A NEW way-marking project has been set up to tell the story of the ‘Hop Pickers Line’ through the borough of Tunbridge Wells.

Around a quarter of a million Londoners, mainly from the East End, used to come down to Kent in September, particularly to the farms west of the town.

They would then make the connection to a single-line steam railway which linked the communities of Paddock Wood, Horsmonden, Goudhurst, Cranbrook and Hawkhurst from 1892 to 1961.

The new way-marking and interpretation scheme has been organised by the Hop Pickers Line Heritage Group in partnership with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and the parish councils.

It features finger-posts, monoliths and information panels sited at appropriate points where public rights of way cross the original line.

“We are looking forward to developing this project further”

The pickers would embark from London Bridge on the ‘Hopper Specials’ train service and many regarded the harvest as a holiday.

In the Thirties and Forties a family working flat out for a month could earn around £40, which was the equivalent of ten weeks’ pay.

But for the children especially, it was also a time of escape from the cramped conditions, smog-filled air and infestation of their slum housing.

The money would allow the wives to plan for winter clothing. It was often only women who did the work, with the men coming down at weekends.

Cllr Elizabeth Thomas, Chair of Paddock Wood Town Council, opened the project at the Knells Farm Solar Farm, where the first monolith was installed.

“We are delighted that the first way-marker of this exciting new initiative has been installed within Paddock Wood, which was the start of the Hop Pickers railway line,” she said.

Yolanda Laybourne, Chair of the Hop Pickers Steering Group, commented: “Fifty years on, and this little line continues to link its rural communities in a new, imaginative way.

“We are looking forward to developing this project further in partnership with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council so that both the steam railway and our important hop-picking heritage are celebrated through this innovative interpretation scheme.”