Sunday, 10 April 2011

The Hop-picking Muddle

A multitude of problems faced Britain's brewers during WW II. It wasn't just shortage of materials. There was also a shortage of manpower, caused by young men being conscripted into the armed forces. And the lack of labour itself could cause problems in the raw materials supply. As this text demonstrates.


Last month we gave warning of the likelihood of a shortage of pickers, and put out the suggestion that men whose training in the Army has been completed would gain health and pecuniary benefit by a few weeks' change of occupation in the Kentish hopfields. We understand that in the first week of the present month the appropriate authorities were approached with a view to this aid being given. By that date the shortage of pickers had become a serious menace to the garnering of a full crop. On the 6th inst. the Hops Marketing Board issued, in advertisement form, an appeal for pickers required in every hopgarden in Kent, and asking those willing to pick hops for a period of not less than one week to apply to them for particulars.

Shortly before this date brewers owning hopfields wisely placed in the public bars of their licensed houses appropriate notices telling pickers to where they should proceed, their rates of pay, and other details. In the case it was intimated that parties of 20 or more would be transported free, and that those who proceeded singly would have their fares refunded. Likewise the services of the B.B.C. were enlisted for the issuing of a broadcast appeal on the 7th instant, making it clear that no official permit was necessary to enter the hop-picking area. These efforts are praiseworthy, even if belated. The shortage of pickers should have been foreseen earlier and the situation coped with by organised publicity, combined with assurances for the safety of the workers, the increased rates of pay allowed, and giving full details, such as that huts, fuel and water were provided free and that provision stores were available in  most camps. Blame for the muddle cannot well be placed at anyone's door, but it is a grave paradox that at the very time when the Ministry of Labour announced that there were nearly 800,000 unemployed persons in this country hop-growers should be clamouring for pickers, often in vain.
"The Brewers' Journal 1940" page 664. (Published September 1940.) pages 720 - 721.

The arrangements seem very generous: free transport, accommodation and fuel, good wages. But hang on a minute, we're talking about Kent, late in the summer of 1940. Wasn't there something going on then? I remember: the Battle of Britain. They'd have been picking hops while an air battle raged in the skies above. Odd, isn't it, that there's no mention of the battle in the report?

Who usually did the hop-picking? East End families, looking for a cheap holiday in the countryside. I can understand why cockney matrons might have been reluctant to put their kids under the guns of the Germans. Is that why they looked for alternative sources of labour?

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