On September 6th 2007, the Time & Talents drop-in group took a day trip to visit the Hop Festival at Paddock Wood in Kent. The group had chosen this destination to learn more about the working holidays that many people from Bermondsey and Rotherhithe took part in until the late 60s. It turned out to be a special day for Hoppers, and their friends alike.
Hop picking was one of the traditional agricultural jobs that city dwellers joined in, and at the end of each summer, Bermondsey and Rotherhithe residents waited with other Londoners for the letter that invited them to turn up for the Harvest season. People from different parts of London had different destinations, and Paddock Wood, the nearest Hop Fields to Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, attracted thousands of our local families to help with the four week harvest. For the children, the trip could mean three weeks off school, and a visit to the nit nurse, but this was a minor inconvenience.
Hopping was a family holiday, with the Hopping box readied during the year with bedding, clothes and pots, for the journey on the milk train or butchers lorry. It was a family event, but the men, dock workers, couldn’t leave their jobs except for the weekend visits, when Saturday afternoon and Sundays were times of revelry. The huts were made of corrugated iron and the mattresses were filled with straw, cooking was on an open fire and work was 10-hour days for five and a half days a week. This may not sound like a holiday to us, but when farming changed, the ‘holidays’ stopped.
The River Medway flooded in 1968, damaging the workers’ huts, and after this mechanization was brought to the fields. Although some British agricultural work continues today, one of our Hoppers wondered how the new generation of agricultural workers fare, and whether terms and conditions allow these workers to find some of the joy she and her family found in the fields.
For a day out, the Hop Farm is a fascinating destination, and the project is doing a major overhaul to the museum, bringing it all to a ground floor level for everyone to enjoy. This was due to take place in October 2007, and anyone thinking of making a visit can find out more on 0870 0274166. If you remember waiting for the letter, and are interested in meeting up with other local Hoppers, you may catch up with a few of them at the Community Drop-ins on Thursday afternoons.