Oast Houses

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Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   Text © Copyright April 2009, Oast House Archive; licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence.
Images also under a similar Creative Commons Licence.

❖ Hops and Hop picking

Hop fields
Also called hop gardens, the growing areas of the South East and Hereford and Worcestershire were awash with hop fields during the heyday of hop picking.

Traditional hop bines stand 16 feet high, growing up hessian strings tied to a wire strung between wood poles. Before the strung system each hop bine was grown up a wooden pole.
Shorter bines are now grown in the Herefordshire area so that modern farm machinery can pick them. 70% of the hops grown in Kent were of the 'Fuggles' variety.
TQ8635 : Hop field by Oast House Archive SO5840 : Harvesting hops by hand by Jonathan Billinger

It is said that if the hop bines have reached the top of the string by the summer solstice (21st June), it should be a good harvest. The following images show hop growth during April, May and June.
TQ8129 : Hop field by Oast House Archive TQ8129 : Hop field by Oast House Archive TQ8129 : Hop field by Oast House Archive

Originally hops were picked by hand, each hop flower was taken off the bine and put into a 'bin', as re-created in the photograph below.
TQ7458 : Hop Picking by Oast House Archive

This dramatically changed with the introduction of hop picking machines, such as the 'Bruff' which did the work of tens or hundreds of people.
The most dramatic change was after the war, however the last field to be picked by hand was in 1987.

Today tall hop bines are cut off by workers at the top and bottom and sent in a trailer to the farm where the flowers are separated from the bine and dried.
TQ8128 : Hop Processing by Oast House Archive

Here the tractor pulls a trailer with a man on a ladder platform on the back cutting the tops of the bines and dropping them in the trailer.
TQ8029 : Hop Picking by Oast House Archive TQ8029 : Hop Picking by Oast House Archive

Modern hops fields use shorter bines which can be picked with machinery on the back of the tractor.

TQ8129 : Hop field by Oast House Archive

There are now only around 60 growers in England, compared to the thousands that existed in the late 19th century. Hop growing is around 5% compared to the peak times, and most hop fields have been grubbed up for other farm uses.

Hop trailers
A more modern invention since the introduction of the tractor to the hop field and the mechanisation of the farm. The hop bines were piled on the back of the trailer to be taken back at the farm for processing. They are still used today.
TQ6246 : Hop Trailer by Oast House Archive TQ8128 : Hop trailers resting up for the next harvest by RH Dengate

Hopper huts
During the hop-picking season in September, thousands of Londoners came down to Kent and Sussex for the hop picking; for many it was a working holiday. Many stayed in tents but some farms provided 'Hoppers' Huts'. They were primitive buildings, usually built of corrugated metal or brick. Due to their small size, their potential for reuse or conversion is very limited, and those that remain are often in poor condition, particularly if they are located away from the farm.
TQ7638 : Hopper Huts by Oast House Archive TQ7458 : Hopper Huts by Oast House Archive

Shared Description used on 2 images
Hoppers Hospital by Oast House Archive
Originally a 17th century farmhouse, and in the 19th century an ale house. In the late 19th century it was used as a hospital for hop pickers. A courtyard building by the road was built in around 1940.

Grade II listed LinkExternal link

TQ6445 : Hoppers Hospital, Five Oak Green by Oast House Archive


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