Hip to the power of hops

This week I was lucky enough to catch up with The Hop Project at Bromyard’s Conquest Theatre, a multi-media travelling art project focusing on the migratory movements of the hop pickers of old.

Hugh Farey with The Hop ProjectUp until the first half of the 20th century, villages and towns in Herefordshire and Worcestershire in particular swelled dramatically, as townsfolk from Birmingham and the Black Country travelled south in late summer/early autumn to lend a hand cutting down the gangly fresh hops from their precariously tall lines. The town of Bromyard was for many the epicentre of the hop world, as annual events such as its Hop Pickers Ball and the Hop Festival attest.

Created by General Public, aka artists Elizabeth Rowe and Chris Poolman, historical material sits alongside a fresh look of these important, mass city-to-country exoduses, with a comparison made with today’s working migrations, most recently from Eastern Europe.

Different elements of the exhibition appear at the various stops along its 18-month tour, and the pair have worked with a number of schools and creative groups in the West Midlands to further explore the experience. Contributions from key stops along the way include evocative quilt squares from the Crystal Quilters & Kidderminster Forest Quilters for fictional feminist ales.

Input has also been received from Ali Capper at British Hops, and the Bromyard and District Local History Society, among many others.

Fictional quilted pump clipsHighlights for me at The Conquest include young Birmingham rapper, Tee Lyrical, and her song of the times and tribulations of the travellers, plus the Hop Pickers Ball set of record covers and sleeve notes. An imaginary hip hop group, Rowe and Poolman curate a fictional run of albums following the social and political implications of the hop pickers’ lives.

Don’t miss the excellent 40-page newspaper accompanying the exhibition, with its informative essays by Professor Margaret Grieco, University of Birmingham, exploring the social aspects of the lives of hop pickers.

The exhibition continues at The Conquest in Bromyard until 22 September – check its facebook page for specific opening hours. Next stops on the tour are Leominster Library, and The Hive in Worcester, before heading to The Courtyard in Hereford in the New Year Consult the Hop Project website for dates and times.

Pictured above: The Conquest Theatre's Hugh Farey, with The Hop Project newspaper