Hop Picking {School Holidays 1934}

When hop picking became mechanized a whole way of life disappeared. Our school holidays were always geared to the hop picking season, some hated it I loved it.

There were two kinds of hop pickers, one the local village housewife who would pick to earn money for the family winter clothing, or perhaps to purchase some item of luxury not normally affordable, or maybe even to put a little by for Christmas. What ever the reason in the daytime Barrow Green would be deserted save for the lone figure of old "Gaffer" Huntley standing at the entrance to the alleyway leading to Triggs Row, leaning on his stick and sucking on a plum stone, {when not in use this plum stone would be tucked neatly in the comer of his waistcoat pocket}. With a twinkle in his eye he surveyed what little activity there was plus the occasional passing of horse drawn wagons laden with hop pokes for the oast house.

The second kind of pickers were the visitors from the East End of London. They treated this as their annual holiday and how they enjoyed themselves. The farmer provided accommodation {hop huts} straw for bedding, and wood for their fires. So after a day in the hop fields they sat outside the huts cooking a meal on a roaring fire and chatting to friends like some vast Romany gathering. All this had a strange effect on the local youth, who hurrying home from work partook of a quick tea, and then with an extra slick of Brylcream on their hair and the hint of a shine on their shoes, headed for Buckland, a local Romeo in search of a visiting Juliet!

Some times at the weekend the families were joined by their menfolk when they would visit the local pub. I remember as a boy when I lived at The Crescent, laying in bed on a Saturday night I would hear the merriment spill out onto the forecourt of the Tavern and I would lay and listen as the jollity and singing gradually faded into the night as they made their way back to their temporary homes, the hop huts at Buckland chalkhole.

Hops are wet this morning
The dew and mist hang thick
Hops are wet this morning
But still we have to pick.

Up in the early darkness
Dress by gas light’s glow
My eyes are hardly open
As we settle in our row.

Coarse apron tied around me
With mittens made from socks
My basket holds a bushel
And my seat an upturned box.

Now to fill my basket
Is the early morning task
Then we’ll have some breakfast
And warm tea from a flask.

Soon the mist is thinning
And the sun begins to shine
Life looks so much brighter
And I’ve found a decent bine!

The tally man is on his way
Bring your basket down the alley
Where hops are carefully measured
There’s enough to till our tally.

Then midday pangs of hunger
As the sun has reached it’s high
The small wood fire is burning
And tin kettle starts to sigh.

An hour to eat your lunch
An hour to sit and dream
An hour to join your mates
To plan an evening scheme.

Then in the corner of a hankie
A coin is safely tied
To buy a penny cornet
When the ice cream man is spied.

And so the day progresses
I must not be a loafer
If I’m to earn new football boots
I have to pick my quota.

“Pull no more bines!” a welcome call
The pole puller’s whistle blows
Weary pickers homeward tramp
And there’s peace along the rows.


tally man

Teynham Parish Council Website