Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Hops on headstones

St Mary Cray Cemetery, in the London Borough of Bromley, contains a large number of travellers’ graves (see post of 20 September 2022 for further information).  At least two of these graves have hops, Humulus lupulus, depicted on their headstones.  It is assumed that these refer to the times when travellers, people from the East End of London, and elsewhere, would spend much of September harvesting hops in Kent.  In the late 1950s mechanisation of the hop harvest brought this annual migration to an end.   Thus although Frederick Bignall, b.12 March 1943, and Susie Jones, b. 23 February 1945, may have had memories of hop-picking, it seems unlikely that William Jones, b. 21 August 1950, and Charity Jones, date of birth unrecorded, but died 22 April 2021, did so.

Other, less likely, reasons for hops being depicted on memorials include their use to overcome insomnia,* and the idea that hanging hops up indoors would ensure good luck (see Hop on the Material Collected page of this website).  However the association of hops with good luck seems to be comparatively recent, possibly derived from the practice of attaching dried hops to the rafters of ‘olde worlde’ pubs.

The headstone on the grave of Jimmy Bignell (1955-96) doesn’t depict hops, but provides an idealised picture of a traveller and his horse, with oast houses in the background, in the Kent countryside.  It seems unlikely that Jimmy could remember hop-picking, but memories of the activity were passed on to his generation.

*Incidentally, according to medical herbalists, hops act as an anaphrodisiac, reducing sexual desire.

Photographs taken 27 December 2023.

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