Tuesday 19 June 2012

More on Farnham hops

Which I 'm sure is a moment you've been wating for. Probably. Anyway it’s about time I wrote up some of the information I jotted down when I looked though the archives of Wye Hops Ltd.

Though those of your who’ve been following my series on the history of the Goldings hops closely will have thought that all that’s left is the out takes but in fact we’re going to have to go back to Farnham for some early, pre-whitebine information.

In “The Hop Industry”  (1934) Hubert H Parker cites some fascinating facts from William Ellis’ “Modern Husbandman” (1750):
“The Farnham hop is pale tender sort, and more delicate but looser that the browner Canterbury hop, which latter however has the merit that it ‘never deceives the buyer’. But in Kent they are beginning to displace the brown Canterbury hop by the Farnham variety. ”

“In 1737 only one acre (in Kent) was planted with the pale Farnham or Surrey bines.” But in 1750 Ellis writes “Within these four years past they have greatly increased the growth of the Surrey or pale hop … since the pale sort of malt liquors are more in esteem throughout our island”

This got me all excited as it shows that before the Farnham Whitebine was selected in 1750 cuttings from the best Farnham hops were already being sent to Kent. With there being Farnham Whitebines and pale Farnham/Surrey bines both going to Kent it does get me thinking that my earlier point that Farnham, Canterbury and Mathon Whitebines are one and the same plant is shaken slightly. On the plus side it gives me a likely ancestor for the Farnham Whitebines, as they could well have originated as a bud sports from the pale Farnham/Surrey bines. That would be the common practice of taking an improved cutting from the best hop available, and is how the Canterbury Golding originated from the Canterbury Whitebine.

So as the pale Farnham/Surrey bines had already been sent elsewhere could the Canterbury and Mathon Whitebines also be descended from these earlier plants and not Peckham William's Farnham Whitebine?

Personally I think not. The Farnham Whitebine was considered the best of the English hops and certainly superseded the pale bines in Surrey so could easily do that elsewhere too. Percival considered Farnham, Canterbury and Mathon Whitebines to be one and the same plant and he's our best source, even if some have now started to question him on another matter.Perhaps though the Goldings group of hops is enlarged by adding the pale Surrey/Farnham hop a possible earlier ancestor? This would put the known history back to before 1737 which is nice.

Another point mentioned that I haven't reallly picked up on before: pale hops were wanted for making pale beer. Nowadays it's only the colour of the malt that's considered important. I wonder how much colour hops can add to pale beers?

But back to my notes. Parker continues:
"Farnham hops maintened the postition of pre-eminence which they enjoyed at the beginning of the eighteenth centruy until 1850 at least, but the select committee of 1890 reported that the best hops were grown in East Kent, next came Farnham hops, then Hereford and Worcester and the Weald of Kent and Sussex last. 1908 East Kents are thought to have declined a little in quality but are still places first; Mid-Kents, Hereford and Worcester, now considered equal are second and the Weald of Kent and Sussex follow. Farnham's are not mentioned. The gradual decline of Farnham as the centre of the production of the finest quality hops is not easy to explain. The Farnham growers had so assured a position for 150 years: soil and climate were suitable to the production of hops of superior quality: cultivation was brought to a fine state of perfection and their methods of marketing graded hops in sealed pockets left little to be desired.  
In earlier years Farnham hops had gone principally to brewers in the midlands, who in the later part of the period, were able to find in the Hereford and Worcester districts a class of hop which was very suitable for their business at a price well below that of Farnham's."
In my post on the Farnham Whitebines I go into the decline of Farnham hops, which was mainly caused by improved tranportation leading to increased competition. Not a bad run run though, being Britain's best for over 150 years.


There's part of the Management of Hops chapter from the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England Volume 9 (1848) I should add considering it's relevance to Parker's later point about Farnham hops:

"At Farnham they are picked in a superior manner to any other district, being picked quite separate, free from leaves, and the inferior and discoloured hops sorted out and put by themselves, which in some degree accounts for the superiority and higher price of Farnham hops; but since Mid and East Kent Golding hops have been better picked and dried, they have been approached nearer to the price of Farnhams, and there has been an instance of hops grown in Kent making more money than any Farnham hops did the same year."
 So Farnham practices, as well as Farnham hops, spread to Kent.

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