Bill Jackson remembers hop days

The humble British hop has a potent effect. The mere mention is enough to send speakers into long, rose-tinted rhapsodies of days in the sun, surrounded by friends and families, stopping for cups of teas, chunks of cheese and slices of fruitcake.

But there was a time when the growth and expanse of hop fields wasn’t greeted with too much enthusiasm.

One of our interviewees, Bill Jackson, remembers an occasion when permission was sought in Westhope to creosote a pole in a new hop field.

But locals made their feelings clear – they were not happy. It was the same again when the Parish Council wanted to build accommodation for hop workers. Once more, villagers stood in his way.

“Nothing ever changes,” said Bill. “Hop fields then, polytunnels now.”

Bill is a Hereford boy, the son of a successful city butcher, Bailey’s. Long closed, the shop name can still be seen, if you look carefully, at its former site on Widemarsh Street.

He was also son and nephew of some redoubtable women. When he was a toddler, each hop-picking season his mother and aunts would bring him to the county’s hop fields. There he would be put in the ‘basket’ while groups all around him picked golden heads until dusk.

In the fifties it was the golden age for hops in the county. Hereford was thriving, and some of this success can be traced to our hop fields.

Just as soft fruit plays a huge part in our contemporary economy, so too did the hop back then.

Thousands of people would descend on the hop picking hot spots for work, with whole extended families arriving by bus, coach, train and cart.

Does anyone remember Bill Yeoman, of Yeoman’s Buses? If so we’d like to hear from you.

Mr Yeoman’s job at the beginning of the hop-picking season was to collect workers from south Wales, whose job it was to prepare the hop yards for the influx of hop pickers and various hangers on.

Many hop yard owners would insist on a medical before taking on workers. In the pre-NHS days, a free medical was a bonus, and lines of potential pickers would queue up grasping the opportunity for a free check-up.

It seems there was also a clear division between pickers and this was demonstrated in at least one village.

In Canon Pyon there were once three pubs: the Plough, the Nagshead and a third, the name of which escapes me. Following a strict and unwritten code, different factions – Welshmen, Black Country men or Travellers – would frequent ‘their local’.

Apparently, the local Bobbie on his bicycle was often called upon after closing time to separate warring factions. It was considered all part of the hop picking season.

JesterWe’re going to return to the hop fields. There are plenty more stories to follow. Please get in touch if you have anything you’d like to share.