Magic lantern slides of hop picking in Kent

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There have been many books written about hop picking in Kent, so I don’t intend to re-tell the story. As a short-term, seasonal job, it relied (relies?) on large numbers of workers to supplement the local workforce and, at the time these photographs were taken, probably around 1900, many of those labourers came from the East End of London. It was often a family affair with the same families making the journey to Kent year after year, generation after generation, and is often portrayed as a welcome break from the grime and poverty of city life. 

Surprisingly perhaps, magic lantern slides of hop-pickers are rare. I say this because the range of subjects produced by slide manufactures was very wide indeed. Sets of lecture slides were made on virtually every subject that someone in the marketing department (or whatever the Victorian equivalent was called) believed there might be an audience for. I would have thought that the story of how the basic ingredient of beer is grown would have been a winner, if only for temperance societies to preach the evils of drink and denounce the terrible working conditions.

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These three slides look a little posed to me. The participants are probably genuine hop pickers (rather than ‘film extras’) but they may be wearing their Sunday best and were probably told where and how to stand by the photographer.

Given the Summer heat and the amount of clothing they’re wearing, it must have been very sweaty work. In fact, thinking about it, the lack of modern deodorants must mean that, prior to the 1960s, most people doing manual labour were pretty smelly, most of the time!

The availability of migrant, agricultural, seasonal workers is, of course, a hot BREXIT topic. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out over the next few years. 

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