Monday, May 12, 2008

Searching for Regency England IV

I am excited and nervous. My robin hatched a chick sometime overnight - didn't quite make Mothers Day. I do hope you all had a wonderful day. We spent the day at home, very much a family time. Now we are once more trying to think of ways not to use the front door.

Otford is another of those English villages in Kent that reminds us how rural England was in the Regency. Otford is a Kent village on the river Darent two miles north of Sevenoaks and twenty-five miles south east of London. The Pilgrim's Way passes through the village and its centre is the spring-filled duck pond. The pond is in fact in the middle of a modern day roundabout, when I am sure originally it would have been the village green.

One of the buildings facing the pond is chantry cottage dating back to 1150. Pilgrim's Way by the way is the historic route supposed to have been taken by pilgrims from Winchester in Hampshire, England, to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury in Kent.


Another feature of English villages in Kent around Sevenoaks is the oast house. They are farm buildings used for drying hops in preparation for the brewing process. They consist of two or three storeys on which the hops were spread out to be dried by hot air from a wood or charcoal-fired kiln at the bottom. The drying floors were thin and perforated to permit the heat to pass through and it escaped through a cowl in the roof which turned with the wind. The freshly picked hops from the fields were raked in to dry and then raked out to cool before being bagged up and sent to the brewery.


The earliest surviving oast house is that at Cranbrook near Tunbridge Wells which dates to 1750 but the process is documented from soon after the introduction of hops into England in the early 16th century. Early oast houses were simply adapted barns but, by the early 19th century, the distinctive circular buildings with conical roofs had been developed in response to the increased demand for beer. So very much a Regency era building for a very popular form of entertainment. Beer Drinking.

Hop picking by hand is a most labour intensive business and once the acreage began to grow it was necessary to bring in pickers from outside the immediate area. Oh, and while the hops were grown in fields they were called hop gardens.

The migration of town to country to pick hops continued for more than two and a half centuries – it is first mentioned in an Act of 1710. Ellis in his Modern Husbandman 1750 refers to a Kent grower who was providing a small hut or shed for his pickers furnishing it with wheat straw for bedding, and a cask of small beer ‘so that they may not lose time in a quest for drink’. Each morning he gave each picker a quartern (1/6 of a pint) of gin which he thought to be a preservative against the Kentish Ague that generally has the greatest power to seize those who live the poorest. Another Mr Ellis, a grower from Barming, the largest grower in Kent in the 1830s, employed between 3,000 and 4,000 pickers each year. Kentish Ague was in fact Cholera. Gypsies, who were migrant workers, also picked hops during Regency times.

Until next time, Happy Rambles.