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Hop Picking in Faversham

By John Owen
Shepard Neame Archivist Historian


The drinking of beer and the cultivation of hops never burst upon England. The enjoyment of the one and the introduction of the other crept into our national culture slowly but much earlier than generally assumed. The little jingle ‘Hops and beer came into England all in one year’, and that year was 1530, is too simple an explanation. So what is myth and what is fact about our local hops?

Early Days

The first evidence of hops in Faversham is about 900AD. Many were found in The Graveney Boat, which was discovered in the mud of the marshes in 1970. The explanation of their arrival is conjectural; were they used as packing for something fragile or were they really imported for use in the production of a hopped drink? So far this discovery is unique so we may never know. There is no written record to help but hops did grow in the wild at this time.

Faversham however was drinking beer from at least 1394 when Town Presenters were ‘to ensure not less than a quart of best beer or ale is sold for a penny’. Beer was imported first from Belgium, especially for ‘aliens’ or foreigners trading here, before it was brewed locally. Likewise hops were imported first before they were grown here. By the 1450s hops were being sold in London, Rye and Winchelsea. Faversham was importing hops from at least 1533. Growing the ingredient locally must have started by then.

Faversham's Earliest Hop Trade

The first hop garden recorded in Kent was at Westbere in the 1523. As four Faversham merchants exported 73 pockets of hops to London in 1599 through the Port of Faversham our town or the villages around were clearly not only growing hops but growing a substantial surplus for sale. Twenty years before Faversham was importing hops from the Low Countries. In those intervening years the sourcing of hops had changed forever.

Faversham's Early Hop Gardens

Given that beer production in Faversham may have reached 6000 barrels per annum by 1600, that would have needed 240cwts of hops; and they would have needed 38 acres of hop gardens. Where they were is difficult to say. The only local hop garden identified conclusively that early was at Homestall Farm, Faversham. It was probably no more than a few acres. That was an adjunct to the main business of farming. Growing such an unreliable but semi experimental crop was just what the farmer there, Mr Saker, a copperas and possibly gunpowder manufacturer entrepreneur, would try. The next, slight, reference is to the stock of hop poles near The Standard Quay, owned by a brewer. Wherever they were they were small.

By the early 1700s Faversham was being surrounded by small hop gardens on the rich brick earths of Kingsfield (between Preston Street, London Road, West Street and The Mount), Cooksditch Farm (between Preston Street, London Road, East Street and The Cemetery) and Preston Farm (between the station, the Mall, London Road and Preston Park Estate). In 1754 about 60 acres of hop gardens are known. These alone produced enough hops to produce 10,000 barrels of beer. Moreover, in a bumper year like 1699 Faversham sent up to London 1700 bags of hops and in 1741 sent up 2680 bags.

Hop Growing Parishes of Kent 1835

By the early nineteenth century the main hop growing parishes were in The Weald of Kent. Acreages for example were; Cranbrook 819, Benenden 584, East Farleigh 590, East Peckham 614, Hadlow 618, Marden 578, Mereworth 569, Tonbridge 723, Wrotham 667 and Yalding 937 acres. Closer to home the acreages were; Faversham 21, Boughton 249, Selling 124 and Throwley 33.

Shepherd Neame Hop Supplies

The Brewery has always bought and used locally grown hops. Samuel Shepherd even had his own hop grounds near The Mount and east of The Mall in Faversham. By 1756 he was leasing a part of Kingsfield, so may have been self sufficient in his key ingredient. His son appears to have been reliant on hops purchased from Robert and Thomas Gibbs Hilton at Selling and Boughton.

A century later Percy Beale Neame recorded in detail each year the source of the hops he used. That was a roll call of the local growers. Frank Bridge Cobb at Throwley, Richard Beale Neame, his brother, at Homestall Farm and Mr Carter at Luddenham. To them were added later Frederick and Edward Neame, his cousins, at Selling, Percy his nephew at Homestall and the Millens at Syndale.

Don’t miss the FREE Hop Picking Display in The Old Brewery Store. For more information please click here 

Shepherd Neame At The Hop Festival

Hop Growing Parishes in 1900s

The largest local supplier of hops to The Brewery was Lewis Finn. He started farming at Westwood near Faversham and in 1923 bought Queen Court Farm, Ospringe. Here he developed 48 acres of hop gardens in 6 fields named Manor Pound, Church Field, Long Meadow and Sheerways. His varieties were Early Bird, Tutsham, Eastwell Golding and Cobbs.

Shepherd Neame Brewery bought the farm to protect their hop supplies during wartime when he died. They retained it until the 1982 when crop disease investment costs and low prices led to its closure.

Today however The Brewery still buys hops from Kent gardens.

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