Hampshire Hop-pickers

“Of all my painting experiences, none were so alluring and colourful as those visits spent amongst the gypsy hop-pickers in Hampshire each September. More glamour and excitement were packed into those six weeks than a painter could well contend with. I still have visions of brown faces, black hair, earrings, black hats and black skirts; of lithe figures of women and children, of men with lurcher dogs and horses of all kinds. I still recall the never-ceasing din around their fires as the sun went down, with blue smoke curing up amongst the trees. I think of crowded days of work too swiftly gone.

A Gypsy Ecampment, private collection
copyright the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings

Gypsies and Greyhounds, 1913, private collection
copyright the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings

… Never in my life have I been so filled with a desire to work as I was then. The families that I got to know had picturesque children, dogs and horses. The women had, somewhere in the back of each caravan, great black hats
with ostrich feathers, laid away for gala days, or to be worn when selling baskets or brushes on the road.

… at the end of the picking I stayed on to see the actual and real “departure of the hop-pickers”. This might be described as a classic sight. It was indeed! One after another, large and small,, rolling, creaking caravans, with their straining, pulling horses, came out of that meadow, turned sharp to left or right, and went on their way.

Departure of the Hoppickers, 1913, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
copyright the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings

The Green Wagon, 1920, private collection
copyright the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings

It was a morning of men shouting at horses, and an incessant rumbling away in the distance. Like a ship at sea, a caravan came pitching over the uneven ground, the father leading the horse, the wife leaning out of the half-door, holding the reins; children’s faces looking over the door, some youngsters sitting on the shafts, others running behind. Poultry slung in large crates or cages between the back wheels. Heavily laden, lurching in the wake of others, and joining in the procession, taking the westward route, all caravans and carts cleared the meadow that day. Many had been leaving, but this final exodus left the scarred, wide pasture empty; silent as the grave. There was nothing left to work for. I packed up my pictures in the old paper-mill and the next morning took them all to Alton station in a four-wheeled cab, and travelled back to Cornwall.”

Alfred Munnings, An Artist’s Life, 1950