Company Drinks 2015
London Borough of Barking and Dagenham
December 2015

The 'drinks family' produced by Company Drinks in the first year of 'going picking' again.

Kathrin Böhm

In March 2014 Company Drinks placed an open call in the Barking and Dagenham Post, inviting people who ‘went hop picking’ in the past to come forward and share their memories.

Hop picking is remembered by almost everyone working class who comes from east London and was born before WW2. ‘Hopping’ wasn’t just the annual descend of hundreds of thousands of Londoners to the Kent countryside to make a bit of extra money as seasonal workers. ‘Going picking’ is a shared rural memory and lived culture that grew and was shaped by an inner city working-class over more than a century. Hopping en masse came to an end in the 1950s, when widespread mechanisation of the harvest and modernised labour laws for women came into place.

Many former hop-pickers responded to our first open call, and soon the monthly ‘Hopping Afternoons’ at Valence House in Dagenham were established. The invitation was to talk hopping but also to go picking again. We didn’t want to just dwell on memories but to act out what made ‘going picking’ so memorable. A mix of being outdoors, being in groups and watching the containers fill up with crop?

The demographics in east London and the geographical relationship between what is the city and the countryside have changed dramatically since the ‘hopping days’. Many East End families moved further east, and London grew into Greater London and into Essex. Different demographics and cultures make the new east London.

Our invitation to go picking again was widespread and meant for everyone in the wider community. We asked schools and colleges, existing groups and interested individuals, old and young.We now forage, glean and harvest; we pick the abundant elderflower in the vast open green spaces of Barking and Dagenham, the leftover blackcurrant on industrial farms in Essex, the flowers from the Australian Hop Bush in a medicinal garden in central London and green hops at Little Finchcock Farm in Kent.

The big difference to the ‘hopping days’ is that we keep what we pick. The crop from the picking season is used to make drinks for the trading season. Our 2016 drinks range includes cordials, juices, sodas, a cola, beer and cider. We trade in the borough, in central London and occasionally abroad.

The drinks range in the first year includes sodas, syrups, a BAD cola (as in Barking And Dagenham) and a fresh hop beer made by Kernel Brewery.

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