Hop Picking Ministry

families hop pickingDuring the early part of the 20th Century thousands of families would flee the poverty of the east-end of London to go hop-picking. Hops, prized by the brewers, were at that time one of the country’s most important crop. The hop-picking season, which ran throughout September and October each year, was often referred to as the "Londoner's holiday" and for many of them it was the nearest they came to a holiday. It was also fondly known as the annual "hop". It was often the only opportunity for children to run about, breathe air uncontaminated by factory waste and smoke and watch the sun go down.

Families would receive hop cards, through the post, allocating them a place on a particular farm, these places were fiercely fought over and a black market developed in stolen and forged cards. Farmers would send invites out to the same families each year and often whole streets would decamp en masse.

Once there they would sleep in sheds, sleeping on straw stuffed mattresses, cooking on fires outdoors, with farmers providing fruit and vegetables.

Gypsy familyThe pickers were paid in bushels and during the 1930s and 1940s a family working hard could earn £40, the equivalent of 10 weeks' pay for an average man.

Other hop pickers were gypsies and other travellers who would travel around taking work wherever it was available, often following the agricultural calendar. As well as much needed work it was also an opportunity to meet up with family and friends who they may not have seen for many months.

Church Army would visit the different farms during the hops picking season, talking to the pickers, putting on slide shows, magic lantern shows and latterly film shows, which the pickers would watch during their breaks and in the evenings. At one stage Church Army had a fleet of 62 vans that would visit the hop gardens, strawberry fields and fruit orchards during harvesting.

By the 1960s the picking industry had become mechanised so this area of ministry came to an end.

Read Sister Helen Foster's story

Read Sister Joan Hudspeth's story