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Hopping Down in Kent

[ Roud 1715 ; Ballad Index RcHoDIKe ; trad.]

Hops are picked in September. Most hoppers in Kent were the poor and unemployed from London. At the hop industry’s peak more than 80,000 people poured into Kent every autumn. Whole families came and there are many records of families visiting the same gardens for several generations. (source: “History of Hop Picking in Kent” in A History of Hop Growing in Kent and the South East at the National Hop Association of England site; the article describes hopping and some of the terminology used in the song)

Mary Ann Haynes sang Hopping Down in Kent and My Lovely Hops in a recording made by Mike Yates in 1975. It was released in 1979 on the Topic anthology of songs, stories and tunes from English Gypsies, Travellers and in 2003 on the Musical Traditions anthology of Gypsy songs and music from South-East England, Here’s Luck to a Man.

Ashley Hutchings noted in his songbook A Little Music:

Until fairly recently the annual excursion to pick hops in Kent was the only holiday of the year for many Cockney families. It wasn’t much of a rest for them, as this song indicates.

Gypsies, too, were regular hop-pickers—going where the seasonal work took them. This tune was collected from a Sussex gypsy, Mary Ann Haynes, by Mike Yates.

The Albion Band recorded Hopping Down in Kent for a single released in 1976. This track was included in 1977 on their album The Prospect Before Us. and later on Shirley Collins’ anthologies Within Sound (2002) and The Harvest Years (2008). The Albion Dance Band also performed Hopping Down in Kent twice on BBC radio sessions. One with Shirley Collins singing was recorded on 22 July 1976 and included in The BBC Sessions; the other and much faster one with John Tams singing on probably 31 May 1977 was published on The Albion Band Live in Concert - BBC Radio 1. Both versions were also added to the Ashley Hutchings 4CD anthology Burning Bright. The Albion Band also performed this song live in Switzerland in 1978 at the 7. Folk-Festival auf der Lenzburg. Another live recording of Shirley and Dolly Collins in Dublin in 1978 was published in 1998 on their CD Harking Back.

Louie Fuller of Lingfield, Surrey, sang Hopping Down in Kent in a ca. 1974 recording by Mike Yates. This was included in 1976 on the Topic album of country singers from the South, Green Grow the Laurels, in 1996 on the Topic CD anthology celebrating English traditional Music, Hidden English, and in 1998 on both Come All My Lads That Follow the Plough (The Voice of the People Series Volume 5) and The Rough Guide to English Roots Music.

Ray Driscoll sang Hopping Down in Kent and in a recording made by Gwilym Davies in between 1993 and 2002 on Driscoll’s CD Wild, Wild Berry (2008). Gwilym Davies commented in the album notes:

Learnt during Ray’s stay in London. Ray himself never went hop-picking, but listened to the songs sung by the returning hoppers. Listen out for Ray’s unique verse describing the rudimentary sanitary conditions.

The New Scorpion Band sang Hopping Down in Kent in 1999 on their first CD, Folk Songs and Tunes From the British Isles. They noted:

For generations of families from the East End of London, their only break from the city was spent working in the hopfields of Kent, often camping or sleeping in temporary huts provided by the farmer. The season began on 1st September. This song is remembered by many Londoners who went hopping as children. Hops are of course a vital element in beer, and have been grown commercially in Kent since 1520. We seem to have learnt the song by osmosis somewhere in the region of Rochester!

Terry Yarnell sang Hopping Down in Kent in 2001 on his Tradition Bearers CD A Bonny Bunch. He noted:

This song came from my grandmother (who called it The Hopping Song), who, in her younger days frequently spent some weeks each year in the ‘Holiday Resort’ of a hop field in Kent. With a husband who had died in the First World War, and little money coming in, this was the only chance of a break for her and the children, and earn a few ‘bob’ at the same time. Every September, hundreds of Londoners (East Enders) would pack up and go to the railway station for the trip to the Kent hop fields in the ‘Hop pickers special’. In earlier generations of pickers, the conditions were appalling, with no facilities whatsoever, but by the time my own grandmother went, special sheds had been erected for their accommodation. The locals were very wary about the whole influx, and a common sign outside pubs was ‘No dogs, gypsies or hoppers’.

A measurer was a man who measured the number of bushels transferred from a collecting bin to the poke (a large sack). Now taken over by machines, hopping was in its day not just a crop harvesting, but a ‘social phenomenon’.

I have not come across verse eight anywhere else, but it was fairly common for the children to make up verses about the neighbours, frequently being quite rude, but this one isn’t so bad. The song is usually sung by women, … but what the hell!

Andy Turner sang Hopping Down in Kent as the 16 September 2012 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. He noted in his blog:

The way I sing the song these days is very much based on Mike [Yates]’s recording of Mary Ann Haynes, although I’ve also included some verses from Louie Fuller, and a couple from lovely Ron Spicer. The second and penultimate verses are Ron’s, and I’ve never come across them anywhere else. I was also tempted to add this verse from Shropshire singer Ray Driscoll

When we use the karsey,
Sitting on the pole,
You have to keep your balance
Or you fall back in the hole.


Mary Ann Haynes sings Hopping Down in Kent and My Lovely Hops

Now, hopping’s just beginning,
We’ve got our time to spend.
We’ve only come down hopping,
To earn a quid if we can.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
With a tee-i-eh, tee-i-eh,

Now, early Monday morning,
The measurer he’ll come round.
“Pick your hops all ready
And you’ll pick them off’n the ground.”

Now, early Tuesday morning,
The bookie he’ll come round.
With a bag o[f] money,
He’ll flop it on the ground.

Say[s], “Do you want some money?”
“Yes, sir, if you please.
To buy a hock of bacon
And a roll o[f] mouldy cheese.”

They all says hopping’s lousy.
I believe it’s true.
Since I’ve been down hopping,
I’ve got a chatt* or two.

Early Saturday morning,
It is our washing day.
We boils ’em in our hopping-pot
And we hangs ’em on the ground.

Hopping’s all over.
All the money’s spent.
I wish to God I’d never done
No hopping down in Kent.

I say one, I say two
No more hopping shall I do

My lovely hops, my lovely hops,
When the measurer he comes round:
“Pick ’em up, pick ’em up off the ground!”
When he starts to measuring,
He never know when to stop;
“Why don’t you jump in the bin
And take the bloomin’ lot.”

The Albion Band sings Hopping Down in Kent

Now hopping’s just beginning,
We’ve got some time to spend.
We’ve only come down hopping
To earn a quid if we can.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
With a tee-i-ay, tee-i-ay

Every Monday morning
Just at six o’clock
You’ll hear them hoppers calling:
“Get up and boil you pots!”

Early Tuesday morning
The bookie he’ll come round
With a bag of money
He’ll flop it on the ground.

Says, “Do you want some money?”
“Yes sir, if you please,
To buy a hock of bacon
And a lump of mouldy cheese.”

Now here comes our old measurer
With his long nose and chin
And his ten-gallon basket
And don’t he pop ’em in!

Now hopping is all over
All the money spent
Don’t I wish I’d never done
No hopping down in Kent.

I say one, I say two,
No more hopping I shall do.
Tee-i-ay, tee-i-ay


The Albion Band’s lyrics were copied from the Ashley Hutchings songbook A Little Music.