THE hop picking season starts up in the county over the next few weeks seeing tractors overflowing with hop bines on the roads.

During its hey day, up until the early Sixties, hop picking was of great economic importance to Herefordshire.

In just one village alone, Bishops Frome, the population swelled overnight for the harvest from 600 to more than 6,000.

Butchers, bakers, fishmongers, cobblers, doctors, nurses, all served this temporary population surge.

Families of pickers several generations strong arrived for the harvest by train (Stoke Edith was a popular stop-off point), bus or open top trucks, from the Black Country and South Wales, and the Romany contingent made a colourful impact making their way by horse and traditional caravan.

And then there were the hundreds of locals who also went ‘hopping’. It is hard to find someone brought up in the county who doesn’t have a memory connected to hops.

No matter where they came from, the pickers were united with one goal in mind: to earn some precious extra cash for winter shoes, coats, and fuel.

Blackened kettles boiled water providing hot water for the thermos of tea taken to the hop yards in the day, along with piles of sandwiches, and in the evening, dinner was cooked over big iron grates called hop devils.

‘Going hopping’ for children meant sleeping on straw pallets, rabbit stews, collecting firewood, scrumping in orchards, picking hops into an old upturned umbrella while their mothers worked at the cribs to fill the green sacks.

At the end of the month, these families returned home with trunks and tea chests filled with fresh apples, damsons and potatoes.

The mechanisation of the industry with the introduction of the Bruff machine changed everything, and this huge labour force was no longer required.

It really was the end of an era.

Derek Evans captured these great images in the hop yards in the 60s. You can explore more of these photos or order a copy of Catcher Media’s Stories from the Hop Yards DVD via or your local library.