Bang, bang, another beery myth hits the floorboards, or at least staggers back badly wounded, after excellent work by Kim Cook in an article called “Who produced Fuggle’s Hops” just published in the latest (Spring 2009, issue 130) edition of Brewery History magazine.
The story repeated everywhere about Fuggles, one of the two classic English hop varieties, first appeared 108 years ago in an article called “The Hop and its English Varieties”, by John Percival (1863-1949), then professor at the agricultural college in Wye, Kent, in the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, vol 62, and reprinted in the Brewers’ Journal March 15 1902 edition, pp 10-16. Percival wrote of the Fuggle hop that
“The original plant was a casual seedling which appeared in the flower-garden of Mr George Stace, of Horsmonden, Kent. The seed from which the plant arose was shaken out along with crumbs from the hop-picking dinner basket used by Mrs Stace, the seedling being noticed about the year 1861. The sets were afterwards introduced to the public by Mr Richard Fuggle, of Brenchley, about the year 1875. (Letters from Mr John Larkin,. Horsmonden, Mr W.J. Noakes, Goudbury and others.)”
Horsmonden and Brenchley are two villages in the Kentish Weald, about a mile apart. The Fuggles variety grows well in the stiff, damp, clayey soils of the Weald, and better than hops such as Goldings do in such soils. If a new, hardy, heavy-cropping hop, comparatively very rich in lupulin, and well-suited to Wealden conditions suddenly popped up in the district, a Wealden hop farmer was indeed likely to spot it and introduce it commercially. So do the records support Percival’s account of the birth of Fuggles?
Unfortunately, Kim Cook’s investigations show, they don’t. There was nobody living in Horsmonden in 1861 called George Stace: the census returns that year show no families called Stace, or anything like it, in the village at all, nor any Georges whose surname bore any possible resemblance to Stace. A wide-ranging search uncovered several people called George Stace living in and around the Wealden area at the right sort of time, but none with any good connection to Horsmonden.
What about Richard Fuggle? More problems. Later narratives than Percival’s specifically identified Richard Fuggle as being of Fowle Hall, then in Brenchley but later assigned to Paddock Wood. The Fuggles certainly lived at Fowle Hall, but in the period 1861-1879 the head of the household was Thomas Fielder Fuggle, not Richard. Thomas Fielder Fuggle did have a son called Richard, his seventh child, but he was only 13 in 1861, and he emigrated to Ontario around 1871-72, aged 23 or so, and thus wasn’t around in 1875 to promote the Fuggle hop.
There WAS a Richard Fuggle farming in the area, at the right time, at Old Hay, about a mile or so north of Brenchley village proper (and brother to Thomas Fielder Fuggle – see comment below). Old Hay was then a detached part of the parish of Mereworth, seven miles further north. Kim Cook’s provisional family tree for the Fuggles of Old Hay shows Richard Fuggle senior was born around 1806, dying in 1864, and his son Richard junior was born in 1841, inheriting the running of the farm at Old Hay from his father. Some time between 1874 and 1878, however, just the time when the Fuggles hop was supposedly being introduced, Kim Cook shows that this Richard Fuggle moved from Old Hay to Owley Farm, Wittersham, around 20 or so miles to the south. By 1891 he was living in Wittersham village and working as an overseer for someone else, and he died in 1913. His son, another Richard, born 1872, emigrated to Australia, where his wife died only in 1962.
One little piece of evidence Kim Cook didn’t have was a notice in The Times from July 6 1871 about the sale of West and East Old Hay farms, with East Old Hay “in the occupation of Mr F. [sic] Fuggle”, presumably a typo for R. Fuggle. Both farms had hop kilns attached and were “proverbial for their excellent growth of hops and corn”, according to the sale notice.
Strangely, the two people Kim Cook has been able to definitely identify are Professor Percival’s two named informants. John Larkin was a farmer at Ashdown, Horsmonden in 1901, the village of his birth in 1843, while William John Noakes had been at Burr’s Hill, Brenchley from at least 1861 to around 1890. They ought to have been good witnesses, and it is very strange that little or no evidence can be found to stand their story up.
Kim Cook suggests the true originator of the Fuggles hop might have been Ann Fuggle, half-sister, it seems of Thomas Fielder Fuggle and daughter of John Fuggle, of Gatehouse Farm, Brenchley, who was the largest hop farmer in the Fuggle family in Brenchley before she married William Durrant in 1848. This is too far a stretch for me: if I had to bet, I’d put my money on Richard Fuggle senior and/or junior of Old Hay farm (and besides, Ann Fuggle evidently died in 1868: see, again, note below)..
But if this Richard was the originator of the Fuggle hop, why didn’t he make enough money from introducing the new variety to not have to end up working for someone else 20 miles away from the family home? And since this Richard was still alive in 1901, why didn’t Professor Percival contact him to find out about the hop’s origins, rather than having to rely on Larkin and Noakes?
Certainly the new variety caught on quickly. The earliest mention of Fuggles hops I have been able to find comes from the Brewers’ Journal of September 1883, where a reprint of a talk given a year earlier by Dr H. Braungart of Weihenstephan to the Swiss Brewers’ Congress in Geneva mentions (twice) “Juggles Goldings [sic] (Weald of Kent)” being grown in 1881, six years after the variety’s supposed introduction. Juggles is obviously a typo for Fuggles (the same article also talks about “Brambling” hops, when Bramling is meant), and Fuggles were occasionally regarded as a type of Goldings in the variety’s early decades.
Brewers eventually began to value the variety as well. A report on the hop market in The Times on November 13 1895 said: “The attention of brewers is being more and more centred upon Fuggles, of which the best and medium sorts passed off very well.” Ten years later, in a monograph on The Hop and its Constituents, Professor Percival wrote:
In the less favoured districts with damp, stiffish soils, or where the climate is against the production of the finest quality, Fuggle’s Hop is a variety extensively grown, and its cultivation is spreading. It is a heavy cropper, hardy, with a green bine. The hops are somewhat large, square in section, pointed at the tip, with thickish petals. The basal petals of the “cone” are dirty green in colour. The hops are rich in lupulin, but their aroma is second rate. For use in the copper this variety is as good as any, and, when well managed, gives a remunerative yield to the grower.”
Three decades later, when the variety was, if the story of its origins is correct, getting on for 80 years old, The Times wrote on February 1 1938 that “The Fuggle … is more largely grown than any other variety in this country. It is at present practically the only variety grown in the Weald of Kent and Sussex and is also grown in Herefordshire.”
Even in 1949 Fuggles hops made up 78 per cent of the English hop harvest, but the variety proved particularly susceptible to a virulent strain of the fungal infection Verticillium wilt that started to hammer the hop gardens of Kent and Sussex from the 1940s. This, together with the development of varieties of hop with higher levels of alpha acids, saw Fuggles crash to only some nine per cent of total hop acreage in England.
Fortunately committed brewers have kept the variety alive because they desired to maintain the traditional flavours of British beers, particular bitter: there doesn’t seem to be another hop that gives the mouth-filling rotundity of Fuggles to a comparatively low-strength ale. The classic combination is the grassy Fuggles and the more citric Goldings. My local Sainsbury’s supermarket has been selling cheap bottles of Harviestoun’s Haggis Hunter, 4.3 per cent abv, which is brewed solely with masses of Fuggles and Goldings, far more, I suspect than usually go into a British beer. The result is revelatory: brisk, uplifting, tangy, a marvellous rejoinder to anyone who thinks that super-hoppy beers need to have American hops in them.
Whoever really first spotted that little hop plant supposedly grown from a seed thrown out of a hop-picker’s dinner basket, we’re all very grateful.