Hop pickers’ huts at Rock Farm


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Rock Farm, Gibbs Hill, Nettlestead, Maidstone, Kent, ME18 5HT


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Statutory Address:
Rock Farm, Gibbs Hill, Nettlestead, Maidstone, Kent, ME18 5HT

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Maidstone (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Hop pickers’ huts, built between 1885 and 1895.

Reasons for Designation

The hop pickers' huts at Rock Farm, Kent, built between 1885 and 1895, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as rare surviving examples of purpose-built late C19 hop pickers’ huts; * as well-preserved examples of hop pickers’ huts largely in their original materials and with earth floors, having undergone relatively few alterations; * for the survival of the original and fully legible plan forms, comprising buildings divided by internal walls into individual hop pickers’ huts each with a single window and doorway.

Historic interest:

* as a physical manifestation and tangible reminder of an important industry in the social and agricultural history of this country whereby huge numbers of working class families from London travelled seasonally to work in the hop-fields of Kent and south-east England; * as a good representation of the change in hop pickers' accommodation from tents or animal sheds to purpose-built brick huts following campaigns to improve the conditions of hop pickers in late C19 England.

Group value:

* as hop pickers’ huts surviving in their original farmstead context next to a C17 or earlier farmhouse (Grade II-listed, List entry 1060643) with which they share group value, as well as a former granary, converted oast houses, former stables, cottages and ponds, in the heart of Kent’s former hop picking area.


Before mechanised picking was introduced in the 1950s, the harvesting of hops, used in brewing beer, was a very labour intensive process. Huge numbers of working class families from south-east and east London, and further afield, would leave their homes in the autumn to pick hops, particularly in Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire. Women and children often travelled independently of the men, who joined their families at the weekend. Londoners first walked, and then travelled by road or train to the hop fields. Many families returned year after year to the same farm, making friendships with fellow pickers and developing a sense of community (Cordle 2011, 138). Thus ‘hopping’ was also a social phenomenon, and hand picking hops lasted for 400 years as a way of life. The South Eastern Railway ran ‘Hop Pickers’ Specials’ to transport Londoners to the countryside in the 1870s. Initially accommodation for workers included canvas tents, barns, stables, cattle sheds or pigsties. Dirty, overcrowded and unhygienic conditions led to health problems, including an outbreak of cholera at East Farleigh, Kent, in September 1849, which killed 43 hop-pickers (Sutherland and Walton 1995, 6). During the 1860s there were campaigns led by Reverend J Y Stratton and Reverend J J Kendon to improve the conditions of hop pickers. In 1866 the ‘Society for Employment and Improved Lodgings for Hop Pickers’ was formed. The first bylaws covering hop pickers’ accommodation were adopted at Bromley, Kent under the 1874 Sanitary Acts Amendment Act, and subsequently many districts of Kent adopted laws. Purpose-built hop pickers’ huts, or Hopper’s Huts as they were also known, were erected. Towards the end of the C19, Father Richard Wilson founded hospitals for the treatment of hop pickers whilst the Salvation Army also attended to hop pickers’ welfare (Filmer 1992, 44).

The standard size of a Hopper’s Hut was 9 feet by 9 feet or 8 feet by 10 feet (Sutherland and Walton 1995, 9). Initially huts were constructed of timber but following the abolition of the brick tax in 1850 brick huts were built, often clad in corrugated iron sheets. It was unusual to have a single hut built; farmers most often constructed lines or blocks of huts. From about the 1930s, some Hoppers' Huts were also constructed of breeze blocks, whilst Nissen huts were another form of accommodation. Huts usually had an earth floor and were lit by candles or paraffin lamps. Eventually water was provided via a standpipe, dedicated toilets were erected, usually with an earth closet, and a dedicated cookhouse was often built. Furniture inside the huts was arranged by the pickers themselves, usually with very basic beds; initially faggots (bundles of brushwood) placed under a bedding of straw but by the 1920s palliasses (straw mattresses) and ticks (linen mattress covers) were widely used (Ibid, 9). In the C20 hop picking eventually began to be looked upon as a holiday, offering a change of scenery for many Londoners. However, mechanisation in the 1950s led to a decline in the need for hop pickers or their huts. Surviving purpose-built huts are now rare; most have been demolished or converted to other uses.

Rock Farm, Nettlestead, includes a C17 or earlier farmhouse (Grade II-listed, List entry 1060643), a former granary, converted oast houses, former stables, cottages and ponds. The hop pickers’ huts were built between 1885 and 1895 immediately to the north-east of the farmstead; they are not shown on an 1885 OS map (1:2500) but first appear on the 10:560 OS Map surveyed in 1895 and published in 1898. They are located in the heart of Kent’s former hop picking area, being just over three miles from the former Whitbread Hop Farm at Paddock Woods, Beltring. The buildings comprise two L-shaped single-storey blocks divided into individual huts. They are an example of comparatively good accommodation for hop pickers in the late C19. These blocks may have replaced earlier huts sited on the farm near the granary and near the ponds. Two sets of lavatories were later added to the end of the blocks, possibly in the 1980s. One local account states that these Hoppers' Huts were still in use until 1997 when the last crop was grown on Rock Farm, which had not gone over to mechanised picking (Pers. Comm. May 2019). A family from Hackney returned to these huts - in which their grandmother was born - for holidays until 2005.


Hop pickers’ huts, built between 1885 and 1895.

MATERIALS: dark stock brick laid in Flemish bond, red brick dressings and corrugated iron roofs.

PLAN: two L-shaped single-storey blocks forming a courtyard, open to the south, situated on the north-east side of the farmstead. Internally they are divided into individual huts, each with a single doorway and window.

DESCRIPTION: purpose-built hop pickers’ huts comprising two L-shaped single-storey blocks divided into individual huts. They have gabled corrugated iron roofs supported on timber purlins. There are ventilation holes in the brickwork of the gable end of the blocks. Each hut has a single timber-framed window and wooden-boarded door with red-brick jambs, although double doors have been inserted into one hut. Some have stable type doors, which allowed light and ventilation into the huts through the upper part of the door whilst the lower section was closed. At the south end of each block are water closets, each under a lower gabled roof, added later. Internally the huts have white-washed walls, although some may have been painted. Most of the huts are approximately 3m long by 2.5m wide but those at the corner of each block are 4.5m long by 3.5m wide.


Books and journals
Cordle, C, Out of the Hay and into the Hops: Hop cultivation in Wealden Kent and hop marketing in Southwark, 1744-2000, (2011)
Filmer, R, Hops and hop picking, (1992)
Sutherland, E, Walton, R, Kent and Sussex Hop Pickers’ Hovels, Huts and Houses: Construction and History, (1995)
English Heritage, National Farm Building Types (2014). Available online at: https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/national-farm-building-types/
Personal Communication, May 2019


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing