Hop Picking in Horsmonden during the 50s, 60s and 70s through to the present day
Many Horsmonden families will have spent some time hand picking hops. As well as local pickers there would be hundreds of families from London’s East End taking their annual holiday to go “Hoppin’ in Kent”. Thousands of men women and children would visit Horsmonden and surrounds for the season and many would set up their temporary homes in ‘hopper huts’, the majority going to the same farm year after year.
The Horsmonden railway played a very important part in their journey to the village and the train with up to four or five extra carriages pulled by two steam engines would be laden with hundreds of passengers ready for their annual hopping holiday.
This would be an extremely busy time for the shops and the three pubs in the village catering for the needs of the massive influx of people over the five to six week period and life for villagers would be quite a special time and also very important to the village in its development.
By the mid 60’s more and more farms had switched over to picking by mechanical means in order to compete which brought a swift end to both hand picking and a very important era. This was a very sad time for the local village people and around a quarter of a million Londoners for whom the annual trip to the South East was a major part of their life.
At this time it is estimated there were some 40 to 50 farms producing hops in Horsmonden but the late 60’s saw a steep decline in UK hop growing due mainly to cheaper foreign imports, the splitting up of the then Hops Marketing Board leading to a change in EU rules and also due to changing beer tastes where fewer hops were being used. During the next 20 or 30 years a steady decline in hop farming in Horsmonden was seen.
The season of 1992 saw the last of hop picking for Peter Morrish at Castlemaine and in 2001/2 for Paul Tompsett at Park Farm and Percy Henley at Spelmonden, on the Horsmonden/Goudhurst border. Three of the four remaining hop producers in the area, had finally decided to pull out of hop growing. This just left Clive and Richard Edmed at Hayle Farm to carry on as the village’s only remaining hop producer where in the days of hand picking about 300 people were employed through the season, now with machine picking there are around twelve people involved.
Hayle Farm has about 350 acres across hops and fruit of which 65 acres are devoted to hop growing. In addition to hops grown at Hayle, Clive and Richard also own the hops grown locally at Remingtons and Ashdown Farms along the Lamberhurst Road.
Just shy 50,000 kilograms or 50 tonnes (dried weight, baled) of hops across seven varieties are machine picked and dried at Hayle Farm with over 40% of the harvest being exported to the USA. The remainder retained for the UK market where here and in the USA there has been an increase in demand for hops with the growth of craft beers and micro-breweries.
There are still many Horsmonden village people and South and East London families who remember with fondness those earlier years of hop picking by hand with vivid memories and stories of how sweet and hard life was in those earlier days. Many Londoners continue to visit Horsmonden during the season on their hopping nostalgia trail.
The strong aroma of hops as they are picked in the fields and dried in the kilns, will linger on forever!