The reminiscences we collected for this project came from older people in London and Kent who had vivid memories of spending a few weeks in September each year in the country, staying on farms, living largely in the open air and cooking and washing outdoors. Most people look back on their ‘hopping’ experience with great fondness, as a break from life in the poorer more crowded areas of London, a chance to meet up again with friends and family, and to earn some extra money for winter clothes and other necessities.
The ‘hopping’ memories we collected have gone into a highly illustrated publication “Our Lovely Hops” and also formed the basis for a whole-day Theatre-In-Education programme for school children in south-east London. We created a ‘hopping’ environment at the Reminiscence Centre, incorporating a hop-field with real hops, hop bins, bushel baskets, a very convincing full height painted mural and a walk-in hopping hut. The children worked with professional actors led by Dianne Hancock, and some of the older people who had contributed memories. They re-enacted the whole hop-picking experience, from packing up and leaving London by train or lorry, travelling down to Kent, settling in to their huts, spending the days picking hops and ‘scrumping’ apples, cooking and eating outdoors sitting on straw bales and hearing the real hop-pickers’ tales.
This was one of three whole-day theatre projects created for the Reminiscence Centre between 1987 and 1991, the others focusing on schoolday memories and war-time evacuation.