Saturday, 19 February 2011

A Kentish Hopyard (part two)

Time for the next instalment of the Gentleman's Magazine article about hops.

This section deals with the hops themselves, where and how they are cultivated and the conditions in which they best thrive.

"Hops thrive best in a southern aspect, and love to couch under the wind, like a hare, on a gentle slope. They enjoy a warm sun, but up to August wet and wind do not greatly hurt them. A damp and warm August, free from wind, is the making of them, and under these influences a crop will almost double itself. Cold wet, on the contrary, quite stops the growth of the burr, and it was this, combined with frost in August, which made the crop of '60 so bad. It is calculated that about 55,000 acres are under cultivation for hops in Kent, Sussex, Surrey (with Farnham as its garden of Eden), Worcester, Essex, and Herefordshire, and those farmers who grow them generally devote to them five acres per cent . They flourish best on pasture land fresh broken up and well trenched, especially if it is a good alluvial soil, not too deep or too light. Clay requires more trenching and care; chalk does not suit them at all; and if an old hand thrusts down his walking-stick as a divining rod, the smell will guide him as to genuine hop-land. Ten shillings an acre extra is put on for tithe, and "the parsons whip us up; they be awake."

Hops and their mode of culture formed the subject of the leading case, Waddington v. Bristowe, on interests in land for nearly a quarter of a century, when one of the acutest Judges in the golden age of the King's Bench astonished Westminster Hall by holding that it was not decided on that ground at all. It was, however, duly explained to the Court that there was nothing left in the land but the root of the plant, from which the bine was to flower and produce the hops. Such roots will reproduce themselves for fully thirty years, and as they die they are replaced by the cuttings, which have been laid and bedded in sets, and are then planted at the rate of three or four to "a hill." The old hop growers go wandering among the "hills," and turn them up occasionally, to see whether the plants have "thimmed or nidgetted," with as much devotion as a deceased duke of many broad acres and London ground leases might be seen applying his nose to a faulty metropolitan stench trap. If it has been fine dry weather, and the air has got well down to the roots, they nidgett to perfection, as the fibres run right across the alleys, and enjoy the good farming. A hundred acres of hop-land require fully twenty-five men to strike and pole, and trim the roots. Each hill has one plant, and about twelve hundred plants go to an acre. The poles, which very careful growers always tar at the bottom every year after they have been used, are taken from the piles and fixed late in May, when the plants have been duly dressed and cut. The Goldings and the Manningtons have the rankest bines, and therefore require the strongest poles, and cutting down poles in the woods by a regular rotation forms an important item in Kentish farming agreements. July is the great fly month, and many an anxious inspection and searching of heart falls to the lot of the hop sage as the fly produces the nit, and the nit ascends to the louse stage. Much of the success of the hop grower depends on his occult science in this combat with the old Egyptian pest.

It is a very great point in hop farming to keep the land clean and nicely ridged up a few weeks before picking, so as to let off the rain. The average of crops is 17 cwt. per acre, but in the most favoured Kentish spots it will reach 30 cwt. during very good seasons. The largest Sussex crops are to be found round Uckfield, but 25 cwt. is about their limit, and the growers sometimes suffer from a total blight. They are, as they themselves allow, generally in extremes. Mr. John Kenward, who is quite the father of hop bettors and Sussex hop growers, had sixty tons one year from sixty acres. They were grown in Little Bowstead, a mile from Uckfield, on stiff land which required at least fifty loads of good rotten dung to the acre. A great crop often weighs badly, as the hops come too large, and lack the rich dust and seed quality of the smaller sort. Sixty bushels to a hundredweight is considered a good weigh, but in some years seventy will not pull down the scale, and it will take eighty if the hops are very bad. It is the green hop which sells, and therefore there must be an early pick to ensure colour, even at the risk of bleeding the bine. Where it is impossible to have them green, the next step is to prevent their being brown, and to turn them yellow by a brimstone application. The common measure is by the pocket of 1.5 cwt., and the bags, whose texture is such that "as coarse as hop bagging " has become a county phrase, generally hold 3 cwt. The Kentish brand is the Flying Horse, and not a few dealers in other counties have got "into trouble" for adopting it, and had to take their choice between a £20 fine, or "three months." Sussex has no brand. Hop bines always come in useful for litter in the straw-yards, or thatching, or as shelter to lambing folds. When dried up, it might be taken, by its smell and texture, for a tea plant, and sheep eat it with a keen relish when chopped up small.

There is "only a ditch" between Sussex and Kent, and some hop yards are half and half in each county ; but still the best Kentish hops always command a larger price in the Borough. Branckley and Wormenden, near Lamberhurst, are the best Sussex parishes; but the growers confine themselves to the Grape, Jones, and Colgate sorts. and never essay the Golding, which thrives best on a chalk and lime subsoil, and not on a clay or sand one. Maidstone and the adjacent parishes of Hadlow, Farleigh, Wateringbury, and Yalding, many of them on the ragstone, are the Kentish head-centre of hop plantations; and fruit and filberts also abound. Ellice is an historical name round Farleigh, and a grower alluded to the family, in dark speech, as having "four hundred acres, and perhaps a good many more." The Canterbury growth, like that of Mid and East Kent, is the mother of pale ale ; but the quantity and quality of the hop falls off as you get nearer Deal and on to the chalk. The Golding hops, which are always very free from mould, require a beautiful light loam; and their magnificent rich colour, coupled with their superior flavour and quality, make them an essential to Bass & Allsopp. They will fetch eight guineas per cwt., when the best Jones's can only reach £5 10s. The pale ale brewers use some of the richest of the latter sort; but still they work almost entirely on Goldings and Bavanes. Jones's, which are always the first ready for picking, grow best in the Weald of Kent and Sussex. They are not prolific, but the best sorts have quality enough even for the Burton business. Grapes press them hard in point of early picking, and are the largest sort of all; while Colgates are the latest and the smallest, and are sometimes sold at from 6d. to 8d. per bushel. In point of production they are almost unlimited on good land, and if they are late picked and well-conditioned, Barclay & Perkins rejoice in them. In fact, as a general thing, brown hops and black malt are the wedded pair in porter."
"The Gentleman's magazine, 1868, Volume 1", 1868, pages 534 - 536.
The regions where hops are grown in Britain has changed little over the years. Kent has for centuries been the most important, producing more than 50% of the total crop. The neighbouring counties of Sussex and Surrey accounted for most of the rest. As this table shows:

Hop duty, acres of hops by district 1848

cwt hops
% of crop


North Clays
rest of Britain
"An Historical Account of the Malt Trade and Laws" by William Ford, London, 1849, page 229
Weight of hops calculated for duty paid, based on a rate of 19s 7.5d per cwt.

The weights given for a pocket and a bag are only approximate. A pocket could be as much as 2 cwt. Depending on the ratio of volume to weight of the hops.

There's some very handy information about the varieties grown in the different regions:

Sussex: Grape, Jones, and Colgate
Weald of Kent: Jones
Mid Kent: Goldings
East Kent: Goldings

Here's another source on the varieties grown in various locations:
"With regard to new hop-grounds, planters in the Mid and East Kent, and the Farnham districts, are now, as a rule, planting only the very best sorts, such as Goldings and Golding Grapes, Whitebine Grapes, or noted varieties of these kinds. In the Weald of Kent, in Sussex, Worcester, and Hereford, Grapes, Jones', and Mathons, are usually planted. Colegates are not now esteemed; for though they are heavy croppers, and not so liable to blight or mould as the more choice sorts, they are coarse, and have a rank smell resembling somewhat that of new inferior Americans. In some parts of Kent and Sussex, Colegates produce as much as from 20 to 30 cwt. per acre in a kindly year; but in spite of this they are not planted to any great extent"
"The Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England", 1870, page 340. 

Bass and Allsopp preferred Goldings from East and Mid Kent. No big surprise there. They were the best quality hops. Using them in high-quality Pale Ales is pretty logical. Whereas Barclay & Perkins preferred Colgates for their Porter. Interesting that, because they don't appear to have been the most highly-regarded hops.

Just to give an indication of the differing prices for hops grown in different regions, here's a market report from a couple of decades earlier:

Hop Markets
Borough, Monday, Nov 23
Prices remain stationery at our last quotations. There has been some demand for Sussex, while other kinds are neglected.

Farnhams 105s. to 136s.
Country 100s. to 120s.
Mid Kent 90s. to 110s.
Wealds 80s. to 90s.
Essex 90s. to 126s.
Sussex 76s. to 86s.
Worcester, low 63s. to 70s.
Worcester, general class 75s. to  88s.
Worcester, very choice 90s. to 92s.

"British farmer's magazine" 1847, page 708.
Borough, of course, is  the area of London just south of the river where all the hop trading took place.

I wonder what the hell thimming and nidgetting are?


Tim said...

Ron, Project Gutenberg has an issue of The Economist from 1843. There are some interesting bits about the Borough Hop Market as well as the Corn Exchange (includes all grains).

Martyn Cornell said...

Don't know about "thimming" but the Oxford English Dictionary says a nidget is "a triangular horse-hoe, used to clear the ground between rows of hops or beans." Not sure how that fits in with the context …

Sussex has no brand - later, at least, Sussex hop-growers used the "six martlets" from the Sussex county arms on their hop pockets.

Arctic Alchemy said...

"Thimming" could be either Trimming or Thinning as a typo or some other extraction of the word , just a thought.

Duncan from Folkestone said...

And Borough is the home of the Hop Exchange - a homage to the hop bine in steel.