Hop Fields of the Felbridge Area

Hop Fields of the Felbridge Area


Hop growing has been practised in the South of England since the 15th century. Initially the hop was used for medicinal purposes but from the middle of the 16th century hops were used increasingly for beer, eventually replacing English ale that was traditionally made from herbs and spices. Although there is little documented evidence of hop growing in the Felbridge area, and little physical evidence, it is logical to conclude that hops were grown here for several reasons. The area had a good supply of wood for hop poles and for charcoal for drying. The soil was suitable for hop growing and hop growing could be highly profitable, after the initial outlay for the hop garden. There was a demand for hops in local and home brewing, and any surplus could go the London markets that were in easy reach for selling. Proof that hop growing was practised in the area can be found in the field names of the area, Tithe apportionments and the schedules of property sales where the use of the fields is indicated.

Unfortunately, identifying the names of people in the local hop industry is almost impossible as the season of harvest was short and they would have held alternative employment at the time of year that the census information would have been recorded. There were many hop related occupations, like the hop master who was generally employed to over see the business, and the hop picker, measurer and tally man who only operated during the few weeks of picking. Then there was the hop dryer who was responsible for ensuring the harvested hops were dried efficiently and evenly, and the bagster who had the job of compacting the dried hops into the pockets. Finally, when marketing the hops there was the hop sampler who determined the quality and price, and of course the hop merchant or dealer who made the final purchase.

Based on the information gleaned from old field names, Tithe details, sale schedules and the occasional mention of hop related occupations it is possible to determine where hops were grown, who grew them, calculate the rise and fall of the hop industry in the Felbridge area and even find remnants of the hops themselves.

The Hop

The hop, Humulus lupulus, is a member of the Cannabinaceae family of plants, which also includes cannabis and hemp and is a distant relative of the nettle and elm families. Being a member of the cannabis family may explain the relaxing effect that hops have, for they have been used as an herb against insomnia for many centuries. The hop is a herbaceous hardy perennial, and has two root systems, one going down to a depth of five feet and another set growing radially outwards by about the same amount. The plant dies back every year and can live for over twenty years. In the spring the hop produces new shoots that climb, twining clockwise up their chosen support, clinging with tiny hairs on the stem and backs of the leaves. In hop fields the hop will climb to over twenty feet but in the wild it creeps along the ground and twines itself over hedges and thickets.

Hop plants like a shady, moist position where they can grow into the light and in the wild will climb trees and hedges, whilst in the hop garden they will climb the supplied poles or string. The hop is diocious, which means there are two separate plants, one that bears only male flowers and one that bears only female flowers. The female flowers are much larger than the male flowers and are made up of many scale-like bracts. The male flowers, although smaller, make up for their lack of size by producing large quantities of pollen. This means that the female flowers are easily pollinated and produce many tiny seeds. In the wild, the hop behaves like a bramble and its vigorous growth is due to the fact that the hop can spread by both its root system and seed, and this may account for the hops still found in a few hedgerows around Felbridge to this day. However, when commercially grown there is no need for the seed, so in the past it was customary to plant one male for every hundred female plants. The female hop cones bear glands that contain resins and oils; both considered important ingredients for beer. The resin provides the bitterness and preservative qualities and the oils delicately flavour the beer, giving it its characteristic aroma.

Hop Growing up to the end of the 17th Century

Hops originated in Asia and the earliest recorded reference to the hop was in the 6th century BC. Later, in the 1st century AD, Pliny referred to the hop both for its vigorous growth and also for a delicacy prepared from young hop shoots. There are also records of cultivated monastic hop gardens in France and Germany in the 7th and 9th centuries. By the 12th century there are many references for their useful medicinal properties and their value in flavouring and preserving beverages. In Germany, by the 13th century, land was devoted to growing hops for beer and this practise had spread to the Netherlands by the 14th century. It is also believed that hops were grown in England by this period, but only as herbs.

It is generally believed that beer made from hops arrived in England in 1400, in a consignment of goods ordered by the Dutch merchants living here who preferred their native hop-flavoured beer to the thick sweet strong English ale flavoured with herbs and spices. English ale was produced without the addition of hops and relied on herbs and spices to give flavour and had to be consumed fairly quickly before deteriorating. It came in two forms, strong or good, and small or common. The ale had to be brewed very strong to stand a chance of keeping as no preservatives were added. The small or common ale was for immediate consumption as it was made by adding a fresh volume of water to the wort, (the residue left after the strong ale had been drained off), to make a second ale. Samuel Pepys recorded an early British recipe for ale in 1644, which was called Mum-Ale. This was made of wheat and oats and flavoured with ‘the inner rind of the fir, fir and birch tops’ and ‘Rosa Solis’ which was made from ‘Burnet, Betony, Marjoram, Avens, Penny Royal, Elder Flowers and Thyme’. Also added was ‘the same amount of Cardus Benedicts, a pinch of cardamom and bay berries’. Other commonly used herbs included:

Alecost Chrysanthemum balsamita
Alehoof Glechoma hereracea
Betony Stachys officinalis
Bog Myrtle Myrica gale
Buck Bean (Bog Bean) Menyanthes trifoliata
Centuary Centaurium minus or Gentiana centaurium
Comfrey Symphytum officinale
Dandelion Taraxacum officinale
Elecampane Inula helenium
Eyebright Euphrasia officinalis
Horehound Marrubium vulgare
Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis
Lavender Lavandula vera
Marjoram Origanum vulgare
Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris
Nettle Irtica dioica
Pennyroyal Mentha pulegium
Sage Salvia officinalis
Sloes/Blackthorn Prunus spinosa
Tansy Tanacetum vulgare
Woodruff Asperula odorata
Wood Sage Teucrium scorodonia
Wormwood Artemesia absinthium or Absinthium vulgare
Yarrow Achillea millefolium

Commonly used spices included Juniper berries, coriander seed, nutmeg, mace, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, lime blossom and orange peel. To give an extra intoxicating potency herbs with narcotic properties were used. These included Darnel Lolium temulentum, Melilot Melilotus altissima and Thorn Apple Datura stramomium. Herbs and spices were infused one at a time, either for 30 minutes when the ale was still warm, or for about 30 minutes before drinking. A combination of flavourings could be used for normal ales, however, when making the extra potent ale only one narcotic herb could be used at a time, failure to follow this rule could have disastrous results.

It has been suggested that during the reign of Henry VI many major towns tried to prevent the use of hops in brewing beer. However, by the beginning of the 16th century beer was gaining ground and there is a recipe from 1514 using hops, although it is thought that they were probably used to clarify and as a preservative, rather than for flavour.

The first English hop field was created in 1520 in Kent, which was to become the centre of hop growing in Britain, although, until the mid 19th century, hops could be found in most counties in England with even a few in Scotland and Wales. There are several reasons for the establishment of the hop industry in Kent, firstly the enclosed field system of farming was already in operation there, the soils were suitable, and there was a good supply of wood for poles and for charcoal for drying. Furthermore, Kent farmers were amongst the most prosperous of the time and could afford the initial high investment of establishing the hop gardens. Many Flemish weavers had also settled in this area of Britain and they were able to offer advice to local growers. Eventually, between 1549 and 1553, the government brought in experts from the Netherlands to advise English farmers on the techniques of hop growing.

Hops proved to be such a profitable crop that legislation had to be brought in to prevent farmers from abandoning arable farming in favour of hops. With the increase of hop growing came an increase in the demand for coppice wood for hop poles and oak for casks, most of which were exported, mainly to the Netherlands. It is from this date that plans for timber conservation were introduced to prevent the demise of the English woodland as an important resource. It should also be noted that the Dutch influence in the trade still survives with terms like ‘kilderkin’ and ‘firkin’ for casks of 18 and 9 gallons (82 and 41 litres).

The first English book to be published on hop growing was by Reynolde Scot in 1574 entitled ‘A Perfite Platform of a Hoppe Garden’. This made a major contribution to the English hop industry, helping to establish and extend hop growing in Kent and other counties. The book outlined in detail, with woodcut illustrations, every stage in the cultivation of hops, which has remained little changed until the present day. He described how to prepare the ground, making it level and flat. He calculated that for every acre you could create up to nine hundred hills, (a flat topped mound about three feet across), onto which to plant hops. Two or three roots of hops were planted in a hole about one foot square and one foot deep. These holes were to be eight to nine feet apart to allow the hops plenty of light and air; this is still common today. He advised that the poles, cut from alder, should be erected as soon as the hops appeared above ground, at a rate of three or four to a hill. The poles were to be nine to ten inches round and no more than fifteen to sixteen feet long. They were to be placed two to three inches from the principal root and were to be sunk up to eighteen inches into the ground, set leaning slightly outwards.

The hops were then tied to the poles with rush or grass, ‘directing them alwayes according to the course of the sunne’. From then until harvest the ground was to be kept weed free. Harvesting the hops was carried out after Michaelmas Day - 29th September, although this varied from area to area. (Nowadays it is reckoned that 6th September is the time to harvest in this area). The hops were gathered into blankets or baskets to be carried to oasts for drying. Practising this method, Scott calculated that you would get at least three pounds of hops per hill, so an acre could produce between 2100 lbs. and 2700 lbs., (just short of 19 cwt to just over 24 cwt). One hundred pounds of hops was then worth about 26s 8d (about £1.33 per cwt.), so one acre, minus costs, would yield an average ‘forty markes’ - about £37.

Shortly after the publication of Scot’s book on hops, John Gerard published his work ‘Of the Historie of Plants’. In this book Gerard notes the ‘vertues’ of the hop: ‘The buds or first sprouts which come forth in the Spring are used to be eaten in sallads; yet are they, as Pliny saith, more toothsome than nourishing, for they yeeld but very small nourishment. The floures are used to season Beere or Ale with, and too many do cause bitterness thereof, and are ill for the head. The floures make bread light, and the lumpe to be sooner and easilier leavened, if the meale be tempered with liquor wherein they have been boiled. The manifold vertues of Hops do manifest argue the wholesomeness of beere above ale; for the hops rather make it a physicall drinke to keepe the body in health, than an ordinary drinke for the quenching of our thirst’. Nicholas Culpepper, also writing around the same time, backs up the virtues of hops as outlined by Gerard, as well as adding a few more, and concludes: ‘By all these testimonies beer appears to be better than ale’.

Towards the end of the 16th century, ale was described as ‘thick and fulsome, and no longer popular except with a few’. With the acceptance of beer as a beverage, hop growing spread rapidly throughout Britain. The appearance of hop grounds changed during the 17th century when the hills were reduced in size by as much as a half. They were manured with dung, soap ashes and bracken, all of which are rich in potash, an important nutrient for hops. Most manual work such as the dressing (planting and trimming out old woody growth) of the hills, hoeing, poling and tying was carried out by contract at an agreed price, usually about 40/- per acre, but the contract excluded pulling, picking, drying and bagging, which was charged by the day.

During the 17th century, an acre of good hops could bear 11 to 12cwt.and could fetch as much as £40 to £60. The dried hops were packed in 2¼cwt. bags and were initially sold at local fairs, the largest market being at Stourbridge, West Midlands. However, by the end of the 17th century a hop market had been established in London at Little Eastcheap, soon transferring to Borough Market in South East London. By 1655, hops were grown in fourteen counties, including Surrey and Sussex, and the London markets were easily accessible to the Southern counties. Popular varieties included Ruffles, Apple Pudding and Late Ripe Red Bines. Although no documented evidence has yet come to light, there is every possibility that hops were grown in the Felbridge area at this time. The map of Shawes and Hodgehorn Farm of 1763, refers to the ‘Old Hop Ground’ implying that hops had been growing there before the mid 1700’s, and may well have made their way to Borough Market.

Hop Growing in the 18th Century

In 1710, a duty was imposed on hops for the first time at a rate of 1d per pound. The Act also prohibited the use of any bittering ingredient other than hops in brewing beer. The actual duty imposed varied from year to year, and annual yields varied from 2 to 15cwt. per acre, according to weather, pests and diseases, so these factors contributed to great variations in revenue from hop duty. The consumption of hops during the 18th century was considerable and in some years more than a million barrels of beer were brewed in London and the suburbs alone. At that time, 4lbs. of hops were used per barrel, which is more than twice the amount used today. In 1774, to prevent frauds in marketing, an Act was passed that required the bags or pockets, in which hops were packed, to be marked with the year, place of growth and the grower’s name. In the late 18th century the popular varieties of hops that were grown were Williams hops from Farnham in Surrey, Jones hops, introduced in 1780, Farnham and Canterbury White Bines, and Golding hops.

In 1729-31, the acreage of hops per county was 6999a for Kent, 2477a for Sussex and 714a for Surrey, these yielded 747lb/a of hops for Kent and 522lb/a for Sussex and 871lb/a for Surrey. The low acreage for Surrey combined with the high yield would imply that farmers were more selective in their use of land for growing hops away from the centre of the hop growing industry.

The first reference to hop growing in the Felbridge area appears on the Bourd map commissioned by Edward Evelyn in 1748. This lists four fields growing hops. One at the Northern end of Wire Mill Lake, one to the West of and about half way down Woodcock Hill, one to the East of the main London road at the top of Woodcock Hill and one behind Park Cottages to the North of what is now Copthorne Road. The total area devoted to hop growing being 8 acres 2 roods and 39 perches. Another reference to hop growing can be found on the map of Shawes and Hodgehorn Farms of 1763. This outlines two fields ‘Old Hop Ground’ and ‘Hop Gardens’ situated to the East of what is now The Blacksmith’s Head at Newchapel, with a total of 2 acres and 14 perches. When added together, the total known acreage of hop related fields in the Felbridge area during the 18th century was 10 acres 1 rood and 13 perches. This would imply that the annual yield of hops for the Felbridge area would have been, on average, about 85cwt., producing a duty of about £39 13s 4d, and approximately 2,380 barrels of beer.

It is not known whether hops were used locally or taken to Borough Market, but in the early days all growers tried to be first to get their hops to market, for the earliest hops always fetched the most money. There is evidence from the accounts of Knight’s Carriers, who were operating in this area in the 18th century, that they were carrying hop poles, pokes (sacks of green hops containing about ten bushels) and stakes, as well as dried hops. The following is taken from their account books between 1760 and 1778:
5th August 1767: ‘Had 1 hundred and quart (125) on of hop faggots, from Master Turner of Ember Horn (Imberhorne)’.
14th January 1769: ‘Master Ellot (Elliot?), brought in 7 quarters of ots (oats) £4 11/- and 14 pounds of hops 16/-’. (Full name and location not yet identified).
1769: ‘Carried hop poles and stakes 12/- and hop poke 3/-’.
1772: ‘Sold to Master Holeman (Holman) 1 pocket of hops marked and weaghed 58 pounds’, (Thomas Holman owned lands at Burleigh Arches, Crawley Down, an area where over thirteen acres were devoted to hop growing).
16th December 1774: ‘Sold to Mater Holeman 1 pocket of hops – 104 pounds £3 12s 6d’. (This made the hops 8d a pound).
13th June 1776: ‘25 pounds of hopes (hops) 18s 9d’. (This made the hops 9d a pound).
7th February 1777: ‘Sold 139 pounds of hops £3 15/-’. (There must have been an abundance of hops this season or the hops sold were of poor quality as this value makes the hops 1d a pound!)
The several entries of hop carriage during months not associated with the harvest of hops implies that they were being stored in the area for sale at a later date.

Hop Growing in the 19th Century

The 19th century was the golden age of the hop industry. In 1800, there were 35,000 acres of hops in Britain, and by 1850, 50,000 acres. In 1724, Kent had 7,647a devoted to hops, which represented 33% of English and Welsh hop acreage, Sussex had 2,905a (12%) and Surrey had 736a (3%). By 1829, Kent had 19,909a (43%), Sussex had 7,730a (17%) and Surrey was listed as having no acreage at all. This would appear to show a massive growth and centralisation of the industry in Kent and Sussex areas. Surrey on the other hand has lost out to this centralisation, the Felbridge area is considered later and has much evidence to prove that the county of Surrey was producing hops, if only at the borders with Kent and Sussex.

At the beginning of the 19th century most of these hops were used in home brewing, which accounted for half the total consumption of the population, breweries did not take majority control until the end of the century. In 1830, The Beer Act was passed whereby any householder who paid rates could apply for a two-guinea excise licence to brew and sell beer on their premises. The Act was brought in to reduce the consumption of spirits by encouraging beer drinking, and within eight years almost 46,000 beer houses had been set up. Unfortunately, the well-intentioned aim of the Act did not succeed as people then started to drink both spirits and beer. Sidney Smith, writing at the time, stated that all the Act had done was create a nation ‘of drunks’, ‘those who are not singing are sprawling’, so in 1869 the Beer Act ended and the nation sobered up a little.

In 1862, the hop excise duty, which had averaged between 1½d and 2d per pound, was removed and by 1870 hops were cultivated in over 50 counties in Britain. Hop acreage reached its peak in 1878 with 71,789 acres, and then gradually declined. Popular varieties of hops grown during the 19th century included Colgate, Golden Tips, Canterbury Grape, Mayfield Grape, Jones, Cooper’s White, Amos Early Bird and Fuggle. However, profits from the industry were still erratic due to the weather, pests and diseases. New pest control systems were introduced including dusting with sulphur, soft soap solution, tobacco juice and quassia (a bitter substance obtained from the Quassia amara, a tree from tropical America). Changes were also made to the hop garden. By now chestnut was used for the poles and coppiced wood of any kind was expensive so a system of stringing was introduced to cut down on the amount of poles required by replacing them with coir strings for the hops to climb up. This cut the cost of a new hop garden from about £90 to £50 per acre, and it should be borne in mind that a hop garden had to be rejuvenated every ten to twelve years in areas where the soil was considered fertile and every six years for less fertile land.

The ‘golden age of hops’ in Kent amd Sussex was echoed in the Felbridge area during the 19th century. From the initial ten acres identified as growing hops in the 18th century, the area had risen four fold by the middle of the 19th century. Of the original six fields identified in the 18th century it has not been possible to identify whether the two fields shown on the Shawes and Hodgehorn map were still growing hops during the 19th century, although they were still listed as Hop Garden and Old Hop Garden. Unfortunately, the compiler of the Tandridge Tithe did not list hops as a separate crop, merely as arable, and both fields were listed as this. In every probability one or other was still in operation as a hop garden as there are references to two beer houses in the Newchapel area in the mid 19th century. One was called The Cherry Tree, now Cherry Tree House, West Park Road and the other was operating to the East of what is now the Blacksmith’s Head, on land owned by Lord Cottenham. Of the hop fields on the Bourd map, the fields at the North end of Wire Mill Lake and behind Park Cottages had all stopped growing hops. However, the field to the West of and half way down Woodcock Hill had been relocated to an adjoining field to the North as part of Park Farm. The field to the East of the main London road at the top of Woodcock Hill had been relocated to Wards Farm to the South and extended to cover two fields.

There is an increase in field names that reference hop growing by the mid 19th century in the Felbridge area. A plan of Gulledge dating from 1841 outlines two fields with hop-associated names. One is located to the North and in front of Gulledge house, and the other further North still and to the East of the old road that ran up to the Ridge Way. However, these do not appear to be growing hops by 1842, as the East Grinstead Tithe apportionment lists them as arable and the compiler noted where hops were growing as a separate crop. This apportionment also identifies a field with a hop-associated name to the East of what is now known as Imberhorne Lane, near the allotments. This area was then part of the Imberhorne manor estate and became part of the ecclesiastical parish of Felbridge in 1865, although it would appear that by 1842, this area had also ceased growing hops.

Excluding the fields at Gulledge and Imberhorne, East Grinstead parish (which included Kingscote, Ashurst Wood and Forest Row) had over seventy-five acres of fields with hop-associated names, of which twenty-seven acres were devoted to hop growing in 1842. The Worth Tithe apportionment of 1841, outlines one field with a hop-associated name at Hophurst Farm and a further six fields in the vicinity of Crawley Down, an area totalling 21 acres 1 rood and 23 perches. It is not possible to identify whether these were still all hop gardens, as the compiler of the Worth Tithe did not list hops as a separate crop, merely as arable. However, in Kelly’s Directory 1874, John Carter is listed as a hop farmer of Hophurst Farm, so it seems likely that at least this farm was hop growing in the last quarter of the 19th century. The Felbridge Place sale map and schedule of 1856, identifies a further six fields actually growing hops. Three have already been mentioned, one at Park Farm and the other two at Wards Farm. Besides these there were a further two fields in the area of Park Farm, and one triangular field, now the site of the current Village Hall, the George V Playing Field, and part of the school playing fields. This field later became part of Warren House Farm, but in 1856 it was part of Park Farm.

By the mid 19th century, the total known area devoted to growing hops in Felbridge and the surrounding district was 39 acres 2 roods and 16 perches, compared to just over 10 acres associated with hops in the mid 18th century. Based on Scot’s calculation that an acre could yield between 8 and 24cwt. (average: 16cwt.), the Felbridge area would have been producing between 316 and 948cwt. an average of 632cwt. a year. Based on the fact that 4lbs. of hops were used to make a barrel of beer, the Felbridge area would, on average, have grown enough hops to produce 17,696 barrels. Even based on the 18th century calculation that an acre could produce between 2 and 15cwt. of hops (average: 8½ cwt.), the Felbridge area would have been producing, on average, 336cwt., which would equal 9,408 barrels of beer. This would have incurred a duty of between £235 4/- and £313 12/-, based upon the average duty running of between 1½d and 2d per pound in the first half of the 19th century up until 1862, when the duty was abolished.

Like the rest of the country, the practice of home brewing would have been carried out in the Felbridge area and most housewives would have made ale or beer to drink as it was considered safer than drinking locally drawn water. During the 19th century there are several references to ale/beer houses, beer sellers, inns and a brewery in the Felbridge area. The House of Content at Snow Hill was a known ale/beer house, along with the two, previously mentioned, at Newchapel and one at Wallage Farm in the middle of Crawley Downs. Inns included The Star Inn, with The Red Lion on the adjacent side of what is now the Copthorne Road, The Evelyn Arms, now the site of the Mormon Temple at Newchapel and the Duke’s Head at Snow Hill. Brewing was also practised at North End, the first reference to this being made in 1841, when John Pattenden was listed as a brewer. By 1851, John’s father William Pattenden was listed as a brewer in North End, operating with his son Thomas, the younger brother of John. The Pattenden brewing business appears to have been taken over by George Coomber who had established the East Grinstead Brewery at North End by 1881. The Pattenden’s had also been listed as beer retailers and may have operated a beer house from their property, however, George Coomber was unable to gain an Off License to sell to the general public and therefore sold his beer to the large houses and inns of the area. It is probable that some of the locally grown hops went to produce the beer drunk in the area, especially as there were several known outlets for the sale of beer.

Hop Picking and Drying

In the Felbridge area there were at least two farms where hop drying was carried out, Hophurst Farm and Park Farm. The title deeds for Hophurst Farm of 1819, list a ‘hop house’ as one of the outbuildings, in the occupation of Thomas Prevett who had held it since the late 1700’s. The farm also had 118 acres of land some of which have hop associations in the names of the fields. Also in the early 1800’s the farm was known as The Hop House Farm. The most likely building to have been the hop house stands on the North East side of the farm building complex, not having the shape of a purpose-built hop house but more likely to be a converted barn structure. This building appears on maps of the period, contains two floors, the upper floor has a trap door and heavy wooden supports each side of a sloping trap door in one corner that could have supported a hop pocket. This is very dissimilar to the centrally placed, flush trap door in the upper floor of the granary located adjacently. It was converted for alternative use as a calf house and storage area at a later date.

At Park Farm, a brick and slate roof oast house was listed in the sale catalogue of 1911, which at that time had been converted into a two-stall stable. This oast had the familiar round kiln end, known as a roundel, which implies it was built between 1835 and 1875, it stood until the early 1980’s when it was damaged by fire and subsequently demolished. A house now stands on the site that bears the name ‘The Oast House’, a reminder of the hop industry that once operated at Park Farm. The East Grinstead area also had at least one oast house some time during the 18th and 19th centuries, with the identification of Oast Mead at Ridge Hill Farm on the 1842 Tithe apportionment. The presence of hop houses implies that not only were hops being grown in the area but that some were being processed here too.

The hops were picked, generally by travelling hoppers and Romany gypsies as there was not usually enough local labour for the burst of activity in late September, and were put into baskets or bins to be sent for drying. During the 1700’s the picking rate was 1d a bushel (a dry measurement of eight gallons), that had risen to 1½d by the 1800’s. It was said that a family of five could earn between 7/- and 10/- a day, this meant they would have to pick between 56 and 80 bushels a day. Traditionally, hop pickers were paid by the number of bushels picked and metal discs known as tokens were used in place of ordinary money for payment. Local shopkeepers, innkeepers and hawkers accepted these tokens, as they all knew that the hop grower would redeem the tokens at the agreed rate at the end of the season. To ensure accuracy in recording the number of bushels picked by each worker, a tally stick was used. This system was based on the old exchequer tally and comes from the French word tailler (to cut). This method of recording was in use in hop gardens from the 17th century until the early 20th century. The system involved two sticks; one long stick from which a shorter stick was cut part way down the length of the long stick. The tally man kept the longer piece of the tally stick and the worker the shorter, counter tally. When the hop measurer came round to check the quantity of hops picked by each picker, the quantity was entered into a book against the pickers name and the two pieces of stick were put together by the tally man and a notch was scored across both pieces for every five bushels that had been picked. At the end of picking there could be no dispute over the quantity picked, as when the two sticks were placed together the notches would tally and payment could be made.

Freshly picked hops contain about 80% moisture, which has to be reduced by drying to about 6%. During storage the moisture level generally rises to about 10%. The aim of drying is not to let the hops dry out completely but to ensure that the moisture is evenly distributed. The picked hops are dried in a kiln known as an oast in the South and a kell in the Midlands. An early description for an oast comprised of a building 18 to 20 feet in length and 8 feet wide consisting of three rooms. The middle room contained a brick canopied furnace of about 13 inches in width, 6 to 7 feet in length and 2 feet 6 inches high. The drying floor was about 5 feet above the lower floor and was composed of 1 inch square wooden laths laid ¼ inch apart. Green hops were delivered into the first room, then carefully spread out on the drying floor to a depth of about 18 inches. Drying could take between six and twenty hours, but the average was about eleven hours. When the hops were dried they were pushed off the drying floor with a rake, into the third room where they were left to cool for about ten days. Initially wood was used for drying; including the old hop poles that had rotted through use, but then charcoal was introduced and remained the standard fuel until well into the 20th century. Hundreds of bags of charcoal were required to dry a ton of hops.

Hops were not always dried in purpose-built oasts and barns were often adapted to provide a drying floor with a fireplace installed below. Most purpose-built oasts of the 18th century were like barns with one or more kilns in the middle. Not all oast houses had the familiar round tower and cowl that we associate with hop drying today, this was a late 18th century invention. Earlier oasts simply had a flue cut into the roof ridge to assist the draught and incorporated a pyramid-shaped ceiling inside the roof structure. These oasts looked like any other barn from the outside, the only visible clue as to the use of the building was a small wooden cowl over the vent.

During the 19th century the laths on the drying floors were spaced out to allow more air through and the hops were placed on horse hair cloth to prevent them falling through. This cloth also resisted the sulphur that was burnt to prevent moulding in the drying hops. This arrangement was used until 1980, when the use of sulphur was discontinued. In 1835, the familiar round kilns were introduced and improved designs in the buildings meant that twice as many hops could be dried at one time. There were also experiments with different fuels like coke and charred pit coal, and from the early 20th century the introduction of oil, which has been used ever since. The round kiln was introduced because it was thought to be more economical to construct and produced the best draught. However, from 1875 the square kiln shape emerged as it was realised that the round shape made little difference and it was easier to build a square rather than a circular kiln. These square shaped kilns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries also allowed the horse hair cloth to be mounted on rollers and turned to help agitate the hops and speed up their drying. The hop dryer had no technical help determining when the hops were dry, except his nose and hands, and years of experience. When he determined that the hops were sufficiently dry, they were removed from the drying area to the floor of the cooling loft.

When the hops cooled and the moisture content stabilised, they were scooped up by large canvas or hessian backed shovels known as scuppets and packed into a sack known as a pocket. The pocket was suspended under a hole in the cooling floor, and then supported by a webbing strap. Hops need to be compressed firmly to prevent deterioration, so as the pocket filled, the hops were rammed down tightly. Originally a man known as a bagster, who wore special shoes and a straw hat, trod on the hops in the pocket to compact them, whilst the hops were fed into the pocket. However, in 1850 a hop press was invented that had the ability of packing the hops tighter. The press was operated by turning a winch and this process continued until the pocket was filled and weighed about 1½ cwt. The neck was then sewn by hand, leaving two ears by which the pocket could be lifted.

When the pocket had been stitched, the webbing strap was released; the pocket was stamped with the grower’s name, place of growth and year, and then taken to a storage area, awaiting sampling. Hops were ‘sold by sample’ to hop merchants and the final value of the hops was assessed by the condition of the hop samples taken by the hop sampler, in the presence of the merchant’s examiner. The pocket was weighed and the sample was taken, usually with the pocket standing upright. The side of the pocket was opened and held back with a pair of skewers or spreaders and two parallel cuts were made along its length with a knife. The hop sampler then pushed a pair of pincer-like tongs, known as clams, into the pocket between the cuts and drew out the sample. This was shaped into a rectangular block and wrapped in paper and numbered. The space left in the pocket was filled with hops kept to hand especially for the purpose. The pocket was then sewn up again and reweighed. The hop sampler and merchant’s examiner took a handful of hops to look at the colour; they were then rubbed in one hand with the thumb. Good quality hop cones feel oily, quite sticky and release an almost anaesthetising aroma. The stickiness is sufficient to cause a rolled flower ball to adhere to the palm of the hand. The seeds may still be intact inside the flower after drying, but they should fall out easily. However, the petals should remain attached to the flower stem and the flower should not disintegrate when handled. It was from this test by sight, feel and aroma that the quality was judged and price agreed. The merchant’s examiner held a great deal of responsibility for once the pocket had been accepted the value could not be refunded if the hops were subsequently found to be faulty.

There were two hop merchants in the area in the early 19th century and both appear in East Grinstead Directories. John Prentice was listed as a dealer in malt and hops in 1832 and 1839, and James Dickinson was listed as a corn, hop and seed dealer in 1845. There are no other entries for hop merchants after 1845, but this does not necessarily mean that none were in operation, merely that they may not have advertised or that no other record of them has come to light yet.

20th Century and the end of Hop Growing in the Felbridge Area

During the first years of the 20th century the area of land devoted to hop growing in Britain had dropped to 32,000 acres. With the First World War there was less demand for hops as brewing had been considerably reduced, and to prevent a surplus of hops the government restricted the amount of land devoted to hop growing. This form of hop control remained in force until 1925. To protect the hop industry the Hops Marketing Board was set up in 1932, but it was never to recover its glory days of the 19th century. However, it was not until after World War Two that the picking machine was gradually introduced and manual labour was reduced. During this period of transition, hop-pickers still made their annual trips to the hop gardens, where the going rate had risen to 6d a bushel.

In 1947, a department of hop research was set up at Wye College and through their research into new varieties, new forms of propagation, pest control and yield, they have changed the face of hop growing. Their efforts have increased the crop yield whilst the area devoted to hop growing has dropped substantially, now largely confined to the county of Kent. Research and development has led to the loss of many old varieties in favour of new wilt-resident varieties like Wye Target. The design and maintenance of the hop garden has also been transformed allowing mechanisation into them, reducing the high cost of most manual labour. The hops themselves have been reduced in height to economise in the cost of harvesting. The drying process has been revolutionised, with new hop dryers that can dry the equivalent of 47½ feet of hops in the same time, as 18 inches would have taken to dry in a traditional kiln. Finally, hops, once dry, can now be processed into extracts and pellets. This is done by running a hot solvent through the hop cones, which extracts the organic material. The excess solvent is then evaporated off leaving a thick dark green extract. This can be dried further to create a powder, which can be made into pellets. This reduces the cost of storage and transportation, leaving only about a third of the hops produced being used in their natural state.

In Felbridge, of the six fields listed in the 1856 sale details for the Felbridge Place estate none were devoted to hop growing by 1911. The fields at Park Farm were turned over to pasture or rough grass, and the fields at Wards Farm were listed as arable. The oast house at Park Farm had been converted to a stable and the hop house at Hophurst had been converted for alternative use. None of the fields identified as having grown hops in the Felbridge area in the past have any trace of them of them now, although the hedges at Garden Cottage, now Legend in Wire Mill Lane, used to have hops growing in them, possible escapees from the 18th century hop field that lay to the North East of the property. Hops do still grow in the Felbridge area. The hedgerow at 2, Park Cottages, 116, Copthorne Road, has hops growing along it, as yet unidentified remnants of hops that were growing in the 18th century in the field behind the cottage. Hops can also be found in the hedgerow at Green Gables, 112, Copthorne Road, which also backed onto the 18th century hop field. Hops, identified as Fuggle hybrids can be found growing on land belonging to Birch’s Bungalow, on the boundary with Yew Tree Cottage, Crawley Down Road. Fuggles were a popular hop variety grown in the 19th century and these hops are a mere road’s width away from the George V Playing Field, a field identified as growing hops in 1856. It is not known whether these hops originated from this field but they were well established by the 1950’s and are still producing hops to this day.

Besides the possible old varieties found in hedgerows, hop plants can be found at several other locations in Felbridge. An Ornamental hop and a Wye Target hop, the latter used for home brewing, can be found at Llanberis Farm, Crawley Down Road. There is an unidentified hop planted up the back of The Hawthorns, Crawley Down Road, and at 111, Crawley Down Road, there is a Golding hop scrambling over the fence and along Gulledge Lane. At The Ark, Rowplatt Lane, there are three Fuggle hops planted as a reminder of the owner’s past involvement with hop picking, and roots of these have been given to other gardens along Rowplatt Lane. An unidentified hop was planted for screening at Brook Nook, Furnace Wood, whilst at The Cottage, Wire Mill Lane, there is another unidentified hop planted for ornament up a tree, shortly to be moved to 1, Fir Tree Cottage, Crawley Down Road, for screening. Most of these hops have been planted for decoration, but they also hold a nostalgic reminder of a past industry that once operated in the Felbridge area.

Reference Conversion Tables
Weight: 112lbs =1cwt (hundred weight) =50.8Kg
Area: 40 perches =1rood =¼acre =4046m² =0.4 hectares
Money: 240d =20 shilling =20/- =£1.00 =100 new pence.

Hops and Hop Picking by R Filmer
The Craft of House-Brewing by C La Pensée
The Historical Companion to House-Brewing by C La Pensée
Of the Historie of Plants by J Gerard
Robinson’s New Family Herbal by Dr M Robinson MD
English Physician by N Culpepper
The English Countryman by G E and K R Fussell
The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History by D Hey
The London Encyclopaedia Ed. by Weinreb and Hibbert
Historical Atlas of Sussex by K Leslie and B Short
Traditional Farm Buildings of Britain by RW Brunskill
Alcohol Related Legislation and Taxation – Internet Article
The Brewing Industry of England 1700-1830 by P Mathias
The English Alehouse 1200-1800 by P Clark
Sussex Breweries by G Holter
Brewing in East Grinstead by M Leppard (East Grinstead Bulletin)
Kelly’s Directory 1874
Knight’s Carriers Accounts 1763-1777
Title Deeds for Hophurst 1819
Plan of Hophurst 1860
Sale Details of Hophurst Farm 2000
Bourd Map 1748
Shaws and Hodgehorn Farm Map 1763
Plan of Gulledge Farm 1841
Godstone Tithe and apportionment 1840
Worth Tithe and apportionment 1841
East Grinstead Tithe and apportionment 1842
Horne Tithe and apportionment 1844
Tandridge Tithe and apportionment 1843
Second Schedule of properties and map for Felbridge Place Sale 1856
Ordnance Survey Map 1879
Census Records 1841, 1851 and 1881
Aerial photograph of Park Farm 1950’s
Documented notes from residents of Felbridge
Family Tree Magazine Retail values index.
Perry’s Chemical Engineers’ Handbook 6th Edition by R. H. Perry.

SJC 09/01