Hop picking Days

George and I are at present staying in a very nice Edwardian hotel in Folkestone, Kent. Very near the Channel Tunnel. This visit was my birthday present to George. Why Kent? It was to be a trip down Memory Lane for him.
George grew up in the East End of London. He was born in 1939. His family, like many others, lived in rooms rented in a house that was shared by several other families. He played in the street or, after the war, on the bomb sites in his neighbourhood. Both his parents worked but money was tight.
Then, just after the end of the war in 1945, came an opportunity that was seized by many East End families – picking the hops which were grown in Kent to make beer.
The County of Kent was then known as The Garden of England. There were many farms and seasonal workers were needed to pick the fruit – apples, cherries and plums and to train the hop vines then to pick the hops when they were ready.
Whole East end families decamped for several months – George’s family amongst them. This would get them all away from the smoke in London and give them much needed fresh air and sunshine. A truck would arrive at their home, which would then be loaded with a few essential pots, pans, clothes, children and adults. George’s father continued working at his job in London but would join the family at weekends.
The families were accommodated in separate wooden or tin huts. No glass in the windows, just wooden shutters that could be pulled to in the rain or when it was dark. There were communal cook houses and the ranges were fired with long bundles of faggots ( wood) which were fed onto the fires, each family was supplied with the faggots – George tells me that in his hut, these were laid either on the ground or on the bunk beds, then covered with straw to make a mattress.
The children (including George) went to the village school and there were many fights between the local lads who resented being invaded by the ‘Londiniums’ as they called the boys. How quaint that they used Latin!
The work on the farm was hard and everyone (including the children) did what they could. George hated picking the hops – they stained the hands and the smell clung for days. His mother was deft and worked tirelessly pulling down the vines in a row and plucking the hops, stripping them clean of leaves or vine, into her basket. As for the fruit picking, she would climb a ladder to pick but then send George further up the tree to pick the fruit she could not reach. George loved this, especially the cherries, as he could eat as many as he wanted!
Good, quick workers were valued and families returned to the same farm year after year. Any dishonesty or stealing resulted in instant dismissal.
So yesterday we returned to Kent and this afternoon we visited the village where George stayed all those years ago. The school has
been demolished and replaced by a modern building on the other side of the road. The river he crossed by bridge to get to his school still runs alongside the road. We stopped for lunch in the aptly named pub The George – where his parents used to go for a drink at weekends. The top of the bar was garlanded with hop vines – that used to be a fairly common practice in pubs in the days before the smoking ban, as it was believed the hops absorbed the smoke. The landlord made us very welcome and the locals gave George news of the family that owned the farm and the farm manager.
We tried to venture up the muddy lane, past the oast houses where the hops were dried, but we were in danger of the car being stuck in mud, so had to turn around having satisfied ourselves that nothing was left of the old huts.
We did find what used to be the local shop, still on the main road but closed and derelict- looking and George recalled many journeys there to collect the paraffin needed for the lights and heater in the hut. I saw a grumpy eight year old, struggling manfully home with a full can banging against his legs as he walked.
Back to our hotel to dry out and get ready for a gourmet three course dinner served faultlessly on a table laid with crisp, white starched linen.
Were they the good old days? I wonder…


2 thoughts on “Hop picking Days

  1. oh that was great. I too was born in 1939 so I can remember all the things that you talked of. I have heard about these migrants to the hop fields and I can reall that they were not happily received. Most of them considered this period of hop picking as their annual holiday which in a way I suppose it was.

    Were these the good old days? Well when you compare the uncertainty of today with the security of times gone past..then yes.
    But on the other hand for the majority of people have a better life today due to modernisation and modern technology.
    So really it depends on how you view modern living in comparison to the days and years that have passed.

    i was looking at some old photos yesterday and I can recall the happy times that we had in the 1950’s…it made my heart yearn to return to older times. But having said that what on earth would I do without my laptop, ipad, iphone and internet….weighing it up is not so easy !!!

    But above all WELCOME BACK to WordPress..to say that I have missed you is an understatement..so glad and happy that you have returned to the fold


    1. Thank you for your comments. Personally I live for the present although like many people of my age, I spend some time with my memories. As a three-year survivor of bowel cancer, I certainly would not still be here without modern surgery and treatment techniques. Like you, I would not want to go back to living without a computer either.
      Thank you for the warm welcome back.


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