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Maidstone

The glorious days of hand hop picking finally came to an end during the 1960's after a period of intensive agricultural mechanisation that had begun during the second world war.

The hops were picked into a large 'bin', approximately 7 ft long, made from two ends, crossed poles of wood, joined by two side rails, extending at the ends to form 'handles, which supported a long sacking bag. One bin would be used by an entire family or, with a sacking divider half way down the bin,

This is what the workers huts were like made from corrugated iron, which looked like extended garden sheds. There were about ten or twelve huts joined back to back, each measuring about nine feet square. There was a bench of wooden struts stretching along the back wall for our beds.

photos taken at the museum of Kent Life.

Hop picking would begin at the beginning of September and last up to 6 weeks. On a cold, misty morning we'd leave the house at 6 a.m. to walk across the fields to the hop gardens. (In Kent the fields where hops grow are known as 'gardens') The hops 'bines' grow from a crown producing tendril-like growths. Up to a dozen of these growths are encouraged to grow up strings which are stretched up to a network of 10/12 ft. high poles and wires set out in rows across the field. The mature hop garden has rows and rows of green tunnels (alleys) along which the pickers worked.

Each group or gang would have its own bin-man. The bin-man would be responsible for pulling the poles or tearing down the bines, enabling the pickers to then strip the hops from the bines and leaves. The bin-man was also responsible for moving the bin to the next set and loading the hops into the 'poke' after they had been measured by the tallyman. Due to the physical nature of the work, the bin-men were always male.

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