Will the real Mr Golding please step forward

Considering what a huge impact he had on the taste of British beer, astonishingly little is known about the man who gave his name to the Goldings hop.

About all we do have comes from a book published in 1798 with the marvellously long title of The Rural Economy of the Southern Counties: Comprizing Kent, Surrey, Sussex, The Isle of White, the Chalk Hills of Wiltshire, Hampshire etc, and including the Culture and Management of Hops in the Districts of Maidstone, Canterbury and Farnham, written by William Marshall, which says (on p183), talking about hop varieties in the District of Maidstone:

In West Kent there are several varieties in cultivation. The ‘Canterbury’ is the favorite sort and is the most cultivated: it is a ‘white bine’ hop, of the middle size. The ‘Golding’ has, of late years, been in high repute. It is a sub-variety, I understand, of the Canterbury; which was raised by a man still living (1790) Mr Golding, of the Malling quarter of the district; who observing, in his grounds, a hill of extraordinary quality and productiveness, marked it, propagated it, and furnished his neighbours with cuttings, from its produce.”

This doesn’t give us a lot of information, but we can have a stab at guessing when Mr Golding spotted his “hill of extraordinary quality”. A very good hop plant might produce upwards of 100 rhizome or root cuttings suitable for planting out the following year. But each newly planted cutting will need to grow for a couple of years before it can supply cuttings itself (and also grow saleable hops).

Mr Golding must surely have set himself up with a good stock of his new hop plant before he started giving it away to neighbours, and an acre of hop garden is going to require more than 3,500 hop plants. Let’s guess at each new plant producing 75 viable cuttings, this means an absolute minimum of four years before the generous Mr G starts letting his neighbours share his bounty, six years since the discovery of the new super-hop before they get any sellable hops, and eight to 10 years, at least, before there is a sufficient acreage of Mr Golding’s hops growing for it to have the “high repute” that Marshall refers to.

So if, as Marshall says, he heard about Mr Golding’s marvellous hop of “high repute:” in 1790, when the gentleman was still alive, the plant could not have been first spotted any later than 1780, and probably not much later than 1775, or 15 years earlier. For comparison, the hop that was later named the Fuggle grew from a seed supposedly thrown out with the crumbs from a hop-picker’s dinner basket in 1861, and did not enter commercial use until around 1875, 14 years on.

We can fairly safely say, then, given that it was at least six years on from the plant’s discovery before it could have been producing viable crops in other people’s hop gardens, that the Golding hop therefore began to be grown commercially “in the 1780s”.

But where was the Golding hop first discovered? Marshall says it was “in the Malling quarter”, that is, around East and West (then called Town) Malling. Unfortunately. Mid-Kent was (and indeed still is) one of the main centres of the surname Golding and there are several possible candidates for the “Mr Golding” who found the hop. (Incidentally, the “Mr” is significant, indicating, given the usage of the time, that the person in question was a member of the minor gentry, one step up from a simple yeoman farmer, though perhaps not quite elevated to be called “esq”, or esquire.)

In Plaxtol, near Sevenoaks, they have no doubts who the discoverer was: even in 1870 there had been Goldings farming in the village for “several generations”, and villagers name “William Golding” as the farmer who found the hop: there were several Williams among the Plaxtol Goldings. One of Plaxtol’s pubs, a former beerhouse, has been called the Golding Hop since at least the 1890s, and the village also has Golding Hop Farm, while Plaxtol parish council claims that the local Garrett Memorial Land, amenity space

contains rare varieties of apples and pears, and rootstock of the original well-known Golding Hop (developed for commercial growing by William Golding, a former Plaxtol resident).”

Ignoring the fact that hop rootstock only lives 25 to 30 years, so that whatever is growing on the Garrett Memorial Land can’t be the “original” Golding hop, and the usual problem of, apparently, no documentary evidence to back the parish up, the main problem with Plaxtol’s claim to be the place where Golding hops first grew is that the village isn’t in “the Malling quarter”, where Marshall said Mr Golding came from, but six or so miles from the Mallings, in Wrotham parish and closer to Sevenoaks and Tonbridge.

The Malling district certainly had a heavy crop of Goldings at the end of the 18th century. One was Mr Oliver Golding, of Fartherwell House, Ryarsh, just north of West (or Town) Malling. described in The Times in 1790 as “universally known and esteemed throughout the whole county of Kent”. Oliver was in the newspaper because he had lost a winning lottery ticket, worth £800 – equal to perhaps £250,000 today – in a parcel that fell from a stage coach returning to Kent from London.

Amazingly, eight months after the parcel was lost, the ticket turned up, and Golding received his money. There is no evidence, however, to link lucky Oliver with the eponymous hop, even though someone who had been so generous as to give his neighbours cuttings of such an extraordinary plant would surely have been “esteemed throughout the whole county”.

A far likelier candidate is one of the Goldings of Ditton Court, Ditton, just north of East Malling. They certainly grew hops: when John Golding junior was assessed for tithes (church taxes) in 1841 he owned four hop gardens in and around the village totalling more than 36 acres, as well as a “yard and hopper’s house”. John senior’s great-uncle Thomas Golding, sheriff of Kent in 1703, was living in Leybourne, near West Malling when he bought Ditton Court around the start of the 18th century. Leybourne itself was famous for its hops: The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent in 1798 recorded that

As an instance of the fertility of the soil of this parish for the hop-plant, a cottager who lived in Sir Henry Hawley’s rents in it, had half an acre of land belonging to his cottage, which in the year 1784 produced a crop of forty-five hundred of hops, which he sold for one hundred and forty-five pounds, an extraordinary crop, and a fortune to the poor man.”

Thomas, whose arms were “argent, a cross voided between four lions passant, guardant gules” (a red hollow cross between four lions lying down with their heads and front paws up, on a white or silver background), died in 1705 and left Ditton Court to his nephew, another Thomas, John senior’s father, who was also from Ryarsh. He seems to have sold it, and then bought it back again in 1735. John Golding junior was born in 1774, which makes him too young to have been the Mr Golding who discovered the hop. But his father, who died in November 1807, aged 80, is certainly the right age, in the right place, and with the opportunity.

He would have known all the neighbouring hop growers, too, well enough to exchange information – and cuttings – with them all: Pigot’s Trade Directory for 1840 records for Town (or West) Malling:

The hop planter and factors around this neighbourhood meet in Town Malling at the August fair, agreeably to long established custom, with the view to ascertaining the probable production of the hop harvest; they wager on the amount of duty that they anticipate by which they calculate the price likely to be the standard.”

The Golding hop receives another mention in 1799, when John Banister of Horton Kirby in Kent, in a book called Synopsis of Husbandry, records among the various types of hop “the Flemish, the Canterbury, the Goldings, the Farnham etc.” Another well-known type was the grape hop, and a report in The Times from May 23 1822, speaking about the poor state of the hop gardens around Maidstone, says:

The grape bine is still very yellow … With reference to the Golding and Canterbury plant, about one hill in five are dead, and not one hill in ten has the appearance of a sufficiency of bine to furnish each pole.”

suggesting that Canterbury and Golding may have been regarded still as effectively synonymous.

Later reports emphasise the superiority of the Golding: a hop market report from The Times on December 8 1845 shows new Sussex hops at up to £7 10 shillings a hundredweight, but “Superfine East and Mid-Kents (Golding’s)” at up to £11 11 shillings, more than half as much again. The variety’s superiority was underlined by a writer in 1848, SA Rutley, quoted in Hubert H Parker’s The Hop Industry of 1934, who said the Golding:

is undoubtedly the finest, richest and most valuable of any grown, varying in quality, like all other varieties, according to the soil on which they are grown: the soils best adapted to their growth are deep rich soils, on calcareous subsoils.”

Brewers grew particularly keen on Mr Golding’s hop for beers brewed to be laid down for some time: a report from The Times in January 1858 on the state of the hop market says that:

The demand of the country for Golding hops, adapted to the brewing of store beers, having become much more considerable than of late, for this description of hops full prices have been readily obtained, and in some cases a slight advance has been submitted to.”

A year earlier a witness to a Parliamentary select committee on the hop reckoned that a third of all the acreage given over to hops in East Kent were Goldings. The rich loamy soil of East Kent has been recognised for more than a century and a half for producing the best Goldings hops, just as the Loire valley produces some of the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc wines and Java some of the best coffees: ironically, the Mallings (and indeed Plaxtol) are in Mid Kent.

John Golding junior died at Ditton Place on February 17 1856, aged 85. Although at least some of his descendants have claimed the Goldings of Ditton as the discoverers of the Golding hop, I have not seen any proper evidence. There are quite a few other possible candidates for Marshall’s Mr Golding. Henry Golding, gent (who used the same arms as, and was thus related to, the Ditton Goldings), for example, acquired land in East Barming, about three miles south of East Malling, in the time of Charles II and James Golding was still living in the village and growing hops there in 1841.

There was even a William Golding working as a hop factor in “the borough” (Southwark) in 1794, who was wealthy enough to buy Rhode Court (called Rhodes Court in a contemporary report), in Selling, near Faversham, Kent, about 1798, and who might have had something to do with the hop’s discovery. My bet would be on John Golding senior of Ditton Place for being a hop grower in the right area at the right time: but somebody’s going to have to do more research in county record offices and the like. Any volunteers?

(A number of changes were made to this post on February 1 2016 to reflect new knowledge about the dates of the Goldings of Ditton Court)

19 thoughts on “Will the real Mr Golding please step forward

  1. Don’t blame me, blame Edward Hasted, or at least the on-line version of his The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 8 (1799), pp. 537-549, on this website, which spells it thus – I quote:

    RHODES-COURT is a manor situated in the south-east extremity of this parish, in the borough of the same name, which borough, though within the parish of Selling, is yet within the hundred of Faversham”

    In his addenda Hasted then says: “Mr. Sawbridge has sold Rhodes-court to Mr. Golding, a hop-factor in the borough, who now owns it.” Anyway, I have now tweaked the blog entry to reflect your correction, many thanks …

  2. Excellent stuff. Can you please clarify yet another uncertainty due to my my congenital state of ignorance? When there are references to “hill” made in your post above, it that a topographical feature of the lands in question or just an agricultural technique as in the hilling of spuds? If it is the former, you may have a mapping opportunity to assist in the research.

  3. Sorry, Alan, I’m making the old mistake of assuming everyone’s familiar with the terminology: the “hills” are part of the older method of growing hops, when three hop roots were planted about a set of wooden poles (for the bines to grow up), and the earth raised up around each set of roots in little hillocks – see Reynolde Scot’s A Perfite Platforme of a Hoppe Garden, which has illustrations of the hillocks, and a chapter on “Of hylling and hylles”. The “hills” were about two feet across and 18 inches high. They don’t seem to have been replaced by the familiar wirework system, in England at least, until the 1870s.

  4. What an interesting read – in the ‘family’ we were always aware of ‘the hops’ as being part of family lore.
    It is a bit strange to see all the names, places etc on a family tree (copied from an original parchment document) that we are working on at the moment duplicated in your information!
    The other reference that ties in with some of this information comes from the 1798 Hastead History of Kent – reference the Hundred of Larkfield – available from British History Online – a great resource.

    1. Hi

      Ive just read all the info on the golding hop(alot to take in) and your comment. We too are tracing our family Goldings of Letcombe Regis (originally Goulding of Kent). My mother has be granted heiress of the coat of arms.
      I just wondered if your family ties in with ours?

    2. Dear Teresa

      We are searching the family history of the Goldings of kent. Originally of Sevington. A son Robert, jurat of maidstone and Thomas (eldest) and Henry also jurat. Do you have any info(maybe we could exchange?



    3. Hi Theresa
      Thanks for the information on the Goldings of Kent. I am trying to contact Alison also for her information and to tell her about a new website called HEIRLOOM HUNTING.COM
      Can you please pass the message on as Ive lost her email.
      Did you know that there is a branch of the Kent side from Ditton in America dates from about 1770.

  5. My family come from Sevington of kent Henry Goulding and moved around 1600 to Letcombe Regis (name became Golding, then John Reynolds Golding. where they had an orchard possible Inn and 118 acres. One of there descendents moved to virginia around 1630. Henry goulding of Kent was granted the coat of arms, which we hold in our family.

    1. Do you have any further information on the descendant of Henry Goulding of Sevington who moved to Virginia around 1630? My direct ancestor is John Gaulding, b. 1665 in New Kent, Virginia and I have reason to believe his father’s name was Thomas. Any information regarding your line of the Gouldings of Kent would be very much appreciated. Thanks.

  6. I am researching the history of Ditton parish and am curious the references to two (apprently) different houses, Ditton Place and Ditton Court. Do you have any more information about these houses? Many thanks

    1. Hi Michael, I am the Churchwarden of St. Peter’s, Ditton which houses a number of monuments to members of the Golding family. I am currently writing a ‘Statement of Significance’ for the church and while researching the hop connection saw your post. I would suggest that you try and obtain the excellent book, Ditton: The story of a Kentish village, by Alan Dodge and published by the Ditton Heritage Centre – ISBN 978-0-9569567-0-5. Best Regards Alan

  7. I filed into the Centre For Kentish Studies in Maidstone the hopgarden deed of lease by Sara Golding widow of William Golding. The lease is for William’s hopgardens following his death in the late 18thc.
    This should locate the Malling hopgarden where the Golding was discovered. The landowner is named. It an original previously unknown doc. on parchment and will probably solve the mystery if anyone cares to read it.

  8. I am a descendant of the goldings, I have literally just came across this website, I’m wondering if anyone can tell me anymore information or we can swap what we already know? Please email me. My nan is called Brenda olive Watson (Golding), her father is charlie Golding. From getting information from others and piecing it together I believe we are related to the goldings/goldings in Kent letcombe Regis.

  9. You write, “Incidentally, the “Mr” is significant, indicating, given the usage of the time, that the person in question was a member of the minor gentry, one step up from a simple yeoman farmer, though perhaps not quite elevated to be called “esq”, or esquire.”

    I’m wondering how confident we can be about that. My only counterevidence is from Jane Austen’s Emma, which was published a couple decades later in 1815, so it’s possible that usage changed in the meantime, but in that book a character is named as “Mr. Martin” and “Mr. Robert Martin”, and the main character Emma tries to convince her friend Harriet that he’s not of a suitable class for romantic interest in these terms:

    “A young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity. The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do. A degree or two lower, and a creditable appearance might interest me; I might hope to be useful to their families in some way or other. But a farmer can need none of my help, and is, therefore, in one sense, as much above my notice as in every other he is below it.”

    (Chapter 4: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/158/158-h/158-h.htm#link2HCH0004 )

    1. A good argument, and I feel you may be right. Discovering exactly who was entitled to be called “Mr” and who wasn’t seems almost impossible, since, of course, it was one of those things people knew, without having to discuss.

  10. the goldings.goulding/goldyngs originate from belchamp st paul essex and elizabeth golding daughter of sir john golding is the great grandmother of 3 of henry 8ths wives, seymour,boleyn and katherine howard and also the earls de vere of oxford. thomas is usually the senior name passed down through most lines, thomas goldyng ”the elder” my many times great grandfather was executed by james 1 and his lands attainted. think 1609. so my many x great grandmother probably lost her dower lands too, he was a strict puritan, my ancestor abraham shellyng/shilling of throwley married his daughter elizabeth, but she had a sister called ”obedience” which tells you they were puritans and so was abrahams father joseph shilling. but there was a son thomas golding who later regained some of the lands and its probably his descendents around kent and in the usa, as for the term mister it meant gentleman and indicated that your family were from the knightly class.

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