The hop culture of Kent

On show at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London until October 2022 is a remarkable installationn titled The Hop created by English artist Jyll Bradley.

The Hop is inspired by local history and the story of thousands of working-class families from Lambeth bringing in the hop harvest – or ‘going hopping’ – which was viewed by some as a ‘working holiday’.

The growing of hops goes back to the C16th but it was not until the late 1800s that the more familiar poles and stringing method started to appear.1

The Hop-Gardens of England 1874 by Cecil Gordon Lawson (Credit:

The Hop-Gardens of England as shown above is a large canvas, painted during the summer and autumn of 1874 on location in Wrotham in Kent, where the artist (Cecil Gordon Lawson) used a barn as a studio. It shows a rolling landscape with rows of burgeoning hops dwarfing a pilgrim-like figure in the foreground. A plough sits on a hill in the foreground, while oast houses and other farm buildings are detailed in the background. While the composition was influenced by Rubens’s A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning c.1636 (National Gallery, London), the brushwork is atypically bold and vigorous and is more suggestive of much later painting than the picturesque detailing that had come to characterise the English school. 2

The Hop-Gardens of England was widely reviewed following its first public appearance at McLean’s Gallery in Haymarket, London in 1875. Although the painting was rejected by the Royal Academy that year, it was accepted the following year and hung on the line in a prominent position. In his memoir of the artist published in 1883, Edmund Gosse recalled: ‘So huge a picture, the work of a young man, could not be better placed at the Academy, and Cecil Lawson’s name began once more to be mentioned among artists, although the picture came back upon his hands unsold.’ (Gosse 1883, p.25.) The artist subsequently repainted parts of the work and exhibited it at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1879 with the title Kent. When it was exhibited for the second time at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1883, in a posthumous exhibition of the artist’s work shared with Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema (1836–1912), it had these lines from a sixteenth-century air, The Jovial Man of Kent, appended to it in the catalogue:

Let Frenchmen boast their straggling vine,
Which gives them drafts of meagre wine;
It cannot match this plant of mine
When autumn skies are blue’
Thus said the jovial man of Kent
As through his golden hops he went. 2

To see some images associate with the Hop Gardens please follow this link to Kent - The Garden of England Hop: Gardens, Oast Houses & Farming.

But there is no better way to appreciate the culture which grew up around harvesting the hops than to watch and listen to people, who as young children, went hopping with their parents. To take you into this world I have selected first a series of 3 videos produced by Stephen Fletcher who:
"Re-discovered some old VHS and VHC tapes which I am capturing to my PC. One included the BBC program "Hopping Down in Kent". I think it was broadcast and taped by me back in 1989. The reason I did as it shows a brief clip of my nan "Agnes Fryer" at the front door of her house @ 1:06 in part 1 of 3."

The fourth video is remarkable in that it is a silent film of Going Hopping in 1929!

Hopping Down in Kent reproduced by Stephen Fletcher ©
Hopping Down in Kent reproduced by Stephen Fletcher ©
Hopping Down in Kent reproduced by Stephen Fletcher ©

Tomorrow you will come back to London and down to the Hayward Gallery where we will take some time to view and learn about going hopping through the installation The Hop created by Jyll Bradley.

2. Description by Alison Smith April 2011/