Post Memories: Barking and Dagenham’s Company drinks launches hopping holidays book

A selection of Company drinks

A selection of Company drinks - Credit: Archant

A community drinks company which runs regular hopping trips will launch its own history of the hopping holidays later this month. The annual migration saw thousands of women and children leave the borough for three weeks a year. Mark Shales finds out what made it so special

Company drinks founder, Kathrin Bohm

Company drinks founder, Kathrin Bohm - Credit: photo: Arnaud Stephenson

For a hundred years the hop fields of the south east provided thousands of Londoners with a glorious yearly escape from the capital.

Far-removed from the relaxing vacations we enjoy today, hopping was a working-holiday, with hours spent picking the harvest.

Nonetheless, the opportunity to spend two or three weeks with friends and family, singing songs round the campfire and playing games in the evenings was one many children of a certain generation greatly looked forward to.

Community drinks company Company: Movements, Deals and Drinks is set to launch its own book exploring the hopping history of Barking and Dagenham at Valence House on Saturday from 1pm.

The front cover of the book

The front cover of the book - Credit: Archant

The company was set up by arts collective Myvillages in May 2014 as a way to revive the urban-rural relationship and link it to the launch of a new community enterprise.

Involving hundreds of people across the borough, Company Drinks offers picking trips and bottling sessions and has produced a range of 18 drink varieties – from cordials to green hop beer.

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The self-titled book will also detail the project’s work, which has seen hoppers return to their old holiday hotspots for the first time in years.

“It was really important for east London,” explained Company founder, Kathrin Böhm.

“From 1850 until 1950 up to 200,000 people from the East End would go down to Kent every year at the end of the summer for two or three weeks. Women and children would go, but not men as they had to work in the docks.

“It was one of the few opportunities for women to make a bit of money – it was definitely seen as a working holiday.”

The rise of regular female employment signalled a gradual decline in the hopping holidays, but Violet Charlton, 85, from Romford, still remembers the trips well.

Born in Wapping, her family moved to Flamstead Road in the then-new Becontree Estate when she was three-and-a-half.

One of 43 cousins, the now grandmother-of-seven would meet up with friends and family at Flightshoot Farm near Tunbridge Wells every September.

“I was a happy hopper and really looked forward to it,” she added.

“For some of us it was the only holiday we ever had. The green fields of Kent were a paradise for the children of the East End.”

In the evenings the families would gather round a fire to eat, sing songs and tell ghost stories.

The men would join them at the weekend in the pub, while the children enjoyed a lemonade outside.

Although she was only there to pick hops, Violet would also take a few apples and blackberries to make a pie with for tea.

“We were told to only pick the wind falls but they were always full of rot,” she explained.

“So we’d have a good look, make sure there was no-one around and then give the tree a big shake – some of the boys even climbed some of the trees. When someone came along, we’d all shout ‘farmer’ and quickly scarper.”

Company: Movements, Deal and Drinks costs £12 and is available from Valence House.