remember hopping from first-hand experience.
I've made sure I've passed my memories on to my kids and grandkids and they all say how much they would have loved hopping. They certainly would have.
I have plenty of photo's also some cine,our hopping box is in bell common musuem.I still have our parrafin lamp.is'nt strange how the smell of someone cooking on the common never leaves you when people burn there rubbish in there garden.do you think we were the first to have barbecues.baked apples/potatoes with the black skin lovely.