The Weekly Machen

This week, Arthur Machen travels from London to the legendary hop fields of Kent to discern the mysteries of this beneficial plant. For more of Machen’s words on the wonder of beer, see  Let Us Keep the Tavern and The New Beer

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In a Kentish Hop Garden
Arthur Machen
September 5, 1913

The hop-picking season has now begun, and Kent is placid under an orderly invasion, different from the rowdy times of an earlier generation. In the following article a description is given of the splendid garden at Bydews Farm, East Farleigh, where the great green hop sea, as Mr. Machen names it, is valued at £25.000.

And the hop-pickers,’’ I said, “are a very rough lot, aren’t they?”

Not at all,” said Mr. Ballard, of Bydews Farm, East Farleigh, and there was a faint hint of asperity in his voice. “There’s nothing the matter with them, unless want of wealth is a crime.”

I have been spending an afternoon in Kent amongst the hop-growers, and this is only one example of the “howlers” that I came, in the course of my walk about the most perfectly cultivated hop gardens in the world. I have always realised that every craft has its own technique; and nothing is more technical than the art of growing hops. I was writing down the exact address of the farm.

Bydews Farm, near Maidstone,” I said; and the faces of my hosts grew blank.

Please say East Farleigh,” one of them entreated, “Maidstone means something quite different to hop-growers.”

It was as if I had suggested “near Château Lafite” as a postal address to the vigneron of Chateau Larose in Gascony.

But as to the hop-pickers; Mr. Ballard assured me that the days of the rowdy, drunken, East End hopper of tradition were over, at his farm, at any rate.

£25,000 Worth

Have a look from the top of that ladder,” said one of my guides. I mounted a flight of steps, and stood on a high platform, made for the observation of the crop. Below me the great green hop sea, dipping and rising with the ground, a splendid spectacle of fertility; and everywhere the dark green of the leaf was flecked with the hanging, yellowing clusters. I have seen no richer sight amongst the vineyards of France. And when I came down the ladder they told me that I had been looking at £25,000 worth of hops; the very best hops in the world. For thirty years the produce of Bydews has been sold to Messrs. Guinness.

What sort of a year is it?” I asked.

Generally speaking, not a very good one; but our crop promises very well indeed. I should think that the average for the hop-gardens of England will be somewhere about 8cwt. per acre, and we hope to get 21cwt. Last year, in spite of the wet, we broke our record; and this year—”

The speaker was interrupted. The hop-gardens are still and silent places; there is a solemnity about the dark green alleys, vanishing every way into green distance. But suddenly, as we turned a corner, there rang out a wild howl, followed by a dull, persistent beating as of an eastern tom-tom. An old man came walking slowly down the avenue, shrieking at intervals, and beating on a tin pan. He was not a fakir; he was scaring birds.

Scaring the Linnets

Driving away the hop merchant,” my host explained, “that’s what we call the linnets down there; they want to get all our hops for nothing.”

Well, William, what do you think of them?” said the grower.

I do think,” replied William, “ that we shall do better than last year.”

And he howled and went on his way, beating on his tin.

I suppose,” said Mr. Ballard, “that hops are the most expensive crop in the world; if you do your land properly. It isn’t farming; it’s gardening. We reckon that every acre costs us £70 a year. Our yearly bill for the twine is £500, and we spend £900 annually on quassia chips and the best soft soap.

That is for washing against the aphis. We have water laid on at high pressure in those pipes, which go all round the gardens, and in the washing season we use from thirty to forty thousand gallons of Medway water every day, and there is one of the machines for the sulphur dressing—that is against the mould. That machine throws the powdered sulphur high into the air in a cloud.”

But Mr. Ballard explained that the true secret of the hop-grower was in high intensive culture. 

To the Making of Bitter

We treat our hops,” he said, “as if they were children. We feed them so well, and build up their constitutions so carefully that they can defy disease and bad weather. And we watch them all through the summer, and at the slightest sign of weakness we apply our remedies. We don’t trust to nature.”

At the office they showed me their maps.

These maps,” the manager explained, “are revised year by year. The weak places are given special treatment; in the spring, when the hills begin to break, we select the strongest bine, and we give extra manure. Our manure bill is £3,000 a year.

What manure do we use? All sorts. We begin as soon as the sap has left the bines; they are chopped and ploughed into the land. Then in November we give a dressing of shoddy—that’s for the ammonia—twenty-five hundredweight to the acre. Then, in alternate years, superphosphite or basic slag followed by rape-dust—refuse of linseed oil manufacture—or stable manure. Afterwards sulphate of nitrate of soda, and fish guano; that’s the manure course every year from October to June.”

Such labours, such strange assistance, go to the bitter that gladdens our cups.

The Weekly

Previous: Wonderful London

Next: The Critics and Mr. Henry James’s Style

Introduction and supplementary material – Copyright 2023 by Christopher Tompkins. All rights reserved.

7 thoughts on “In a Kentish Hop Garden

  1. Fascinating – thank you! I was astonished at Don King’s equivalent values (1930s and today) in his account of Warren Lewis’s motorboat expenses in his recent biography – and should look up his resources and see what an astronomical amount 25 thousand pounds was, in 1913 (or 3,000 for manure, for that matter!). And, I wonder how distinctively his own Machen’s lively style of reporting interviews is, for that time?


  2. My favorite artist Samuel Palmer’s “Scene at Underriver” shows a hop garden around 80 years before Machen’s report. So far as I know, Machen had no acquaintance with the work of this visionary artist.

    George Orwell kept a diary about hop-picking in 1931, which is published in An Age Like This, the first of the four volumes of his essays, journalism, and letters published around 1970.


    1. I’ve browsed those Orwell volumes, but missed this – thanks!

      That Wells interview is a fine, rich one! I note, a year after this hops article, Wells saying, of Essex agricultural labourers, “the families there hardly make a pound a week when all earnings are added together” – some 52 pounds, earned by – and providing for – I’m not sure how many family members on average: interesting to juxtapose with the sums here!


  3. I searched in several places for the unknown word in “In a Kentish Hop Garden” in this phrase, “superphosphite or {illegible} slag.” In an article published in 1900 called “Notes on Five Years’ Experiments on Hop Manuring Conducted at Golden Green, Hadlow, Tonbridge,” (what a title!) by Dr. Bernard Dyer, I came across the phrase “superphosphate and basic slag” a couple of times. According to the “Basic Slag” entry on, “Basic slag is a by-product of the steel industry which, when finely ground, is used as a fertilser.” Perhaps that’s the illegible word in this article?

    I also tried to find out if Guinness still gets hops from Bydews Farm in East Farleigh. It seems that Bydews Farm still exists in some way. From my brief search, it seems that Guinness gets their hops from multiple countries. In my 20s, Guinness was a go-to beer for me. Now I prefer American IPAs. My current favorites are probably 7K IPA by Santa Fe Brewing, Elevated IPA by La Cumbre Brewing, and Safeword IPA by Marble Brewing. I love my New Mexico beer. Oh, and I sure do love the smell of hops! Cheers!


    1. Good work Adam! I believe you are correct. I examined the original scan and “basic” works. I’ve corrected the text. Now, as a follow-up assignment… please read “Notes on Five Years’ Experiments on Hop Manuring Conducted at Golden Green, Hadlow, Tonbridge” and write up a review of the article.


      1. Before I can write a review of the easy-to-digest and can’t-put-down writing that is “Notes on Five Years’ Experiments on Hop Manuring Conducted at Golden Green, Hadlow, Tonbridge,” I’ll need to read it. I’ve decided to bring this idea to the Books About Manure and Beer book club that I attend every week. We don’t have many regular attendees, but I’m sure the two of us will read it and then we’ll report back to you as a duo. Perhaps we’ll create an audio version of this book, for not everyone has the time to read this mind-expanding book.


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