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Hopping down in Kent

On 04/10/13 by David Wilson (Director of Public Affairs)

Sitting in the beautiful early Norman church of St Peter and St Paul in the tranquil village of Ospringe, near Faversham, it felt like we were continuing an ancient tradition of the Blessing of the Hops.

In fact the service is a relatively new innovation by Shepherd Neame to mark the end of a successful hop harvest and to acknowledge the critical role hop growing plays in our British Brewing industry. For the first time this year Shepherd Neame had developed a full day of activities and a hop symposium in their impressive Visitor Centre.

For the young vicar at Ospringe, Reverend Tracey Bateson it was a double first. Her first hop blessing service and her first ever time of presiding at Ospringe since taking on this East Kent Parish on leaving the Army. What she lacked in experience Reverend Bateson more than made up for in enthusiasm.

The readings – from the Shepherd Neame triumverate of Jonathan Neame, Tom Falcon and Head Brewer Richard Frost – were carefully chosen. Eric Blair’s (aka George Orwell) letter to his friend Denis Collings documenting his experiences hop picking in Kent in over 80 years ago transported us back to the glory days of manual harvest when East End hop pickers and travellers descended on Kentish hop gardens in their droves living in spartan surroundings whilst they picked the hops.

Martin Farquar Tupper’s poem ‘Hop Picking’ was followed by a beautifully soulful rendition of Autumn Leaves and a joyful ditty Hopping Down In Kent performed by the talented Helen Burnett to the accomplished guitar playing of Jo Caleb.

The beautiful church was lovingly decorated with hops and the hymns and scripture reading were carefully chosen to amplify the theme of our role as custodians of God’s beauty in creation.
The blessing sung by the small band of dedicated choristers included the apt line;..

‘May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you.’
Those wonders were on full display in the neighbouring hop farm which holds the national hop collection –the next stop for 50 or so beer writers, hop growers and brewers as we were given a guided tour by the enthusiastic Dr Peter Darby. What Peter doesn’t know about British hops is not worth knowing. He guided us through the hop garden with informative anecdotes to illustrate the rich history of hop growing and breeding in Britain with a particular focus on the genesis of Goldings and Fuggles hops.

After sampling Kent’s finest Green Hop Beers and a fantastic lunch we got down to the serious business of the afternoon with a powerful lecture from Tony Redsell illustrated by photographs setting out the important role that East Kent has played in our rich hops heritage, ending with a pleas for us all to value it more. Ramsgate Brewery’s Eddie Gadd inspired us with his evocation of a hop harvest and how he as a brewer got so excited about the Green Hop beers that he created a festival fortnight to use the Green Hop beers to drive tourist traffic to East Kent.

Ali Capper from the British Hops Association shared beautiful images of hops and challenged brewers to celebrate British hops more effectively. I was then able to explain how the Let There Be Beer campaign had evolved to celebrate beer and those occasions where only a beer will do. This day of celebrating hops was definitely one of those occasions. Shepherd Neame should be congratulated for putting together an informative and inspirational day, with plans to make it bigger and better next year with the introduction of a Hop Champion Award.


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