The Hop Farm
The Beltring Hop Farm
in Kent has the largest surviving* complex of oast houses in the world. The main site has five oast houses called Bell 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, each with 5 kilns. The group are Grade II* listed
. Adjacent is Brookers Oast with three kilns, making 28 kilns in total.
The farm was formerly known as "Whitbread Hop Farm" as it was owned and run by the Whitbread's brewery from 1920 until 1997, when it was sold and the name changed. It is now generally called "The Hop Farm".
At its peak, 200 acres of hops were dried at the farm.
The farm had been used a museum related to the hopping industry and had a large collection of shire horses. Since 1997 the farm has migrated away from this to a commercialised family entertainment park, mostly aimed at children.
-*A larger complex of 32 kilns was in Loose at approximately TQ753520. It was completely demolished to make way for new housing.
Bells 1 to 4
Named after Bell Field which the buildings were constructed, the four bells are very similar oast houses each with 5 round kilns, 20 foot in diameter, brick built gabled stowage with weatherboarded front, and greenstage. Built in early 1900's they are relatively late oast houses, as hop production had peaked by around 1887. Presumably by bringing such a large amount of oast houses together in one place there was a better economy of scale to compete with the foreign hops.
Built in early 1900's and last used for drying in 1946.
Built in early 1900's and last used for drying in 1984. Bells 2 and 3 were converted to oil, the large flues can still be seen on the kilns.
Built in early 1900's and last used for drying in 1984. The kilns feature electric fans to the kiln roofs. These were used to draw the air up through the hops rather than through the cowl which could not always be relied on if the winds were not strong enough, or were too strong. Strangely none of other three bells appear to have had them.
Inside Bell 3
Built in early 1900's and last used for drying in 1980.
Built in 1936 and last used for drying in 1974. A modern oast house with 5 internal kilns, also of 20 foot size, with cowls on the roof ridge.
Built in the mid 1800's, it originally had three round kilns, then five, and now back to its original three. The two missing kilns were reputed to be the tallest in the country, which is probably what led them to becoming structurally unstable and subsequently demolished. The building has been used as a public house since the 1990's.
Neighbouring Oast Houses
There were also a number of other nearby oast houses, owned by Whitbread's.
- Twin round kiln. Now house converted.
- Early C19, a converted barn East of Guest Oast. Now house converted.
- A four round kilned oast house, demolished in the 1959.
- An experimental oast adjacent to Brookers, demolished in 1923.
During the hop picking heyday in the early 1900's, thousands of hop pickers would come down from London on the train to Paddock Wood and Beltring.
There would have been hundred's of hopper huts that each hop picking family would stay in. None appear to exist on the site today, however these local huts would have been similar.
As well as the huts, hop pickers were issued tents. A field at TQ677479
, en-route between the station and the farm was one field used for campers.
The farm today
"The Hop Farm" is now a tourist attraction aimed at children. With a petting zoo, shire horses, rides, trampolines, wax works, yesterdays village, military vehicles and many café areas. Sadly the farm has migrated away from a museum related to agriculture and the hopping industry, though there is a small dedicated area left in three of the kilns in Bell 3.
As well as the main site, a variety of major events are held in the surrounding grounds, including the war & peace show, monster trucks and pop concerts. This land diversification helps to run the hop farm and maintain the oast houses.
❖ Further reading
"Beltring Hop Farm" by Robin Walton
Geograph Article: Oast House
The Hop Farm official site
Images of England Grade II* listing