Memories of hop picking at Park Farm, Bodiam

Brian Noakes

My family came to Bodiam each year from about 1953 to 1960.  I came with my Mother, 'Peg', and my sisters Christine and Janet to pick hops for Mr John Levett at Park Farm, Junction Road, Bodiam (not part of Guinness Hop Farms).

We came from Southend-on-Sea, not London as most of the other 'Hoppers' did.

I remember great times (especially in the Oast House) with the other kids, including the Farmer's two daughters (boarding school girls who seemed very 'posh' to us).

Other names from memory are June Palmer and Eileen --------.

George the Cowman let us help ?? with the milking. He lived in one of the Cottages on the other side of Junction Road opposite Park Farm entrance.

Our Hopper's Hut was in the field to the west of the main Hut site (separated by a small wood) and comprised of one corrugated iron row of about six units, also an open fronted fire shed, and a
movable "loo" with sacking door (in the wood !!).

We were collected from 'Junction Halt'  by various means .....Tractor & trailer, Station Wagon and once with the Governess Cart (what a treat !!)

Our beds consisted of straw bales, topped with hay and Hop filled pillow cases.

'Health & Safety' would have a fit nowadays ... using 'eight hour' candles and paraffin lamps. (resting on the wooden framework).

We kids, left the Hop gardens a bit ahead of Mum, in order to get the fire started and collect water (from a tap on the Farm Building wall)

Most Sundays we would walk to Bodiam Castle for a picnic and on the way back pick apples and berries for Mum to cook a pie, in the tin oven over the fire embers (delicious wood smoke !!)

'Google maps' show that the old farm buildings are as I remember them (the Oast excepted !!) ..... It would be great to look around again, especially where our Hut was sited ..... ('Wickham Brook' field  in the 'Bodiam Castle Estates' 1917 sales Catalogue)

Karen Levett (now Scofield) has replied to Brian's Memories.

I was very interested to read Brian's memories and see the photos, it brought such a lot back to me.

I was one of the “posh girls”!!  certainly didn’t consider myself posh.  I went to a grammar school and only just scraped in!!  I always hated going back to school whilst hop picking was going on. It was a time I absolutely loved.

According to my mother, the first time I went into a hop garden was when I was three months old, because she had to go to a funeral.  Shouldn’t think I did much picking!  After that I have very happy memories of sitting on the end of the bin to pick.  Warm September days were the best, the ones that started with a mist which then burnt off to reveal a beautiful day.  The rainy days were not so good, when pulling the bines down left you soaking wet.

Lunch was very often a cheese and marmite sandwich, eaten with green/ black fingers from the hops.

I remember my father’s shout around the hop garden ...”Hops ready”.  At that point every one would start to clear their bins of leaves.  Dad could be quite critical!  He would come with the basket measure, record the numbers on their card and in his book and put the hops in the poke, to be loaded on the trailer and taken to the oast.

At the end of the day, about four, I think. We would head off home and then our (the posh girls!) jobs would begin.

First, collect the eggs, before they disappeared!!  Then we were on milk duty.  Mum would stand by the scullery door and fill containers with milk for the hop pickers.  We would sometimes be called upon to subtly rinse out one that wasn’t too clean and would have spoilt the milk.  Finally, supper time.  I can only remember slicing runner beans, but I’m sure we must have had something else!

Washing up done, we would sneak down to the oast to enjoy a bit of social time, although I was quite shy. I don’t remember Brian, the names that stick in my mind are the Cackets, Joanie Plumber and two elderly ladies called Rose and Lyd. Those two had one of the very posh brick built hopper huts.

That really was one of the happiest times of my life.

Karen Levett,
Park Farm

Brian has replied with some further memories prompted by Karen's reply

It was really great to read Karen’s response, and to share so many happy memories …

Getting a lift to the Hop gardens, on the  trailer (with all our clobber)

Showering when pulling bines,  making sure we had a ‘clean’ bin,

Collecting milk and paraffin (at different times … because of the paraffin smell).

I enjoyed your bit about collecting eggs !! … rascals those ‘hoppers’ (smile)

Picking ‘proper’ mushrooms in the fields on the way to the River Rother (and sometimes even in the cow-shed feed bins).

Tasting the very sour grapes, growing in the middle of the farm buildings.

Scrumping  crab apples and feeding some (in the early days) to the lovely heavy horse (was he called ’Dubbin’ ??)

The ‘Posh’ part comes from the fact that even from Southend-on-Sea, we spoke ‘Cockney’ (ish)… so any other form of speech sounded ’posh’ 

I remember the nice lady who kept the tally records (and I think kept an eye on you two youngsters).

There were some real ‘characters’ around at that time, I think the elderly lady ‘Rose’ had flower stalls in the East end Markets. (the speed  she picked hops was amazing)

Missing the first week or two of the new school term, and arriving there with black fingers !!  (no one else at my school went ‘Hopping’)

Being made self-reliant at a young age, stood us in good stead for our future lives, and with my family, have enjoyed caravanning and travelling extensively (in the early days with equipment no better than our Hopper hut !). Now in our mid seventies, my wife and I have a small motor-caravan and get away as much as possible. Life is for living and my time ‘Hopping’ will always be remembered as a very happy part of my life.

These are the photos Brian can find of his time at Park Farm.

Brian, Robert and Unknown

Janet and Christine

Mum and Christine

Mum, Janet, Christine and Brian

Mum and Christine (left hand bin) 1960

Unknown, Christine, Robert, Brian, Unknown and Janet

Mike Redfern's Memories of Park Farm

I'm 61 so too young to remember hop picking but my dad William (Bill) Redfern went each year from south London with his family. He loved it so much he worked for Guinness for a couple of years in the early fifties. He kept in touch with Mr Levett and once he married and had children we camped every year on Park farm from the early sixties until about 1976/77. I have identified him from this harvest supper photo. I have circled him in red.

I have also read the recent note from Karen Levett. She mentions remembering the Cacketts. Liz Cackett was my dads older sister and the Cackett children she remembers are my cousins.

I think we have identified one more person. I am pretty certain that the older lady with glasses in the same row as my dad (four to his right) is his mum (my nan) Mary Ann Redfern. We even think that some of the men between dad and nan are some of his older brothers. We are trying to check that with cousins etc. I'll come back to you if we can be sure.

I have attached a copy of a photo found in one of our old family albums. The old lady in the middle of this group is Mary Ann Redfern. The lady on the left of her as we look at it and slightly behind wearing the headscarf is one of her daughters and my Aunt, Liz Cackett. We think some of the children at the front are the Cackett boys and we guess that this was taken in about 1952/3. We dont know for sure what hop field it was taken in but it is almost certainly on Mr Levett's farm.

I would add that my Dad first took the family camping on Mr Levetts land near Bourne Lane. I only have memories of one year there but my older brother is putting his thoughts together. If you dont know Bourne Lane is about midway between Salehurst and Bodiam. We did have a tent but the brick hopping huts were still liveable and mum chose to stay in them. I remember Mr and Mrs Deeprose (George and Elsie) lived in the house we camped near. They later moved into Bodiam village about five minutes walk up from the pub. We visited them a couple of times during the early seventies.

Bodiam and the surrounding area have such happy memories for me.