The Hop Farm is Kent's iconic and historic landmark. Featuring the world's largest collection of Victorian oast houses, it was a major supplier of hops to London breweries in the 19th and 20th centuries. Families across the South East and beyond used to spend the summer holidays working in the rolling countryside around the Hop Farm, harvesting hops and preparing them to be transported. The hop packets were delivered to the local train station using the strength of the famous Shire horses. Visit The Hop Farm and you can learn more about its history and even meet the Shire horses in the stables.
Until 1997 The hop farm was known as The Whitbread Hop Farm and was owned by the Whitbread brewery. Originally a working farm, the brewery opened it up to visitors and it proved a popular attraction. Yesterdays World is a life-size recreation of a period village with street scenes, shops and genuine artefacts on display from the Victorian era to the 1970s. Hop Story Museum is based upon the farm's original use to produce hops, the museum is located in the park's collection of oast houses and features exhibits and a film about growing and harvesting hops. Other attractions include The Magic Castle, HoverMania, Children's Driving School - track for small cars and trucks for children to drive, Giant Jumping Pillows, Hoppers Animal World - petting farm and falconry centre which features llamas, donkeys, miniature ponies, shire horses, rabbits, goats and more., Inflatable boats and slides, a 4D Cinema, Outdoor Adventure Play and Indoor Soft Play, Shops and Children's rides.
The main event was the annual War and Peace Show. First put on in 1982, it has grown to be the largest military vehicle show in the world, with 10,000 enthusiasts and over 3,500 vehicles attending. It has since moved to Folkestone Race Course. In addition to this, the park hosts a number of events such as European Championship Monster Truck Racing, The Kent County Fair, and Paws in the Park (It has since moved to the Kent Showground Detling). The Hop Farm is also an outdoor music venue. In 2006 a concert starring Craig David should have launched the Tunbridge Wells SpaFest, to mark the 400th anniversary of the founding of the town but it was called off due to local complaints, and a substitute concert was staged at The Hop Farm. That year also saw Terry Wogan's Summer Proms staged there. Over the first weekend of July between 2008 and 2012, the Hop Farm Festival was held at the park. Starting in 2008, the festival grew to a capacity of over 50,000 people, playing host to many internationally artists including Bob Dylan, Prince, The Eagles, Blondie, Neil Young, Primal Scream, The Fratellis and Florence and the Machine among others, but after making a loss in 2012, the festival was cancelled in 2013 due to poor ticket sales. Since 2015 the park has been the location of Chilled in a Field Festival.
The first documented hop cultivation was in 736, in the Hallertau region of present-day Germany, although the first mention of the use of hops in brewing in that country was 1079. However, in a will of Pepin the Short, the father of Charlemagne, 768 hop gardens were left to the Cloister of Saint-Denis. Not until the 13th century did hops begin to start threatening the use of gruit for flavoring. Gruit was used when taxes were levied by the nobility on hops. Whichever was taxed made the brewer then quickly switch to the other. In Britain, hopped beer was first imported from Holland around 1400, yet hops were condemned as late as 1519 as a "wicked and pernicious weed". In 1471, Norwich, England, banned use of the plant in the brewing of ale ("beer" was the name for fermented malt liquors bittered with hops; only in recent times are the words often used as synonyms). In Germany, using hops was also a religious and political choice in the early 16th century. There was no tax on hops to be paid to the Catholic church, unlike on gruit, for which the Protestant preferred hopped beer. Hops used in England were imported from France, Holland and Germany with import duty paid for those; it was not until 1524 that hops were first grown in the southeast of England (Kent) when they were introduced as an agricultural crop by Dutch farmers. Therefore, in the hop industry there are many words which originally were Dutch words (such as oast house). Hops were then grown as far north as Aberdeen, near breweries for infrastructure convenience. According to Thomas Tusser's 1557 Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry: "The hop for his profit I thus do exalt, It strengtheneth drink and it flavoureth malt; And being well-brewed long kept it will last, And drawing abide, if ye draw not too fast." In England there were many complaints over the quality of imported hops, the sacks of which were often contaminated by stalks, sand or straw to increase their weight. As a result, in 1603, King James I approved an Act of Parliament banning the practice by which "the Subjects of this Realm have been of late years abused &c. to the Value of £20,000 yearly, besides the Danger of their Healths".
The need for massed labor at harvest time meant hop-growing had a big social impact. Around the world, the labor-intensive harvesting work involved large numbers of migrant workers who would travel for the annual hop harvest. Whole families would partake and live in hoppers' huts, with even the smallest children helping in the fields. The final chapters of W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage and a large part of George Orwell's A Clergyman's Daughter contain a vivid description of London families participating in this annual hops harvest. In England, many of those picking hops in Kent were from eastern areas of London. This provided a break from urban conditions that was spent in the countryside. People also came from Birmingham and other Midlands cities to pick hops in the Malvern area of Worcestershire. Some photographs have been preserved. Particularly in Kent, because of a shortage of small-denomination coin of the realm, many growers issued their own currency to those doing the labor. In some cases, the coins issued were adorned with fanciful hops images, making them quite beautiful.
The Hop Farm attraction site is flat and level with easy access for both wheelchairs and pushchairs. There is a disabled toilet located at the end of The Shires Inn Restaurant and in Happy Hoppers indoor play area. Most attractions are at bottom floor level. Certain rides in The Hop Farm Family Park can be physically demanding and vigorous. They therefore reserve the right to refuse admission to these rides should they feel there is a danger to a particular individual. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : The Hop Farm, Maidstone Road, Paddock Wood, Kent, TN12 6PY
Transport : Paddock Wood (National Rail) then taxi. Bus Routes : 6 (from Tunbridge Wells or Maidstone) stops outside.
Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 16:00
Tickets : £1 per person (babies to 1 year are free). Rides vary between £1 and £5
Tel. : 01622 872068