most of this work is undertaken by specialist picking machines or
by foreign students who are accommodated in bunkhouses on the farms.
In previous times it was the Gypsy Travellers who provided much of
this workforce, moving from farm to farm throughout the summer picking
cherries, strawberries, blackcurrants, peas and beans.
Then in September it was hop picking followed by top fruit and finally
potato picking-up before finding a place to stop for the winter.
it was Kent's most famous crop, the hop, that required the biggest
army of temporary workers. It had been introduced to the county
during the 16th century and by 1724 there were 6,000 acres of hop
gardens in East Kent alone.
In common with many crops, they needed special attention at certain
times so it was not just at picking time that hop growers required
Hops don't naturally find their way up the strings and so in springtime
the new shoots have to be 'trained' or 'twiddled' to encourage them
This was a considerable task that had to be undertaken within a
comparatively short period and it came at a time in the spring when
there was much else to be done on the farm, keeping the locals busy.
So across the county, the Travellers pulled on to the hop farms
to do this first seasonal job of the year that required an additional
it came to harvesting the bines an even bigger workforce was required
and although it is well known that Eastenders from London came in
their droves for the annual hopping, at the end of the last century
they only represented a third of the 250,000 necessary pickers.
In addition to the 'home dwellers', the bulk of the rest were itinerants
and Travellers from as far afield as Ireland. For the local Romany
Gypsies hopping was it was an important source of income.
glorious days of hand hop picking finally came to an end during
the 1960's after a period of intensive agricultural mechanisation
that had begun during the second world war.