Saturday, January 13, 2018



There’s not much left these days of the Venetian Gothic architecture of Myer’s hop warehouses in Worcester’s Sansome Street, but the sculpted pediment survives. It shows a group of women hop-picking, with, in the background, ‘luxuriant clusters of the bine’†. Those are the words of the Worcester Journal, commenting on the building when it was new in 1875. The newspaper attributes the design to an architect called Haddon, of Malvern and Hereford, while the sculptor William Forsyth of Worcester did the carving.  

Forsyth was born in Scotland, but by the 1850s was working at Eastnor Castle with his brother, James, also a sculptor. Whereas a commission took James to Somerset, where he settled, William set up in Worcester, and the city has quite a bit of his carving, from work on the restoration of the cathedral to decorations for business fronts. He must have done a lot of work in the area for by the 1870s his yard employed twelve men and three boys. Clearly he could carve vigorously, and the deeply cut hop-pickers and hops, even chipped and blackened as they are now, are very effective.

In the Victorian period, of course, a yard of skilled carvers like Forsyth’s would have had a lot of work doing church restorations. But Forsyth’s success was also due to a culture in which shopkeepers and businessmen like Myer the hop-merchant wanted good looking decoration for their premises – decoration that acted as a recognisable sign in an age when signs were built to last . How lucky we are that this one did. 

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* When I lived in southeast London I remember stories, remembering the time not so many decades before, of poor people from London who took working ‘holidays’ picking hops in Kent. This phenomenon was known as ‘hopping’, or, more colloquially, ‘oppin’. 

† Bine: a twining or flexible shoot; cf woodbine.


Hels said...

Do you remember the Darling Buds of May? I realise the film was set decades after the Victorian era and perhaps even after World War Two, but the hopping connection to Kent remains in my mind. Including the oast houses.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Ah, yes, Hels. Indeed, post-WW2, but still with the flavour of Kent.

bazza said...

I too remember people going on hop-picking 'holidays' to Kent when I was growing up in the East End of London. I consumed a certain amount of hops last night with my Belgian beer appreciating friends, who mostly slept over and have only just left!
PS: I like the carvings too. These days one is inclined to think the builders would simply buy plastic mouldings in Wickes and just glue them into place!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s quixotic Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

These are beautiful carvings: the long dresses give a Classical feel, the expressions give a sense of joyful productivity. Just finished reading about the French Socialist thinker Charles Peguy, who used to get lyrical about the value and dignity of work like this, despite it undoubtedly being "ard coller" as they used to say in the Black Country.