Friday, February 15, 2008

Kent - Garden of England

Kent is sometimes referred to as the Garden of England because of the pretty countryside and picturesque villages and homes with well tended and beautiful gardens. This is perhaps due to the rich, nutritious soil that provides farmers with plentiful crops of barley and rape and orchards full of fruit. But for centuries, Kent was known as one of the leading counties for its hop fields and, by neccesity there were many oast houses. Some have been lost to the ravages of time while others have been maintained and converted from their original use to private homes.

During the mid 1500s, hop fields flourished in Kent and the production of beer increased providing a lucrative market for farmers for many centuries. Even as late as the mid 1950s, migrant workers arrived from London to harvest the hops and earn the much needed extra money in post war England. The days were long and hard in the hop fields as the vines were pulled from their overhead string lacings and placed across canvas bins. Then the men, women and children went to work, their nimble fingers separating the hops from the leaves in quick, fluid strokes. Once picked, measured by the bushels and recorded, a tractor-drawn trailer deposited the hops at the oast house where they were dried and the process of beer making beer began.

There are ten chapters in Extraordinary Places...Close to London dedicated to the county of Kent including: Royal Tonbridge Wells, Ightham, Cobham, Rochester, Chilham, Leeds Castle, Westerham, Chiddingstone, Biddenden and Pluckley. They offer stories of our past from the Black Prince at Ightham Mote to the ghosts of Pluckley said to be the most haunted village in England.