The speaker at the meeting on 8 June was Tim Ellis, a thatcher from Linton, who spoke about his experiences over thirty years of thatching.
Tim became interested after seeing a thatcher at work and doing a college project on the Farnhams of Norfolk, whose thatching business went back to the sixteenth century and whose clients included the Royal Family at Sandringham. He served an apprenticeship and then set up as a thatcher on his own in 1993.
He brought specimens of the main materials used in thatching. These were long straw, mostly used in Essex and lasting about 20-25 years; combed wheat reed, which is used in the West Country as it is more durable than long straw and there is more rain in the west; and Norfolk reed used in East Anglia. The Norfolk reed has been used for 1000 years for thatching and lasts 50-60 years depending on the pitch of the roof, the quality of the reed and the skill of the thatcher. The Norfolk reedbeds cannot supply all the water reed needed and much is imported. Ukraine was a major source and the war has led to a considerable increase in price. China has huge reeds beds and may take the place of Ukraine.
Tim also demonstrated several of his tools, including the legget which is used to dress the straw and some fearsome looking knives for trimming. The straw is held in place with hazel wood spars and then with steel fixings. The ridge, which has the most wear, lasts about 16-17 years. Thatchers begin work at the bottom right or left of the roof, depending on whether they are left or right-handed and put the reed on the roof in courses.
This was a very entertaining talk, much enjoyed by the members and there were plenty of questions and further discussion.