Norfolk Reed and Thatching

Thatch is a traditional material that has been used for roofing in Norfolk since prehistory. Whereas in some parts of the country straw was used for thatch, the extensive reed beds of East Anglia gave our ancestors access to a much more durable, locally grown material. To this day most of the reed that is cut and bundled up in Norfolk is sold to thatchers.

Bundles of reeds on the reedbeds near Cley Windmill

Quality reed for thatching comes from reed beds which are cut every year or every two years. This is known as ‘single wale’ or double wale’ reed. Each bundle of reed is tied approximately 12” from the butt end and measures 24” to 26” circumference. A bundle of reed will cover about a square foot of roof.

It is estimated that 80% to 90% of the reed used for thatching in the UK comes from abroad. Local cutters have to compete with the imported supplies and some have to pay landowners a royalty to harvest the reed. Many reed bed owners qualify for grant aid to manage reedbeds. Sadly, some reed beds previously managed to produce reed for thatching are now cut on a longer rotation.

Norfolk Reed does, however, have some advantages over the competition.

  • As it grows in exposed, windswept beds it is a hardy plant which makes for a quality thatching material, lasting up to 70 years, much longer than some imported reed.
  • As well as being strong, our local reed is more tapered than longer reed from hotter climates making it much more suitable for the rounded curves of English thatch.
  • Because it is local, thatchers can check the quality of each crop before they buy it, rather than paying for an unseen shipment that gets dropped off on the day.

If you are a homeowner needing to rethatch, a thatcher wanting to know more about our reed, or a builder researching traditional building materials we would like to hear from you. Please contact us.