The West Midlands and Kent are the two traditional hop-growing areas of England. In the former, Herefordshire and Worcestershire were where the crop was, and still is, grown. The Vale of Evesham is not normally associated with hop production, but it was grown to some extent in the 18th and 19th centuries. There are various references to hops in Badsey and Aldington, but only a couple of mentions of the crop being grown in Wickhamford. In a parish with a history of the growing of a vast array of arable and horticultural crops and types of orchard, the short period of hop growing is probably not recognised.
The date of the first plantings in the West Midlands has never been established, but it is likely to be prior to 1636, for in that year there was a reference to a field in Littleton, Worcestershire, which was named ‘The Hopyard’, according to the British Hop Association. The same source also states that “The present system of supporting the growing bine on a lattice of wirework was introduced by two Worcestershire growers as long ago as 1865. A kiln patented by another Worcester grower before 1880 left in the hops ‘a higher percentage of oil, resin and bitter principle’ than was customary at the time”.
William Mason’s recollections
William Mason was born in Badsey, in 1899 and lived, in his youth, with his parents, John and Elizabeth, at The Elms, Manor Road, Wickhamford. He was interviewed about his early memories of the village by the vicar, Peter Braby, in the 1960s or 1970s and he mentioned hop growing in Wickhamford. According to William, hop yards were located on the Wickhamford Manor side of Golden Lane, in the Manor grounds ‘where kitchens are now’ and along Wickhamford Lane, where Manor cottages were later built. This would have comprised quite a few acres of hops in total, but by the time of the Land Valuation Survey just before the Great War, none were recorded in the village. It is probable that William was recording not only his own memories but those of his parents in the interview with Reverend Braby, as a number of other comments appear to pre-date his own life.
Kelly’s Directory of 1896
This edition of the trade directory mentions that hops were being grown by John Pope, farm bailiff to Joseph Pope. The former lived at Wickhamford Manor at the time of the 1891 census and was described as a farmer.
Hop-pickers in the parish register
The task of cutting down hop bines and removing the hops for drying would have been labour intensive and seasonal labour would have been required. Families would have come down for the harvest from the industrial towns around Birmingham and the parish Baptismal Register entry of 27th September 1885 recorded one such visit. Diana Blakemore was baptised by Reverend Hunt and her father was George Blakemore of 6 Pickett Street, Warwick. The Vicar was bemused by the mother’s Christian name and entered ‘Lemataine?’ in the register. They were recorded as ‘Hop pickers at Mr Pope’. The casual pickers had to be accommodated near the hops and one place available was the ‘Great Stone Barn’ next to the Manor and the Church. This could have housed a good number of pickers during the harvest. If not, then temporary accommodation in the form of tents and sheds would have had to be erected. Wickhamford residents may also have been involved in the picking, as their other seasonal work ended in the Autumn. They may also have provided accommodation for visiting workers in their cottages, to generate extra cash.
School children assist with hop-picking
For the years 1896-1901 inclusive, the Badsey School Log Book reveals that some pupils were absent from school for a period in September in order to help with the hop-picking.
- 28 Sep 1896 – School reopened after 5 weeks holiday, the holidays having been prolonged 2 weeks on account of the hop-picking not being completed.
- 27 Sep 1897 – In consequence of the hops not being all gathered, the school holidays have been extended for another week.
- 2 Sep 1898 – At the Board meeting held on Thurs evening, it was decided to close school for the harvest holiday from Monday next, 5th, until Monday 3rd October. Hop-picking commenced on Fri 2 at Wickhamford, and nearly all the children from that district were absent from school on that day.
- 7 Oct 1898 – Reopened on Monday 3rd. Hop-picking not being finished, the attendance for the first half of the week was only fair, average attendance 118.
- 5 Oct 1900 – Reopened on Mon 1st, only 90 children present, average attendance 119.7. A great many children were away at the beginning of the week hop-picking.
- 7 Oct 1901 – On account of the hop-picking, the holidays have been extended for one week.
In Kent, oast houses are traditionally used to dry hops prior to their use in the brewing industry. This type of building does not feature in the West Midlands, so where were Mr Pope’s hops dried? In Evesham, six hop kilns are known to have been present in Brick-kiln Street since the middle of the 18th century and several of the town’s breweries were in that area. It is likely that John Pope’s hops were carried to Evesham for drying by cart, via Wickhamford Lane.
The name of this short road from the Manor to Willersey Road, is probably one used only since the early 20th century, as it does not appear in any earlier documents. One of the most widely grown varieties of hops is a long established one called ‘Goldings’. As the hop yards were alongside this road it is not inconceivable that is was originally referred to by the locals as ‘Goldings Lane’?
Hops in Wickhamford – a short lived enterprise?
Arthur Savory, who moved to Aldington Manor in 1873, went on to buy land in Badsey and introduced hop-growing to the area. He employed about 300 people, mostly women and children, on a seasonal basis and the hops were dried in kilns he made by adapting a building by the Manor. John Pearce Pope moved into Wickhamford Manor in the early 1880s and may have been influenced by Arthur Savory’s enterprise and started to grow hops at this time. He left Wickhamford at around 1900; 1901 appears to have been the last year in which hops were picked.
Footnote:- Hop pickers altercation
On 5th October 1895, The Evesham Standard reported on a Magistrates Court case involving hop pickers in Wickhamford. Annie Hampton, wife of William Hampton of Littleworth Street, Evesham, was summoned by Emma Walcroft, of Merstow Green, for using threats in Wickhamford on 10th September.
Emma stated that she and the defendant were picking hops for Mr. Pope. Emma's parents were quarrelling and Emma said that Annie Hampton told her father what to say to her mother and called her "a --------little cat". Emma then threatened Annie, to "break her neck and shake the life out of her". Annie felt in danger of her life. According to witnesses, the real cause of the row was that Emma had called Annie's father "a gentleman". William Winnett, Annie's father, stated that it was an insult to call him a gentleman.
The case was dismissed, each party having to pay their own costs, which amounted to 3s.
Tom Locke – June 2020 (footnote added Feb. 2021)