Happy Times of Childhood

Charlie Recalls Happy Times of Childhood
Wick Grange Farm is in the county of Worcestershire in the UK
For many local families hop picking, in the early 1900s, was the highlight of their year. During the autumn entire families would pack their belongings and migrate to the hop fields where their accommodation would be at best a stable or maybe a shed, whitewashed by the farmer in readiness for the influx of pickers. For Charlie Clarke, who has lived most of his life in Pershore, some of his happiest childhood memories are of the weeks spent hop picking with his siblings and parents back in the 1940s.
 
Every autumn, in September, Charlie would accompany his family to the hop fields at Wick Grange Farm from their home in Church Street and spend many happy hours helping to pick hops or playing with the other pickers’ children.
 
Families that came from further afield would bring their pots and pans, and cooking utensils of all descriptions and stay for the month. Most important was their hoppen box, a tin trunk which held their clothes.
 
Charlie was born in 1941 in Pershore, the second youngest of seven children. The family lived in Church Street and Charlie went to Abbey Park Junior School. Having been born without speech Charlie’s school years were understandably difficult.
 
Yet, despite his profound disability, Charlie is a kind and remarkable man whose smiling face is well known in the area. Once he retired from farm work he went on to work for many years at the Red Cross shop in Evesham and was personally responsible for raising thousands of pounds for the charity.
 
Today Charlie lives in Evesham where he is a valued member of the Welcome Club at Wallace House. He carries his memories around with him in a small canvas bag which contains treasured photographs of his family and their hop picking days – all of which reveal a fascinating story.
 
Charlie’s parents were James and Delilah Clarke (his mother was also known as Lilo James), who came from a large local family of licensed hawkers. His father was wounded during the war and when he was demobbed in 1945, life, as it was for many, was a struggle.
 
But when the hop picking season began, in September, the family knew they would be able to supplement their income as well as have a pleasant change of scenery at Meikle’s farm at Wick.
 
Malcolm Meikle remembers the Clarke family well; how they would arrive daily by bicycle whilst others, from further afield in the Black Country, would come in by train. He recalls: 
 
Most of the labour for the hop pickers came from the Brierley Hill area of Birmingham. Special trains would bring the workers from Birmingham into Worcester and two extra coaches were put on for the crowds travelling out to Pershore, where we would meet them at the station with a horse and cart, often specially decorated for the occasion! They stayed in some specially built buildings called Pickers Barracks, which were allocated to 30 or more families and barns, cowsheds and lambing pens were all cleaned out and converted in to accommodation.
After a hard days work the pickers would congregate in a large communal yard where they would catch up on the day’s gossip and cook their meals over large open fires and braziers - or hop devils, as they were known. Some itinerant workers would arrive at Wick Grange and camp in the fields for the month and cook their meals over stick fires. 
 
Every Sunday we gave the pickers a measure of potatoes and paraffin for their lights. And during the week various tradesmen and other callers would arrive at the hop yard selling bread and cakes, along with visiting preachers of different denominations.
Hops were picked into cribs and then measured into bushels. Tally men kept the records for each crib twice a day and families were often given their own crib to fill.

Charlie and his family were regular visitors to Wick Farm where hops were picked by hand until 1953 when mechanical picking was introduced. During the second week of hop picking friends and relatives would arrive and there would be evening visits to the pubs just a mile or two away from the farm. Often the happy band of workers could be heard singing popular songs as they trailed home again in the evenings.
 
Although for the farmers themselves, there was always the constant worry about adverse weather conditions, such as blight or strong winds, which could turn the hops brown.
 
But to Charlie and his family, the month of hop picking was like a holiday. The children were given a month off school and everyone enjoyed the change of environment and earned, what to them, was a decent amount of money, enabling them to buy warm clothes and household goods for the forthcoming winter.
 
Click images to enlarge
Photo captions:
01 and 02) Charlie Clarke, as a small boy, with his mother Delilah and father James in the hop yards at Wick Grange Farm.
03) Charlie and his older brother Jimmy beside their rabbit cages (bred for food) in their garden at Church Street.
04) Charlie’s brother Jimmy Clarke and his father James built this model house to highlight the dire housing situation in Pershore after the war. The words painted on the roof read: Give them homes like we gave them ships, planes and tanks with This is what we want in Pershore on the side.
05) Charlie’s parents Delilah and James Clark.
06) Charlie Clarke in 2015 with his friend Pam, © Ian Tustin
 
Article reproduced by courtesy of Cotswold and Vale Magazine.
 
The first reference to hop growing in the West Midlands was in 1636 when there was mention of a hop field in Littleton, Worcestershire, called Hop Yards.
Hop growing became a great favourite with farmers who introduced growing on the vine around 1865. A kiln patented by another Worcestershire grower left a higher percentage of oil and resin in the hops creating a significant flavour and demand for Worcestershire hops.
In the late 19th century Arthur Savoury wrote in his book Grainn and chaff of a Country Manor, about his large hop farm at Aldington where he converted old malt houses into hop kilns, and recalls the happy times among his 300 pickers during the month of September.
When hop growing was at its peak in Britain, Kent grew 66% of all hops grown while Herefordshire and Worcestershire accounted for 30%.
Today, there are just 50 hop farmers left in the country half of which are in the South East and the rest in the West Midlands.
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