Memories of Wakeley’s Hop Gardens
Hop picking dates back hundreds of years in the area with hop gardens and oasthouses once scattered around the locality. Oasthouses still exist at Moor Street Farm, by Rainham railway station and just off the high street although these are no longer used for storage of hops but for other purposes. Although hop picking is now just something from the past 92 year old Marj Lacy from Bradshaw Close in Upchurch still has vivid memories of the hop picking season on those damp and misty autumn days of eighty years ago in Hartlip and Upchurch.
“I started when I was ten years old back in the 1930s and went hop picking with my brother and two cousins at Wakeleys’ hop garden in Hartlip. We shared a bin between us and picked into half bushel baskets which we tipped into the bin. I went picking to buy a new school uniform for myself each year. I earned about fifteen shillings a week and picked for the whole season which lasted for about five weeks starting in September. I worked in the Hartlip hop garden for four years and remember Seymour Wakeley from Rainham inspecting the picking and overseeing the payment of wages at the end of each week.
I worked at ‘Seventeen Acres’ hop garden in Oak Lane during the 1940s. Pickers from Upchurch brought their own equipment consisting of a stool and picking basket. Some pickers brought their equipment in a baby’s pram while others visited the workplace the night before to see which row they had been allocated.
Many Upchurch residents worked in ‘Seventeen Acres’ like Ellen Boast and Win Wraight from The Street, Mrs Goodall and Elsie Waters from Oak Lane and Win Edmonds and Molly Bass from Drakes Close. Mrs Neame from The Street Stores also came with volunteers to raise money for the Darby and Joan Club. Meanwhile, Mr Oldland, the foreman from Rainham, organised the pickers who came by bus from Chatham and brought their children with them while Brian Wakeley from Forge Lane in Upchurch often inspected the picking. Other visitors included a man with a basket of doughnuts and another on a horse and cart selling sweets. The pickers brought tins which were hung on a wire with a hook above a fire for making tea which they drank while they worked. Official tea breaks didn’t exist.
The pickers were paid per basket and chose the hours they worked although the usual working day began at 7 a.m. and finished at 4 p.m. A lunch break took place for one hour. The work was pleasant but the hops that dropped on the ground had to be picked up. This was the hardest work. I didn’t only do picking, I also did stringing and training. The hop bins were collected early afternoon by horse and cart and taken to Moor Street oasthouse situated nearby or to the Station Road oasthouse in Rainham for drying. At the end of a working day I returned home, did the cooking and housework and looked after my two daughters. I thought nothing of it in those days.
The last day of the season was usually a fun day when pickers arrived in fancy dress, had a good laugh and played tricks on each other. On one occasion my mother was put into a sack which was then tied up. I really miss hop picking, it was marvellous.”