Another Sussex farm inventory dated 1911

In this inventory dated 1911 and for the transfer of Morley Farm Northiam to a new tenant; Frederick Comport, the section on Hops is rather less detailed and clearly this farm had a smaller acreage of Hops and was a smaller overall holding. However, much of detail of the hop gardens and the equipment used in the Oast is very much the same.

The various pieces of equipment etc associated either with growing or drying the Hops are listed all together under the title of Sundries. There are also some additional items that were not listed in the Inventory of 1814. Here, for example we have listed “Hop Dryers Beds” to be used by those who dried the hops and who would stay in the Oast throughout the hop picking season. The mention of “Oast Grates” and a “Coal Hearth” indicate that the Oast fire’s were still coal fired at this time. The other additional item is the listing of a “Hop presser” which would have been used to press the dried hops into the “pockets”. In 1814 is likely that the pressing of dried hops would have been a purely manual task.

In the Hop gardens a similar method of notation is used with the number of “hills”, type of “pole work” and number of poles per hill listed. Perhaps the most significant difference in the two inventories is the indication of a lack of change that has taken place in approx one hundred years in the growing and harvesting of Hops. The only indication of mechanisation is to be found in the mention of the Hop presser. As with the 1814 inventory the writer was meticulous in his recording of Hop garden names.

“Remains of pump and lead pipe. Labor to brick tank by Yard. 2 Circular Oast hairs. 23×13 Oast Hairs. 2 picks, 2 sifters, 2 scuppets (scubbets). Rake and 3 brooms. 12 Oast grates. Hop stage poles. 2 hop driers beds. Hop presser. Coal hearth. Hop pole dipping tank and brickwork. Gridnstone and winch. Labour to bullock crib in the yard. 140 16foot lee poles by Pear Tree”.

Sherbourne Bridge Garden
8752 Hills. 2 pole work. Fuggles. Lee poles 1377.
Old Fishponds.
3026 Hills. 3 pole work. Fuggles. Lee poles 1075
Young Fishponds.
3096 hills. 3 pole work. Fuggles.
Striking up every alley.
Binding bines in all Gardens”.

Hop growing in Sussex in 1814

As my regular readers will have noticed I am somewhat fascinated by rural life and at the moment I am lucky to have access to some original documents that help to provide a picture of farming life in the early nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. My special interest in these documents is the information they provide about hop growing. Both documents are farm inventories that itemise, in detail, the buildings, crops, land etc that are to be part of a farm sale.

My concern in this article is the elements of the inventories that specifically mention the hop gardens and the items that are associated with hop growing and drying etc.

The nineteenth century inventory relates to the land owned by Mr John Stonham and was compiled in 1814. Stonham owned land in Udimore, Beckley, Winchelsea and East Guldeford in East Sussex.
He kept sheep, particularly on Winchelsea marshes and at East Guldeford (a small village on Romney Marsh), and he grew hops on his land at Udimore as well as annually growing a variety of cereal crops. Although he used horses for some of his cultivation he also used oxen and the inventory lists several yoke of oxen.

Hops are dried in an oast and grown, at least in Kent and Sussex, in hop gardens. In this inventory of 1814 the items listed in and around the oast can give us a clear picture of how the hops were dried and the equipment that was needed for the process.
The Oast House contents are listed in two different places in the inventory but there is no clear indication of why this should be so. Perhaps they are lists of items found on the two floors of the building. There is a clear indication that the fires used for drying the hops were mainly fuelled by coal however there is also some indication that charcoal might have also been used because of the inclusion of “a quantity of charcoal” in the lists. Among the items listed are 2 hop coal shovels, 1 large coal basket and 1 coal sieve, and 6 tons of welsh coal. Also related directly to the fires used for drying is the inclusion of 24 kiln grates. For weighing and moving the hops – probably after drying and pressing into ‘pockets’ (large sacks) the inventory lists 1 winch and a scale beam and a pair of scales. Those items that relate to the cultivation or picking of the hops include 2 hop pitchers – these were heavy iron stakes that were ‘pitched’ into the soil in the hop garden to make a hole for the placement of the poles for the hops to grow up. There are also 2 hop measuring baskets – used at hop picking time to measure the hops picked by each picker. These baskets were also known as bushel baskets because when full they contained one bushel of hops. Pickers were paid so much a bushel with the sum being set at the beginning of hop picking. The Oast also contained 1 pair of hop pole Tugs. These were used at hop picking time to pull the poles from the soil in the hop garden so that the hops could be picked. Also for use in the hop garden 6 hop dogs are listed. These were long handled cutting tools used during hop picking.
The hops would have been picked by hand into bins that had a wooden framework. 14 new deal (pine) hop bins and 14 old deal hop bins are listed. Within the drying kiln the drying floor would have been made of slatted wood and across this the dryers would have placed large net cloths made of horse hair. These are listed as oast hairs and the inventory states that there were 84 yards of old oast hairs and 93 yards of new oast hairs. When the hops were dried these ‘hairs’ could be lift out of the kiln and the hops would cool on the cooling floor of the oast. Hops were bagged when they were picked and the inventory lists 100 items of hop bagging. Once dried and cooled hops would be pressed into large bags called pockets. These would then be marked with the growers mark and the inventory itemises 1 pitch pot and mark. To kill insect infestations in the drying hops but more especially to give the dried hops a good colour brimstone (sulphur) would be used and the inventory lists a cask of brimstone. The cooling room of an oast (on the first floor) was also used for storage outside the drying season and in this case 35 quarters of oats and 6 bushels of barley were stored there. Other miscellaneous items in the oast included 3 wool cloths, 2 scuppets ( wooden and hessian covered large shovels used for moving the dried hops), 1 hop sieve, 1 shovel.
The inventory is detailed in its listing of the hop gardens. Each garden is named by its field name and the number of ‘hills’ (these are the plants that were planted on slightly raised ground and spaced an even distance apart) and pole numbers are given per ‘hill’. The five Hop gardens listed here represent a large holding of Hop cultivation.

“Lodge Hop garden 52.5 hundred of hills, 3 pole ground, 15,750 hop poles, and 24.5 hundred of hills, 4 pole ground 9,800 hops. Tows?? Hop garden 24 hundred of hills, 3 pole ground, 7,200 hops. The Wayfield Hop garden 42.5 hundred of hills, 3 pole ground, 12.75 of hops. Oakfield Hop garden 26 hundred hills, 3 pole ground, 7,800 of hop poles. Vinegar field Hop garden 36 hundred of hills, 4 pole ground, 14,400 hop poles. Littleway Field Hop garden 18 hundred of hills, 3 and 4 pole ground, 6000 of hop poles. In the hop pole stack 2000 of new 15 feet hop poles”.

Buried under a car park.

It all started really when the Aunt stated quite baldly that she had found Uncle Turner under a car park. She had been doing some research into the family and although many of the family were mildly interested they didn’t have the same driven enthusiasm that she had. Most of her suggestions were treated with mild amusement unless they were obviously true and this particular pronouncement was greeted with polite acknowledgement to her face and hilarity behind her back. None of them had ever heard of an “Uncle Turner” – it certainly wasn’t any of the family names they knew of and besides the car park in question was in Chichester. The family – as they all knew – had lived in Northiam for many years and those who had married into the family had come from nearby places, certainly not Chichester. There the mystery stayed for many years until a pair of diaries, dating to the 1840s and 1850s, were discovered among the Aunt’s effects. Beautifully hand written and clearly by F. Turner and telling of his or her daily life. The child in question had begun the diaries in 1845 and was aged 8 years old at that time. The diaries end in 1857 when F. Turner was 20 years old. They provide a unique and fascinating insight into the daily life of a Sussex yeoman farmer and his family in the mid 19th Century. On an initial reading of the diaries it was not obvious if this was the writing of a girl or a boy.
The connection between these diaries, the family and the Aunt’s statement about Uncle Turner only slowly and painstakingly came to light, and began to make some sense, when research into the family’s link with the Unitarian Church was undertaken. While looking through the documents available from the Sussex Record Office at The Keep, Brighton, online I noticed a list of the Trustees for The Northiam Unitarian Church. Among the Comports, and the names of others buried in the Chapel graveyard, was the name of a Mr Frank Turner of North Bersted, West Sussex, Farmer. The trustee list is dated 1897. The initial question was why was a man, who was living in West Sussex, a Trustee of a small Unitarian Chapel on the eastern boundary of East Sussex? There was no obvious answer. Further research located Frank Turner and his marriage, rather late in life perhaps – he was 44 years old – to Mary Comport of Northiam. The couple had married in the summer of 1881 in Brighton. How had the couple met? The clue is possibly to be found in the Census of 1871 when Mary is recorded as a visitor to the family of Henry Turner and his wife and children at a farm ( recorded as Cockhouse Farm) in the village of Lindfield, West Sussex. Mary is described as a Housekeeper but as a Visitor to the Turners. Is this where the couple originally met? It is likely that the Henry Turner in question was a relative of Frank Turner although Frank is recorded in the Census as being at Bersted in 1871.
Back to Uncle Turner under the car park. Frank was a Unitarian and the diaries indicate that he and his family worshipped at a Chapel in Chichester. Careful research revealed that Frank had died in 1913 and had been buried in the graveyard of Chichester Unitarian chapel. The said Chapel, built in 1721, is now Henry Adams Fine Art Auctioneers and known as Baffin’s Hall. It is located at the southern end of Baffin’s Lane and surrounded by a car park that covers the original burial ground. Uncle Turner is indeed buried under a car park!

Fairfield July 1940

The inspiration for this poem came from a number of things. Firstly I realised that early September 2019 marked the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, secondly  the sound of a lone plane in the sky over Romney Marsh reminded me of the Battle of Britain and the fact that much of the action of that battle took place above the Marsh. Thirdly I remembered that my father was 17 years old at the time of the Battle of Britain and was working at Fairfield. Inspiration also came from a short section from Sheila Kaye-Smith’s novel Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum – the third section of the novel – where she records the encounter between German and British aircraft in the skies above her home in rural East Sussex. This poem tries to capture the fracture and disturbance that was brought to everyday rural life and to the natural world by the battle that raged overhead.

Fairfield July 1940

He stood rolled sleeved, khaki drills,
Dusty boots, blue eyed, shock of hair.
Crook in hand he strode the field,

Sewer reeds rustlingly whispered,
Sheep safely grazed.
Lone seagull gliding on the breeze,
Heron statuesquely still.
St Thomas’s lone and hunkered,
Amidst a timeless quiet calm.

Droning bees in a box
Shattered the silence,
Drawing his eyes to seaward.
Swarming raven specks
Stippled the crystal skyline.
Closer, cruciform, dark as night,
A phalanx of fear
Thundering, roaring above.

Dropping to the ground,
Crawling to the ditch edge,
He watched.

Out of the wide blue yonder
They came.
Swooping, diving, rolling,
Supreme elegance, spitting fire.
Dwarf against giant.
Dogfighting dances of death.

He watched awestruck.
Fearful but fascinated,
Engulfed by barraging blasts,
Screaming and shrieking.
He watched until it was over.


Sounds of the Past

As I walk the land and lanes
A man made cacophony disturbs the peace.
Scouring the sky, thunder rumbling planes
With criss-crossing trails carve the air.
Across the fields clattering trains
Pierce the tranquil calm
With whistles screeching.
I care not where they are bound
Nor from whence they have appeared.
I want to hear the sounds of the past.
Those that ancestors heard.
Slight and gentle, hardly discernible;
Whispering winds rustling reeds,
Footfalls on dusty ground,
Hedgerow feathered flutters,
Yaffling gallybirds from churchyard trees,
Raucous rasping magpie laughter,
And distant bleating of sheep.

At ditches margin steel grey
Jack Heron sentinel stands.
Disturbed he levers aloft
With soft sibilant sound of wings
Brushing through the gentle breeze.

Silent flights of flitting butterflies
Flock around bramble flowers
Along the shaded track.
Iridescent damselflies,
Weightless, electric blue,
Mutely move and momentarily
Settle on watery stem.

These they would have known,
These they would have heard,
These they would have seen.


(Gallybird is a Sussex dialect name for a Green Woodpecker)

Summer nights

Blood orange moon, gunmetal streaked
With menacing cloud.
Lightening flashes cut the curtains
Momentarily illuminating the room.
Ordinance crashing thunder groans,
Explodes and roars.
Blustery gusts of wind whistle while
Rain, nail sharp, torrential, brutal,
Beats relentlessly on window and roof.
I can’t sleep.

As time passes
Rumbles turn to distant muffled drums,
Moon cloud cloaked,
Deepest darkness envelops my world.
Somnolent silence returns
Until fingers of opalescent dawn
Crawl across the fields
Banishing the morning star.
I awake to a hushed new day.

Another night; calm, quiet.
Liquid limpid moonlight
Washes waving barley.
Sloughing, sighing, rippling
Silvered fields billow and surge.
A silent spectral owl glides
Above whispering reeds
As sheep silent, ghostly,
Lie beneath star pricked ancient skies.
Jack and his wagon eternally
Ride the darkness
Until nascent dawn
Brings the light.

Father’s Leavings

It has been a fair while since I have posted anything on my site – in mitigation I have been attacking a rather over grown garden and have tidied up my garage. This necessitated several trip to the local tip!!

However this tidy up inspired the poem I have posted here. Over ten years ago I removed a number of items from my father’s home after his death and I have never been able to bring myself to throw them out. They have little monetary value but as you will see in the poem they have a far greater value for me.

Father’s leavings

Useful things, tools and the like,
Things of little monetary worth.
Things that speak of their work,
Left long since by those sleeping in earth.

The hop digging spud that he used;
As old as the hills,
Blacksmith made, but the best for the job.
Not only his but theirs;
Father and grandfather before him.

Plunge into the soil
Foot on the lug.
Lever back towards you
Turn the sod and plant the set.

The scythe stood against the hedge,
Russet rusted, pitted, blunt.
Wind, rain, sun bleached handle
Whisper grey, worn but solid.
Used by him and those before,
Standing in my garage
The greatest treasure of all.
Once held by firm sinewed hands,
Leather tanned by sun and wind,
Gnarled and calloused,
Large as hams, skilled and strong.

The handbill clutching the chopping block
With razor sharp blade.
Handle worn; smoothed by human hold.
I use it still, keep the blade keen.
“You need to do that, sharp it well,
Use a rubber or whetston’ if you can,
Then it will see you through
All you need to do”.
Used for chopping wood now,
Once, laying hedges, brisching bushes.

The hop pocket lines the car boot,
Folded carefully.
Their names are hidden from view
Along with the Martlets
And the name of the farm.
Coarse, strong hessian,
Rough to the touch,
Stitched with string,
But full of memory.

Hidden in the box,
Under the bench.
Bound and gagged
With old twine
Just as he left them.
His sheep shears.
Black, oily, dulled by age,
Spider nests in globed handle,
Gossamer cobweb engulfed.
I pick them up,
Brush off the webs,
Slip off the string.
Hear his voice.
“They won’t cut anything.
Give them an edge.
Cack handed and a’k’ard you be
Move over and pass them to me”

I remember his skill.
I remember his hands.
Contoured with veins,
Nicked and scratched,
Lined and mapped,
By the years of work.

*Hop digging spud is a small purpose made spade.

* A set is a hop plant

*A rubber is a hand held sharpening device used for sharpening a scythe or sickle etc.