Reigate County School – Dorothy Hobley, Her Experiences of Picking Fruit

Dorothy Hobley was born in Paddington on 31st July 1898, the daughter of Edgar  Frank Hobley and Lucy. She had a brother Leonard.  The family moved to Dorking, and Dorothy won a scholarship to Reigate County School from 1910-1915. Like many of the students at the school (which had its origins in a pupil/teacher centre), she went on to study at Goldsmiths College, London. It was during a summer vacation there that Dorothy and two students volunteered to pick fruit in Bexley. She wrote in the school magazine about her experiences. Dorothy married Edgar Dewhirst in 1932, and they had 3 children. She died in 1987.

 “At the top of the rows stood a formidable looking, though decidedly ragged man, who we presumed was the overseer. In his hand was a long stick, and I began to have visions of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, and wonder vaguely what would happen to me if I ‘slacked’!

When the farmer appeared with the baskets, we began and picked, except for a break at lunch-time, until 4.30…. The work was extremely tiring, and after a day or two, we began to wonder if we would ever stand upright again…..

Altogether we picked raspberries, blackcurrants, beans and apples. Apple-picking was by far the most fun, and the most highly paid. The rate for raspberries was 1/2d per lb. and the utmost we could pick was 24 lbs. a day, which made the earnings only 2s each. For picking a sackful of beans (scarlet runners) we received 2s and were paid about a half a crown a day for apples and blackcurrants…..

We discovered that the (man’s) stick was for lifting the lower boughs from the ground, and not for the purpose of inflicting personal torture!

When we got to know the’tricks of the trade’. He told us that it was quite a regular custom for professional pickers to take their baskets of raspberries when full into a quiet corner of the field and lay them lightly in an empty basket. They would then shake up the remaining fruit and carry to the farmer two apparently full baskets. In order to make the beans weigh more, the farmer told us they are frequently soaked in water before being sold. When blackcurrant picking, he advised us to put in as many stalks as possible, whether they contained berries or not, as it is they that take up the room!

One very funny custom I noticed amongst the pickers. The women and children, even the dots of three and four, call the men by their Christian name – the farmer was always known as ‘Joey’, the women on the other hand were always ‘Missus’!”

Dorothy gave this advice to novices: –

“1. Don’t mind shocking people.

  1. Don’t be alarmed by your appetite if it is rather big –it will probably not be diabetes.
  2. Take i) Strong boots and plenty of old clothes
  3. ii) Lots of soap!
  4. Be prepared to work hard.

From Reigate County School Magazine 1918, pages 43-45. (Copy held by Surrey History Centre ref.3155/7/14)


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