Hops A-Z; W is for Wye College

Wye College has become synonymous with English hop research and development. Which makes its recent decline seem ever more bitter.

It has an impressive academic pedigree. It was formed as a College of Secular Clergy in the mid fifteenth century. In 1894 the South Eastern Agricultural College was established there and soon became a beacon of agricultural science with the staff's publication of research papers and seminal textbooks. By 1896, Wye had become part of the University of London and began its first research into hops ten years later.

Through the pioneering work of staff such as Professor E S Salmon, Doctor Ray Neve and Doctor Peter Darby, Wye made both critical and innovative advances in hop development. The wild Manitoban hop known as BB1 was cross-bred with English partners to produce seminal hop varieties such as Brewers Gold, Bullion and Northern Brewer. Bramling Cross, Challenger, Northdown, Target and Yeoman all trace their roots back to Wye.

The college was also at the forefront of research into dwarf hop varieties. Seen as a way of revitalising the English hop industry through the flexibilities of scale they offer, early varieties such as First Gold and Boadicea were developed there.

But recent years have not been good for Wye College. Having lost its college status in 2000 it merged with Imperial. Financial shortfalls and an abandoned bid to build a science park at the college followed. In 2004 the agricultural sciences department was marked for closure, ending almost a century of hop research on the site. When management courses ceased in 2009 as student numbers collapsed, five hundred-plus years of education at Wye came to a close.

Still, Wye's hop legacy lives on. With land and buildings donated by Tony Redsell at China Farm and local brewers Shepherd Neame at Queens Court Farm, Doctor Peter Darby continues to innovate. A new dwarf variety, the first result of the National Hop Association's breeding programme, featured in a beer presented to members of the Society of Independent Brewers earlier this year.

The college itself faces an uncertain future. A covenant stipulates that part of the campus can only be used for academic purposes; the University of Buckingham is rumoured to have expressed an interest. Meanwhile, whilst some of the farmland and property has been tenented, the historic college buildings lay empty.

It's taken barely ten years to dismantle a resource that thrived for a century. It seems that plans to rekindle learning at Wye are serious - the phoenixwyecollege initiative looks to be moving in the right direction. Here's hoping that agricultural research at Wye can look forward to a new chapter rather than the Imperial years becoming an ignominious postscript in the college's proud hop history.


  1. Very sorry to learn of the demise of Wye College. As a teenager, I lived in the next village, and knew several people who worked there.

    Whilst in the sixth form, at school in Ashford, we were allowed to use the colege library to help with our studies.

    Hope the plans to re-open the college come to fruition.

  2. Hei Peter,

    I have recently come to live in Norway and was amazed to find that almost every house has a hop plant in the garden and most farms have a hop wall.

    I have recently been in Tromsø high in the Artic Circle and the hops in the botanic garden there always produce a healthy crop, event though grown on a north facing wall and only get sun between 18:00 and 06:00.

    All this came as a tremendous shock to a British brewer educated in the 1960s.