Hop Fields of Kent

Hop Picking the Cockney Holiday

As strange as it may sound now I never had a normal holiday until I reached the age of ten, but equally as strange my best memories were the times that were spent in the Hop fields of Kent.

Hop picking was the true Cockney holiday, outside London Hop picking must have seemed a very strange event.

Early in the morning the large removal vans would appear on the Council estate and this would be the beginning of a great adventure for all us young Boys and Girls, memories are generally blurred or even exaggerated at a young age which is no bad thing when you look into the future with all the stress and pressures that come with age.

The vans would be packed to bursting point with all the Mums, Nan’s and the few Grandfathers and us young Children, all our belongings would be packed into tea chests which were used as makeshift seating, the gate at the rear of the lorry was finally closed and we children would be sitting looking out to the rear, health and safety had no place for a hop picking holiday.

Hop picking to the unknown is the hand picking of hops that are a vital ingredient in the making of beer, it is said that smell revokes the memory and hops certainly bring back the thoughts of my early years,

The hop field looks like a field of growing telegraph poles and as the hops begin to grow they are trained to run up the strings that had been placed in exactly the right position and equal lengths apart for easy picking when fully grown to the top.

Eventually when the hops are fully grown and the distance between just wide enough to carry the large bins which are 6 feet long and 3 feet wide, at this stage the bins are carried into the beginning of each row by 2 Mums, Nan’s or a mixture, the Women would then pull on the strings that the hops are attached to and in one movement the hop vines come crashing down and the women would work picking all the hops of the vine leaving behind the strings, stems and leaves, all Day the bins would be carried up the rows with slowly bulging bins full of hops.

At least once a Day the farmer’s helpers would come and take out the hops in baskets which were measurements of bushels.

This would continue Daily for the duration of hop picking season, then on the last Day the counting was done and payment made for each and every bushel.

While all this was happening the great adventure would start, we would all live in tin sheds and on arrival the sheets which had been previously sewed all around with the exception of the bottom which was left open were then stuffed full with straw which would be our bed for at least four Weeks, I can still remember the first few nights when the straw would stick into all parts of our body as we turned over while sleeping,

Morning would arrive with the loud band of wood being thrown on top of the huts which would be used for cooking the evening meal.

Our hard Day would start with the discovery of our new home on the farm while the Women were working hard.

The freedom we had was amazing making our own fishing rods with safely pins as hooks, building Forts from bales of straw, and the greatest thrill of all was the riding on the trucks which were pulled by the Shire horses.

When evening arrived the wood that had been thrown on top of the huts in the morning was then placed in pre dug holes and set on fire for the cooking of our meals.

Finally before going to bed we would all sit around the fire and sing campfire songs until we could keep our eyes open no longer and we were put to bed ready for the morning awakening of more wood and a new Day of fun.

I never had a holiday until the age of ten unless you count these amazing times on a farm away from the East End of London perhaps have always had holidays.

David McIntosh