The Hop Project

Changes in society run parallel with developments in transport infrastructure. The annual migration from the cities of Britain (London, Portsmouth, Birmingham) to the hop fields of Kent, Hampshire, Sussex, Herefordshire and Worcestershire was a mass movement of the urban workforce to the countryside. This would have been impossible without the expansive railway networks of the Victorian and Edwardian era. With the coming of the railways, it was now possible for Herefordshire hop farmers to import labour from South Wales and the Black Country. Special trains were scheduled – known as ‘Hop Pickers Specials’ – whose sole objective was servicing the mass labour requirements of hop farmers. At the peak of the hop picking season, up to 2,000 pickers a day were arriving at small country stations in Herefordshire. The demise in the annual hop picking migration coincided with sweeping changes to the railway network of the UK in the 1960s. In 1961 Dr Richard Beeching was appointed chairman of British Railways with a brief to reduce costs over the 17,000 mile rail network. He recommended that half of the network be closed down, along with some 2,000 stations.

Station closures were phased out over a period of time, but when the final decision came to close a particular section of line, including the stations, they were shut down the same day by midnight. More people were buying cars whilst freight and consumer goods were now being transported on a rapidly expanding motorway network.

Today in Herefordshire and Worcestershire, soft fruit producers (like hop farmers historically) require thousands of seasonal workers to pick fruit. Again, there is a direct correlation to the evolution of a different transport system: air travel. When the EU expanded in 2004 to incorporate eight Central European countries, there was an increased volume of east-to-west migration with many central Europeans arriving in the UK and other western countries, facilitated by the increasing range of budget flights operated by low cost airlines between central European cities and UK regional airports.

Norton-Juxta-Kempsey – Building Viaduct Motorway Bristol Birmingham 27th January 1961 Image credit: Worcester News

Bromsgrove Rubery – By-pass under construction 1964 Photograph by R.W. Horsley