Kent History Scrapbook

PUBLISHED: 08:23 04 September 2015

The Tallyman and hop pickers in Kent

The Tallyman and hop pickers in Kent


From the seaside to the hop fields, Kent Life’s history sleuth has been uncovering tales of Septembers past

Golden Winkle

Sir Winston Churchill received many lavish and 
expensive gifts during his lifetime but one he really wanted was a small winkle shell from the Hastings Winkle Club.

Taking its name from the edible little sea snails collected locally, the Hastings Winkle Club dates back to 1900 when it was founded by a group of fisherman meeting in the Prince Albert pub.

Although not particularly well off themselves, the men were deeply concerned with the poverty faced by some of the local families and became determined to give the children of the borough “a happy time at Christmas.”

Upon acceptance into the club, members paid a subscription and were presented with an empty winkle shell, which they had to carry with them at all times. Failure to produce it when challenged to ‘winkle up’ by another member resulted in a penny fine, which went straight into the charitable pot.

An elaborate system of light-hearted, penalty 
inducing situations has been implemented during the last 115 years and no one is exempt from the rules. Not even the club’s current patron, Admiral of the Fleet the Lord Boyce, who was notably caught ‘unwinkled’ when challenged at the Houses of Parliament in 2008.

Famous ‘winklers’ include HRH Prince Edward, The Duke of Kent, Sir Norman Wisdom and Richard Dimbleby. Honorary status into the ‘men-only’ club has also been given to The Queen Mother and HRH Queen Elizabeth II.

Churchill was 81 when he received his invitation to join the club and although he had already suffered a stroke and recently retired from his position as Prime Minister he instantly declared: “This is one thing I want to do.”

Travelling to Hastings in the company of fellow club member Field Marshall Lord Montgomery, Churchill was 
presented with his rare solid gold winkle on 
7 September 1955. Visitors can now find it in the Museum Room at Chartwell.

Keeping a Tally

If there was one person you needed to keep on side during the hop-picking season it was the tally man. He was responsible for keeping account of how many bushels were picked each day which, in turn, controlled how much each family earned. The price was set by the farmer at the beginning of the season and one shilling per bushel (5p) is the highest-recorded amount for the Faversham area.

Hop picking is hard work and although the act of picking off a vine may sound simple, the reality is vastly different. The hops are paper thin and in 1931 the novelist and political writer George Orwell wrote that “a good picker can strip a vine in about 10 minutes, so that theoretically one might earn about 30s by a 60-hour week. But in practice this is quite impossible. To begin with, the hops vary enormously. On some vines they are as large as small pears and on others hardly bigger than peas.” Added to this was ever present and overpowering smell of drying hops, which frequently caused headaches and nausea.

Despite this, thousands of workers eagerly travelled down to Kent each year to pack hops into a bin (or basket) set at the end of their row. These bins each held five bushels and were painted with rings to mark the amount collected. The tally man would then come around at regularly intervals to measure the amount and give pickers a token to indicate how much had been accepted.

For every five bushels a notch would be made on the tally man’s stick – a rectangular piece of wood which had been split lengthways. One half was given to the picker and the other was kept on a string around the tally man’s neck. Whenever a notch was due to be made the two pieces were placed together before marking. No cheating was allowed and anyone caught trying to add sneaky notches or bulk up their pickings with leaves would soon find their work forfeited.

The tally man also reported directly to the farmer and, having spent two weeks in Kent during September 1931, George Orwell recounted that: “Hops are soft things like sponges, and it is easy for the measurer to crush a bushel of them into a quart if he chooses. Some days he merely scoops the hops out, but on other days he has orders from the farmer to ‘take them heavy’ and then he crams them tight into the basket, so that instead of getting 20 bushels for a full bin one gets only 12 or 14.”

It’s therefore easy to see why the tally man wasn’t always a popular figure.

The gift of care

Sitting alongside the impressive fighter planes at the Manston Spitfire & Hurricane Museum is a small display in honour of Evelyn Patricia Dunn. Evelyn volunteered as a British Red Cross nurse from July 1941 until the end of the Second World War and her display of medals and certificates is, at the moment, a sole reminder of the efforts of the thousands of Red Cross volunteers who served across Kent.

The only problem is that although the museum has this photo of her sitting with a child they don’t know if she is sitting on the left or on the right! Evelyn died in September 1982 and her memorabilia was donated by a Mr B A F King of Cliftonville. Unfortunately, the museum also doesn’t know if Evelyn was related to him. Do you?

Red Cross nurses were stationed at Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) across Kent throughout the First and Second World Wars and provided vital aid to the naval and military forces. Women such as Evelyn were taught first aid, home nursing and hygiene by approved medical practitioners while men were trained for first aid in-the-field and stretcher bearing.

The Kent VAD organisation, set up during the First World War, ran over 80 auxiliary military hospitals in houses, churches, town halls and schools to accommodate around 4,730 patients.

According to the Kent VAD organisation website: “Kent accommodated far more wounded soldiers than any other area of the country and by the end of first world war the VAD hospitals had cared for 125,000 patients - 30,000 (31 per cent) more than any other county in England.”

That means there were many other wonderful ladies like Evelyn who helped care for them and the Spitfire and Hurricane museum would love to learn about those who worked in their area.

Can you help?

Write to: if you can help our History Sleuth with any information on Evelyn and other ladies in Kent who cared for wounded soldiers during the same era.

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