When Londoners hopped on a train for a working holiday

By Geoff Courtney

A FEATURE of postwar life in Kent that brought tens of thousands of Londoners to the county but is now a distant memory is to be recalled by the Kent & East Sussex Railway at a steam gala weekend on September 9-10.

The catalyst for the arrival of the capital’s East Enders was the late-summer hop-picking season, which saw some 200,000 mainly women and children cram into special trains from London Bridge to enjoy what was for many their only holiday of the year but in reality was hard graft living in poor temporary accommodation.

Homeward bound: With a hop farm in the background, the platform at Junction Road Halt on the Kent & East Sussex Railway is crowded with hop-pickers and their families on October 2, 1954, as the 11.10am Bodiam to London Bridge via Robertsbridge special pulls in to return them home at the end of the season. Heading the train bunker first is A1X ‘Terrier’ No. 32678, with fellow class member No. 32655 out of sight at the rear providing assistance with the heavy train, as double-heading was not allowed due to bridge weight restrictions. The line had closed to passengers the previous January, but hop-pickers’ specials were run until 1958. INSET: Minutes later, No. 32678 pulls the packed train out of Junction Road Halt. This loco survives in preservation and will feature in a hop-pickers’ gala on the restored KESR on September 9-10.N W SPINKS

The KESR was one of the lines at the heart of this annual exodus from the capital, due to the sheer volume of hops – Kent’s most important crop at the time – being grown along the Rother valley and at the Guinness farms at Bodiam, which had 850 acres under hops.

Mum and the kids, who were often joined by their menfolk at weekends, lived in huts or sheds on the farms, slept on straw-filled mattresses, cooked over fires outside, and washed themselves and their clothing in nearby streams.

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