Growing Hops in Cornwall

Detail from a map of Cornwall, 1780s.

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.

5 thoughts on “Growing Hops in Cornwall”

  1. Blame trains? Pri­or to a cer­tain point trans­porta­tion costs would have made local pro­duc­tion rea­son­able even if yield was low. Also, you are run­ning into the Enclo­sures Act era if you go far back enough in the 1700s. You get a com­bi­na­tion of hus­bandry and pri­vate land own­er­ship and canal ship­ping in cer­tain parts plus scale in tech­niques that all com­bine to make records of com­mon­place activ­i­ties more obvi­ous around the same time.

    1. It took quite a while for rail to get across the Tamar and into Corn­wall, as far as I can tell from a bit of Googling, but there must have been great leaps in effi­cien­cy in har­vest­ing, pack­ag­ing, ware­hous­ing and trans­port (by road, canal and sea) in this peri­od.

    1. Inter­est­ing. We’ve nev­er come across wild hops in Corn­wall but we’ll have to keep an eye out lat­er in the year.

  2. Had a quick look at Burgess and got:

    [In 1765] hops were then sold at the fol­low­ing 25 fairs in Eng­land and Wales

    St. Austell, Corn­wall (a few hops) – Nov 10th
    Liskeard, Corn­wall (a few hops) – Sept 21st and Dec 10th”

    and

    In 1870 hops were cul­ti­vat­ed in 53 coun­ties of Great Britain: 40 in Eng­land, 8 in Wales and 5 in Scot­land, extend­ing as far north as Aberdeen­shire”

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