“The Hop-Pickers' Tragedy”

Alternate titles: “There Was Four-and-Twenty Strangers”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1973 (recording, Jasper Smith)
Keywords: death drowning farming harvest work disaster horse worker
Found in: Britain(England(Lond,South))


A group of hop-pickers on their way from work approaches (Larklake) Bridge in a horse-drawn vehicle. The horses shy; the vehicle plunges over the bridge into the River Medway with great loss of life


[On October 20, 1853,] A horse-drawn brake carrying a party of hop-pickers plunged over Hartlake Bridge into the River Medway. Thirty people, including four children, were drowned. The dead included Travellers, Irish, and English.

[MacColl and Seeger write,] "In spite of being very well known among Kent and Surrey Travellers, the song does not appear to have been printed at any time." - PJS

Regarding the date of the event, Hall, notes to Voice08, re "Hartlake Bridge" cites Mike Yates as source for an October 1858 date. Yates, Musical Traditions site _Voice of the People suite_ "Notes - Volume 8" - 1.3.03 also has the date as October, 1858. - BS

It appears this is a nmisreading. I found a reference to the accident in the October 29, 1853 edition of the _London Illustrated News_. It claims 32 people were killed. As of this writing, a citation may be found at http://www.iln.org.uk/iln_years/year/1853.htm. - RBW

Historical references



  1. MacSeegTrav 120, "The Hop-Pickers' Tragedy" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Roud #1729
  3. BI, McCST120