INTRO. CHRONICLES. SOCIETIES. PARISH. VILLAGE. CHURCH. PEOPLE.

A History of YALDING, Kent, England

HOP-PICKING.

 

A brewery advertisement used to say, “few pastimes seem more English than a warm September evening spent sipping a pint of bitter in the Prince of Wales at Hunton, while hop pickers busy themselves about the oast houses scattered across the Kent countryside.”

Yet, less than five hundred years ago, you would not have been surveying such an idyllic scene, or for that matter, enjoying such a satisfying pint. For Henry VIII himself, a man not noted for his discriminating palate, or for his patience, sternly warned his brewer to keep his ale free from hops or brimstone. In fact the humble hop was outlawed and proclaimed a wicked and pernicious weed.

 

The hop was first noted as being a wild plant, and is recorded as being a medicinal herb used in early Egypt. As a brew using hops, called beer, this probably originated in Germany, and it is known that hops were cultivated in the Low Countries from the 13th century. The original drink of the Anglo-Saxons and English, was ‘Ale’, a brew produced from malt without hops. When immigrants such as Flemish weavers or Dutch merchants arrived, they preferred their native hop-flavoured drink. By the year 1400, beer was being imported, and then later brewed in England originally using imported hops.

There was resistance to this continental influence on the traditional English way of life, in which some London brewers were prosecuted for the adulteration of ale, and some towns banned the use of hops. It was the use of hops in drink that was blamed for inciting the followers of Jack Cade’s rebellion in 1450.

It was finally noted that hops gave beer a preservative effect, and it lasted longer than ale, so they started to gain ground in their use. It is thought that the first hop garden was created near Canterbury in 1520.

As Kent had an established enclosed field system, a good supply of wood for poles and charcoal for drying, plus a suitable soil, it became the earliest centre for hop cultivation in this country, rapidly spreading to cover fourteen counties by 1655.

 

Taxes have for long been a way of raising revenue, and in 1710 a duty was imposed on hops at a rate 1 penny per pound on English hops and 3 pennies per pound on Flemish hops. Beers from different brews were blended and became very popular, and in 1722 a combination of three beers became known as ‘porter’, due its popularity amongst London labourers and porters.

By the nineteenth century a variety of different hops were known, and had been cultivated for some time, including Cobbs, Amos’ Early Bird, Golding, and Bramling, the hops being usually named after either a hop grower or the parish where they were first cultivated. Another famous variety was the Fuggle, propagated in Kent by Mr Richard Fuggle of Brenchley in 1875, the plant having first been noticed in about 1861, growing at Horsmonden. It became the most widely grown hop in England ( in 1949, it made up 78 % of the English hop acreage ) until Verticillium Wilt made growth impossible in much of Kent and Sussex.

An alternative variety WGV, was selected as a seedling, reputedly from a variety called Bates' Brewer in 1911, by Mr. E.A. White on his farm at Beltring in Kent. ( There is a photo of E A White in the Chronicle Section under the Yalding Manufacturing Company.) The farm was later bought by The Whitbread Brewery Company, and is now our local Hop Farm Country Park. This variety, WGV, demonstrated in the 1930's significant tolerance to Verticillium Wilt and was planted extensively in Kent during the 1950's when Fuggles and Goldings were decimated by the spread of that disease.

The number of farm acreage given to hop cultivation grew in the 19th century, reaching a peak in 1878 of 77,000 nationally, of which over 30,000 were grown in Kent, and 1,400 acres in Yalding, being 1.82 % of the total English hops. After this there was a gradual decline, and by 1909 there were only 32,000 acres growing hops. This was partly due to a change of taste, and brewery contracts for foreign beers requiring the original recipe, using foreign hops. Following mass demonstrations in Kent, the government introduced a tariff on imported hops.

 

During the First World War agriculture was faced with measures to increase home production, and convert land to arable use. Also the government trebled the duty on beer to restrict socialising and to concentrate people’s energy on the war effort. This resulted generally in the acreage of hops being reduced by half, for the purpose of growing more cereals, and such odd appearances as potatoes on the lawns of Cheveney House.                                                                                          Next.