Wye College, officially The College of St. Gregory and St. Martin at Wye, was established by John Kempe, Archbishop of York, as a seminary in 1447. Wye College developed an outstanding reputation as a center for rural and agronomy studies over centuries to eventually become an independent School of Agriculture, which affiliated to the University of London in 1898.

The site near Ashford covers 400 ha, including a 320-ha farm with woodland and glasshouses and two sites of special scientific interest. In 2000 the college merged with Imperial College of the University of London, but activities declined because of financial difficulties and the college is now being relaunched as PhoenixWyeCollege in collaboration with the University of Buckingham.

Because of its location in the center of Kent, Wye College specialized in hop research and during the later part of the 20th century developed many novel varieties including Northern Brewer, Challenger, and Brewers Gold. Some varieties such as Target and Yeoman were developed for increased yield of alpha acid, whereas others showed improved disease resistance.

More recently, Dr Ray Neve and Dr Peter Darby of Wye pioneered the major development of dwarf hops based on finding a mutant plant with reduced internode length. Dwarf hops provide a major advance in growth and harvesting efficiencies and have promise to greatly improve the efficiency of hop production. To a large extent, in its heyday Wye College was widely viewed as being virtually synonymous with English hop research, breeding, and development.

Hop research has transferred to other locations such as Wye Hops Ltd in Canterbury, but the advances made at Wye provided the brewing industry with major hop varieties that are still in popular use today by commercial and amateur brewers.

Keith Thomas