When London families spent their summers picking hops in the countryside

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London's hop-pickers from the early 1900s
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London's hop-pickers from the early 1900s
Hop pickers using stilts on a farm at Wateringbury in Kent, August 1928. (Photo by Crouch/Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Hop picking usually begins around September in Kent, England when crowds of pickers travel down from London. These hop pickers are at work at Whitbreads Farm at Beltring, Kent. (Photo by � Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
7th September 1907: A family of hop pickers stand beside their cart which is packed and ready to go. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Agriculture - Hops and Hop �picking: Hop picker 'sit down' strikes at May's, E. Farleigh. September 1945 P004547 (Photo by WATFORD/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Hop pickers arrive on the train from London to help harvest this year's crop. This family are shown leaving Paddock Wood station heading off to the hop fields - note the carpet! Paddock Wood remains the centre of hop growing in Kent and is home to 'The Hop Farm', a local museum attraction. 3rd September 1942. (Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
circa 1900: People picking hops in Kent. (Photo by F J Mortimer/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 01: The Portrait Of A Romany Hop Picker In The Fields In England Europe (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
circa 1910: Hop pickers in a camp in the Kentish hop fields. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 04: Hop picking, 1935. A photograph of a group of hop pickers, taken by Malindine for the Daily Herald newspaper on 29 August, 1935. The pickers are working at Whitbreads Farm, Paddock Wood, Kent. Each year, thousands of men, women and children would migrate from London to Kent to help with the hop harvest, which lasted for about four weeks from the end of August. By the 1960s, machines had removed the necessity for hand-picking hops. This photograph has been selected from the Daily Herald Archive, a collection of over three million photographs. The archive holds work of international, national and local importance by both staff and agency photographers. (Photo by Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)
Londoners spend their holidays picking hops in the Kent countryside, 22nd September 1951. Original Publication : Picture Post - 5413 - Hopping Holiday - pub. 1951 (Photo by Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
circa 1910: A group of women hop picking with special large sacks supported by poles to collect the hops in. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
21st September 1932: Hop Pickers at the Hop Pickers camp in Faversham, Kent. Most of the labourers are townsfolk who combine business with pleasure and treat the work as a month's holiday away in the country. (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 02: Young hop picker, 31 August 1937. A photograph of a young hop picker garlanded with hops, taken by Malindine for the Daily Herald newspaper. The photograph was taken at Whitbread's Hop Farm, Beltring, Kent, where 5,000 pickers were camped. Each year, thousands of men, women and children migrated from London to Kent to help with the hop harvest. Hop picking lasted for about four weeks from the end of August. By the 1960s, machines had removed the necessity for hand-picking hops. This photograph has been selected from the Daily Herald Archive, a collection of over three million photographs. The archive holds work of international, national and local importance by both staff and agency photographers. (Photo by Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)
7th September 1936: Salvation Army workers looking after the children of some of the hop pickers at a creche in a make-shift tent. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
29th August 1937: A woman preparing a meal for hop pickers at the Whitbread hop camp in Paddock Wood, Kent. (Photo by Fred Morley/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
7th September 1938: A group of young hop pickers enjoy glasses of milk from a milk bar near the fields in Kent. (Photo by Fred Morley/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
23rd August 1944: M Clark prepares lunch for a hop picking family from Bermondsey, London, in front of a row of oast-houses in Kent. (Photo by Harry Shepherd/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
27th August 1949: Hop pickers moving furniture into their summer quarters at Buston Manor nr Maidstone, Kent. (Photo by Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Hop picker Iris Sullivan at work in the Kent countryside. In the background are the oasthouses 2nd September 1954 (Photo by Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
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The flowers of the hop plant have been used in the brewing of beer for centuries. First introduced to the UK from continental Europe in the 16th century by Dutch farmers, hops soon became the most important crop of the Kent area.

A trailing plant, the hop plant is trained to grow up strings between poles, and tended to by workers on stilts.

The harvesting of hops was highly labor intensive, requiring more workers than the local population could supply. Whole families from the poorer areas of London would migrate to the hop fields of southeast England at harvest time.

By 1870, special trains were being run to transport families to the hop fields. Londoners who could not afford to get out into the country normally looked on harvest time as something of a holiday.

On arrival, though, conditions were squalid. Families lived in barns, tents, stables, even pigsties. Hygiene was poor and disease spread — in 1849 cholera killed 43 hop pickers on a single farm.

In the 1860s, two priests began to visit the hop fields and campaign for improved conditions, eventually forming the Society for Employment and Improved Lodgings for Hop Pickers in 1866. One of the priests had a team of twelve missionaries by 1889.

Hop pickers were gradually given improved accommodation in "Hopper Huts," rudimentary timber or brick shacks.

In the 1950s, mechanized harvesting began replacing laborers on hop farms and the tradition declined. The Hopper Huts were demolished or turned into houses, though some were preserved in museums.

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