Not always ‘fond memories’ of hop-picking in the 1950s

The article by Geoff Courtney in last month’s issue on the Kent & East Sussex Railway’s hop-pickers’ gala in September brought back memories of when I went down to Kent for many years as a youngster in the early 1950s.

From the age of six to around 11, when I lived in Walworth, I travelled by train with my mum, grandmother, two sisters and an aunt, from London Bridge to Tonbridge, where we were met by the farmer who took us by an open-back lorry to Golden Green, near Paddock Wood. It was our annual holiday and we stayed for three weeks from late-August, and dad came down at weekends.

Terrier in support: Class A1X ‘Terrier’ No. 32655 provides assistance at the rear of a hop-pickers’ train departing from Junction Road Halt on the Kent & East Sussex Railway on October 2, 1954. Another member of the class, No. 32678, has already rounded the curve at the head of the packed and heavy train on its way to Robertsbridge, where a main line locomotive will take the hop-pickers onward to London Bridge. NW SPINKS

We stayed in huts on the farm with hundreds of other pickers. There was no electricity or gas, and we cooked on open fires, had oil lamps, and slept on straw-filled mattresses on a concrete floor. There was a washhouse with baths.

We kids helped with the picking – which was very messy and stained our hands – but we were also free to roam and play. At the end of each day the tally-man came round to weigh what each family had picked, and the hops were taken off to the oast house by horse and cart. If we wanted a cuppa during the day we built a fire in the hop field.

If you add bad weather to the living conditions it could be grim, and I wouldn’t say I recall the times with fond memories, although occasionally it was fun and I have retained some nostalgia for the area.

Carole Lambert, email

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