Wednesday, 19 September 2007
Hop-picking in the 1940s
Hop-picking in the 1940’s by Betty Manning
Preparing for hop-picking started in July when the buildings were all cleaned out, some where animals had been kept in winter! They were white washed and last year’s straw piled in for bedding because if new straw were used there would be a plague of insect bites!
Blanket washing was an awful job. The last year’s dirty blankets were washed and hung on the fences and hedges to dry, all 250 of them. The cribs to pick hops in had to be repaired or new ones made, then the crib cloths sewn on. Hop-sacks were carefully darned. Benches and trestle tables were made up as the legs usually disappeared either as fire wood or to make stools.
As food was rationed a license had to be obtained to keep a shop. Gladys Vernall and I kept the shop and rations had to be weighed up during the day for the shop to be opened at 6 p.m. Three charabancs arrived from the Black County and one from Wales. We also had a few Cockneys who arrived by train at Ledbury, some Gypsies and a Tramps.
The cry would go up – “The Charras are here” and a stream of women, children and a some men would alight, hopefully they had not brought their dogs. They would go wild for a time while they sorted themselves into the barns. The “Dudleys” in the Granary and the Wainhouse, the “Wednesburys” in the Boiler House, cart shed and fold yard.
After about an hour, the straw had been transformed into beds and then another cart full of straw was used to make pillows from old-pockets. Then the dray with blankets, counterpanes, hurricane lamps and chamber pots came. Each adult had a blanket, a child had a counterpain and each bed had an enamel chamber pot- small, medium or large! And finally each building had an allocation of hurricane lamps, which had to be tended and filled each day.
Each barn had hession curtains and father patrolled every night to see that lights could not be seen. Each barn had fire devils for cooking. Coke was a problem as it was rationed and the “Wednesburys” always had bigger and better fires because they were good at pilfering!
The first morning starting at about 7 a.m. you were greeted by about a dozen dogs, which had miraculously appeared over night and they never belonged to anyone! The pickers were led into the hop-yard were they were allocated cribs and the “Pole puller” (hop yard manager) would direct them into “houses” where they picked the hops on either side of the row from one overhead cross wire to another.
The “Busheller” came round to measure the hops picked into large sacks and the “Booker” recorded the tally on the pickers tally card and in the Book. I was the booker and we went round three times a day. I went straight home to open up shop for about 2 ½ hours, then there was the “Surgery” – Witch Hazel for hop rash and eyes; Milk of Magnesium for indigestion; Burnol for burns; Aspro for headaches and a saucepan full of “Senna mixture” for the third day of hop-picking when constipation usually set in. Nurse Daniels and Dr. Webster from Cradley were called in for more serious cases, but temperature, pulse and respiration were recorded so that they could judge if a visit was necessary.
We have had births, marriages and deaths to deal with and the sight of the large figure of Police Officer Harris was enough to restore law and order.
Saturday afternoons father and I would go ferreting to catch rabbits for their Sunday lunch. I can’t eat rabbit to this day because I have seen it baked in mud by the tramps, spit roasted by the gypsies and boiled- fur on- by another woman who thought it wonderful. With todays standards it is hard to believe the filth and poverty that existed in the 1940’s.
One gang lived from hand to mouth and day to day, never any money and most of it was spent at the Pub. Saturday night there were always fights and on Sunday my father spent his time smoothing things over to get them back to work on Monday. Mother fed a multitude of people- 14+ would sit down to cooked breakfast, a two course hot lunch, afternoon tea and a cooked supper, then a night basket for the men in the kilns.
Although times were hard, there were lots of laughs and it was sad to see the “Charras” depart with the extra lorry to take home the potatoes and cider apples that had been picked. A hush fell on the valley, a few tramps stayed on for the potatoes, but they are another story!
We looked forward to this years picking, but it has become a very serious affair these days.