It’s not long now until the hops will be harvested, but back in April the hop shoots had to be trained up their strings. In the Puttenham hop fields of Hampton Estate, volunteers selected the best-looking shoots and carefully twiddled and twirled them onto a string. It was a very warm day and with hundreds of bines to do it was hard work in the heat. The volunteers paused for a break by a shepherd hut with their packed lunches. The relaxed scene caught my eye.
It is perhaps reminiscent of an era gone by, from the late 17th Century through to the middle of the 20th Century, when many more volunteers would have been required to work various jobs throughout the year in the numerous hop fields around Farnham. In fact, in the late 18th Century, Farnham rivalled Kent and Sussex for the amount and quality of hops grown in the area. Apparently, at the time, Farnham hops sold at £9-11 for a 240 lb bag compared to £7-9 for hops from Kent and Sussex (Oast and Hop Kiln History).
A couple of volunteers in the photograph are connected to this history. Dawn Harper (left, in cap) and Karen Allen (far right) grew up in the village of Puttenham and are second generation hop pickers/trainers. Their families worked in the hop fields in the 1940s and there are pictures on the wall in the Good Intent pub in Puttenham that show them at work.
In a few short weeks the hops will be separated from their bines and shipped off to various brewers. Hampton Estate specializes in the traditional ‘Fuggle’ hop. If you take a look at the hops in your British beer or ale and see ‘Fuggle’ on the list, they may have come from Hampton Estate.
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