From reed bed to roof: The people behind Norfolk thatch through the years

Eric Edwards stacking bundles of reed at How Hill in Norfolk in 2000

Eric Edwards stacking bundles of reed at How Hill. Dated: 2000. - Credit: Archant Library

You don't have to travel far in Norfolk before you spot a building crowned with golden thatch.

These distinctive roofs have a rustic charm whether they feature on cottages, barns or even more modern buildings. 

Thorpe thatcher Mr A Carman works at thatched cottages on the green in Kimberley, Norfolk in 1962

Mr A. Carman of Thorpe, a thatcher with A.E Farman and Son of Salhouse, working on the second of two pairs of council built cottages at the green in Kimberley. Date: February 15, 1962 - Credit: Archant Library

Harvesting reeds on the Norfolk Broads at Woodbastwick in 1949.

65-year-old marshman Mr Jack Wisken (in the boat) with his friend Mr Edwin Shingles harvests reeds on Colman’s marshes at Woodbastwick. The reeds were destined for thatching on Col. H Cator’s estate. Date: January 1949. - Credit: Archant Library

Each piece of architecture has a story to tell with a talented support cast of Norfolk thatchers, reed cutters and workers behind them.  

Some of these skilled tradespeople are captured in these old photos from the EDP archives. Perhaps you recognise some of the faces. 

Making brotches for the thatching trade in 1980

Father and son Kenny and Ray Firman of Honing carry on the family tradition of making “brotches” for the thatching trade. They are splitting hazel wood (known as “nuttery”) which is used for ridging the thatched roofs. The shed they are working in had been in use for this and other wood crafts for over 100 years. Date: November 1980 - Credit: Archant Library

Master Thatcher Alan Wotherspoon thatching Filby Village Club in 1998

Master Thatcher Alan Wotherspoon thatching Filby Village Club. Date: June 24, 1998 - Credit: Archant Library

Did you know?


You may also want to watch:


  • The ridge of a thatched roof lasts roughly 15 years while the main reed part can last 60-70 years.
  • An estimated 80% to 90% of the reed used in UK thatching comes from abroad.
  • Historically, thatched roofs were popular because it was lighter than other options like slate or tiles - so walls did not have to be as thick or robust to bear its weight. 
A fully mechanised reed cutting was being demonstrated at Ranworth to a party of thatchers from all over the UK

A fully mechanised reed cutting was being demonstrated at Ranworth to a party of thatchers from all over the country. Mr Francis Cator’s 150-acre reedbeds produced annually some 25,000 bundles for thatching. Date: 1971. - Credit: Archant Library

Reed being bundled up for export to America where it would be used for house thatching in 1955

Reed being bundled up for export to America where it would be used for house thatching. The workmen were employed by Mr WR Farman, reed thatcher of North Walsham. Mr. D Cushion on the left of the picture was one of two thatchers travelling to America to do the thatching. Date: 1955. - Credit: Archant Library

Harvesting wheat for thatching in Aslacton, Norfolk in 1981.

Harvesting in the traditional way at Injun Farm, Aslacton, where wheat has been cut with a binder and is being "shocked" before being taken away and stacked to await "troshin" (threshing) next spring. The unbroken straw will then be used for thatching South Norfolk cottage roofs, Harry Mower (65) works at the farm and here he helps to shock the shoaves (or sheaves) of wheat to dry in the field. Date: August 3, 1981. - Credit: Archant Library

Thatcher Jonathan Cousins at Waxham Barn near Sea Palling

Waxham: Pictured taking a break from his thatching demonstration at Waxham Barn is thatcher Jonathan Cousins. Date: October 17, 1998 - Credit: Archant Library

Saxlingham thatcher working on the roof of the old school at Saxlingham Nethergate in 1953. 

Mr B Pegnall a Saxlingham thatcher working on the roof of the old school at Saxlingham Nethergate. Dated: April 22, 1953. - Credit: Archant Library

Bundles of Norfolk reed for a thatch project in Maine, USA being prepared.

Bundles of reeds which will be used in America for thatching the Maine house of Miss Pamela Woolworth being tied up by employees of Mr W R Farman of North Walsham. Mr. D Cushion (left) is going to America. Date: August 9, 1955. - Credit: Archant Library

A thatcher perches on the ridge of a thatched cottage in Norfolk in the 1950s-1960s. 

A thatcher perches on the ridge of a thatched cottage in Norfolk in the 1950s-1960s. - Credit: Archant Library

Thatching at Grove Farm Barn, Booton near Reepham

Large barn thatching job underway near Reepham at Grove Farm Barn, Booton. It is one of the last big barns to be fully thatched. On the left is Marcus Thompson and right is Alex Kelly at work. Date: July 23, 2008 - Credit: Archant Library

Loading bundles of Norfolk reed for thatching in Suffolk in 1989

Another 1000 bundles of Norfolk reed for thatching houses in Suffolk, being loaded by the Norfolk Naturlist Trust at Hickling. Date: Februrary 10, 1989. - Credit: Archant Library

Norfolk thatchers at work in the 1950s

Two Norfolk thatchers at work in the 1950s. - Credit: Archant Library

Norfolk thatchers at work in 1950

A thatcher works on the ridge of a thatched property in Norfolk. Date: May 1950 - Credit: Archant Library

Stacking of the reed used in thatching in 1960

Stacking of the reed used in thatching. Date: February 1960 - Credit: Archant Library

Reed thatching using iron reed hooks to hold a sway in position, Norwich.

Using iron reed hooks to hold a sway in position, Norwich. - Credit: Archant Library


Most Read

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus