The thatcher's work is as old as the carpenter in terms of building. It is the use of straw or reeds to make a roof, trapping air and providing insulation above in winter and cooling in summer, and making the house dry. Every harvest supplied the raw material of straw; reeds of course depend on water areas. The material itself is water resistant and does not put a great weight on to its house; on the other hand it needs treating in contemporary times to be fire resistant. A straw thatch may last for thirty years or so and a reed thatch for double and more. Rye straw is softer than wheat yet still strong and weather resistant. Birds like it so wire netting may be necessary. The thatcher worked with few tools and on ladders using knee protection once of leather, and self made.
Another job carried out by the thatcher was to make stored corn and hay for fodder waterproof on the farm. He made a haystack complete, a risky business with ladders. Sometimes a farmhand did this work.
The thatcher has continued in employment because of the wealthier owner continuing the picturesque nature of the thatched rooves and their cottages. Sometimes a renewed thatch is in fact a repair of outer worn layers only. Straw itself remains in supply only if long straw wheat is grown (combine harvesters prefer it too short and crush it removing insulating properties) and is not cut in a standard manner by a combine harverster. Straw is no longer in demand by the many farm horses for bedding and fodder. Reed is still cut for the thatching purpose and is the most common, but softer straw is needed for the ridge and coping.


Smedley, N. (1977), East Anglian Crafts, London: B. T. Batsford, images drawn from originals at 74, text at 72-79.