The potential for the transport of hops was evident from the very earliest proposals for the South Eastern Railway.
The transport of hops is extensively discussed in the evidence to the House of Commons Opposed Bill Committee by farmers and hop factors. Farmers had sent hops to London before the railway was built, but the cost was high. Carts laden with hops were a heavy burden for the horses, and consequently the journey time was considerably longer than by train.
Many farmers in the area transported hops to Maidstone by land and then sent them on to London by water, but this was not necessarily a cheaper alternative. The farmer still had considerable haulage costs over land to reach Maidstone, costs of water-carriage were not much less than those of road-carriage, and journey times were often long and sometimes unpredictable.
The transport of hops is discussed at some length in the evidence to the Opposed Bill Committee. William Knox Child, a local farmer, states that when transporting hops by water there is only one journey a week. This can lead to a long delay which sometimes results in damage to the crops, and means a delay in receiving payment. It is also important that the hops remain dry, and so water travel is potentially hazardous.
William Knox Child's evidence on the transport of hops
Although the transport of hops by railway offered significant advantages to farmers over road haulage, our group found evidence that not all farmers were quick to begin using the new technology. They found the account books of a farmer at Loose, which is 3 miles from the branchline station at Maidstone that connects to the mainline. This farmer continued to use road carriage to transport his hops to London throughout the 1840s and 1850s. It is not until 1861 that the farm begins to send hops by the railway. At this date the accounts are written in another hand; perhaps a son took over the farm from his father and was more willing to embrace the new technology.
Account books from farm at Loose