When London families spent their summers picking hops in the countryside

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.