We had somehow formed the impression that Cornwall isn’t natural beer country, in large part because hops aren’t grown here. Because of an article we are working on, however, we needed to know for sure whether hops were commonly available in the 18th and 19th centuries, and so got digging.
In the stacks at the Cornish Studies Library in Redruth a helpful archivist (herself from Kent and dubious about the idea of hops in Cornwall) directed us to an 1811 book called A General View of the Agriculture of the Country of Cornwall by G.B. Worgan, written on behalf of the Board of Agriculture. And what do you know – it lists hops as a substantial Cornish crop.
HOPS… Have been much grown in Roseland, but the culture is on the decline: the duties increasing, and hops from Kent and Hampshire finding their way here, the Cornish hop-grower is discouraged; for except he can sell at 15d. per lb. it is a losing crop.
The author goes on to observe that growing hops in Cornwall is expensive, uses up a lot of the best manure, that the local soil produces a meagre yield, and that hops grown here are prone to mildew.
An 1839 report by the Statistical Society noted the availability of hops as far West as Penzance based on a clergyman’s accounts books covering the period from 1746 to 1770; they sold at around 1 shilling per pound – a touch more expensive than sugar.
Another helpful book, Lynda Mudle-Small’s What the Ancestors Drank (in Warleggan), compiles various bits of evidence for the cultivation of hops in Cornwall from 1595 onwards, and of the growing of barley for malting from the 15th century.
So, if not exactly natural beer country, Cornwall has certainly been trying its damnedest for a good few centuries.