Spies & Spitfires

Spies & Spitfires

by Alex Askaroff

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Spies & Spitfires by Alex Askaroff

It is difficult to imagine today but hop picking once touched countless families all around the country. In the East End of London alone, on a good year, up to 200,000 people may have spent a month picking hops. Even on a normal year around 70,000 people, mainly mums and kids, would travel to the hops fields of Britain and spend their ‘working holiday’ picking the brown gold or ‘Grapes of the South’ as some called them, so sought after by brewers for their beer. One hop farm in Paddock Wood took over 4,000 Londoners most years. Each person needed to be housed and fed for a month in a military operation long lost today. Rows of hop tents or tin huts were opened up as the families poured in from train stations. One of the first jobs was to clean them up and make them liveable again after a year lying dormant. Mice were chased out, pigeons were shooed away, and the odd owl or two that had made a nice quiet roost. Then beds were made, clothes unpacked and sometimes a few decorations, even a few hop bines strung around the walls. Partitions were hung up, occasionally even wallpaper was applied! Faggots of wood were collected for the open fires and the kettle boiled. For a few short and enjoyable weeks in autumn these little ‘shanty towns’ became home, new friends were made and old acquaintances reunited. Many families would travel to the hop fields of Kent and elsewhere on special ‘hop trains’ or ‘hoppers’, laid on for the unique mass movement of humans on their yearly pilgrimage. It is hard today to understand how important hop picking was. Many families could not afford holidays but they could escape the grime and smog of the big cities and for a few short weeks and earn money towards the family coffers. For many women it was the only money that they earned all year and went towards everything from new shoes to Christmas presents. Many farms paid in tokens rather than money and had their own farm shops where the tokens could be exchanged for food and goods. At the end of the month the tokens were exchanged for cash. These hop tokens are just museum pieces now. Hop picking was mainly a female activity with mum and the kids. Men would often join them on weekends. If the husbands could get time away from work, they may even stay a week or more with the family. On the whole however, tens of thousands of women, once a year, ‘up sticks’ and escaped for a month. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard long work and sometimes the kids were ill. One particular problem that children managed to catch was the dreaded ‘hop eye’ caught on the cold damp mornings when the sulphur from the oast houses drifted across the fields like mustard gas. Other problems arose like drunk husbands in the local pubs and even occasionally something went missing from one of the huts or a fight broke out, but all these were rare occurrences. On the whole for many thousands of families, hop picking was remembered with great fondness and possibly the best time of their lives. We are going on a journey back in time to one particular family and their story. Follow along with Doll as the long lost world of hop picking comes back to life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780953941094
Publisher: Crows Nest Publications
Publication date: 07/01/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 62
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

I was born in the latter half of the 1950's in the busy bomb-blitzed seaside town of Eastbourne on the South Coast of England. Rubble still lay in places from the 11,000 or so buildings damaged by German planes. I grew up in the manufacturing trade surrounded by sewing machines. My mother was a skilled Viennese seamstress with a wonderful design ability. She invented and patented such things as the Raincape that simply pulled over a pushchair to keep the baby dry in the rain and the Top‘n’Tail, a changing-mat that baby could not roll off, with pouches at the bottom for such as talc and nappy-rash cream. My dad was born in Moscow on the first official day of the Russian revolution in October 1917, not a good start. His life seemed to be dramatic from then on. He was smuggled out of the country as a child. Some 30 years later, and you’d think two lifetimes of experiences, by his tales, he settled in the quaint seaside tourist resort of Eastbourne and started a manufacturing company called Simplantex. It grew to the largest of its kind in Europe and it was here that I learnt my trade that eventually led to me becoming a Master Craftsman. The stair-well walls leading to the offices at the factory were lined with patent documents for many great ideas. Ideas that were produced in their thousands every week and went to the four corners of the world—from New Zealand to Iceland. We were supplying film stars and royalty alike. Harrods would place special orders for special people and even more special babies. It was a real thrill to see Princess Diana carrying our future King in one of our hand made Palm Leaf Moses baskets. For over 30 years the names Simplantex and Premiere Baby were synonymous with the best you could buy for your baby. We would see babies wrapped in our products being carried around by the rich and famous and on television. With the rights to such toys and fabrics as Paddington Bear and Beatrix Potter almost no home was without our merchandise. My fascination with Singer started early as I had inherited the fingers of my forefathers who were watchmakers and I adored the complex mechanisms that made sewing machines work. I studied engineering at college and went to work on the factory floor. Many specialists trained me in the art of sewing machine repair and in their teachings was always Isaac Singer. As I wrote books about my work around the South East of England I started to piece together the intricate tale of Isaac and in my 10th book I bring him back from the dead, a forgotten giant who shaped the world in which we now live.

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