Thatching in Kent & Surrey


104aThis area is more famous for it’s tiles than any thatching. This is certainly true in Surrey, where little thatch remains but Kent has as much as Cornwall. Even the London suburbs, that cover parts of both historic counties, still have a scattering of thatched properties.

The Southern tradition of thatching holds sway, over most of the area. However, parts of Kent seem to have had more than a little influence from the Eastern thatching style. Some roofs hereabouts, were and are still are more angular; similar to thatch across the Thames estuary, in Essex. Many roofs have thatching spars around the eaves. Known in Surrey as sparrows; they recall the former dominance of long straw thatching, which is less common today, but not unknown by any means…

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Early nineteenth century royal thatch, in Surrey and Kent… The Queen’s Cottage at Kew, on the right, was a royal holding until 1898. This is still extant and its history is detailed below. The left engraving shows Eltham Palace, in a ruinous state, with a thatched barn, in the middle distance. The barn is long gone and the property rebuilt…



The Georgian agricultural reporters noted the local trade two centuries ago. Thatchers in Kent were paid three shillings a square, in 1796 and earned 20 pence a day in 1813. Mr Stevenson covered Surrey and mentions the thatching of corn stacks, being carried out by roaming professional thatchers. Stating ‘There are regular thatchers who go about the country in time of harvest, for that purpose.’

As can be seen, in the History section, the Georgian reporter was scathing, about the standard of the craft in Kent; with half rotten stubble being used. This useful crop, when carefully harvested, has a long history here. In 1283 the worthies, in Dover Castle, paid 40 pence; for five hundred sheaves of stubble. With this, ‘the well house, wash house and the home of Simon the clerk’, were thatched. Perhaps it was Simon, who noted the purchase, his successors wrote of roskebard and gloit being used; local names for rushes and oat straw…

A time, before the London Boroughs….

The next seven images show thatched buildings, both extant and extinct; that were built long before sizable areas, of Surrey and Kent, were swallowed up by the metropolis… So, working in a clockwise direction.

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Camberwell Grove, Surrey… The message on this old postcard, dated 1907 says… ‘ address, 98 Camberwell Grove, next door but one to the thatched cottage’. The thatched building seems around a century older than the postcard, being built in the ‘Cottage Orne ‘ style.


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Kent thatch, around 1900, extinct and extant… The above cottage at Wickham Lane, Plumstead, has long gone. But the right hand ‘Cottage Orne’ thatch, at Bexleyheath is still with us.

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thatch london

More ‘Cottage Orne’ thatch… This building lies at Cudham, once in Kent but now, just inside the London Borough of Bromley. As seen, much of the remaining thatch, in the London Boroughs, also dates from this period. Often remnants of defunct rural estates. As the Cudham lodge appears to be.



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Surrey Thatch… This cottage really is a rarity. Lying within modern London, at Kenley and also having a long straw, multilayered thatch. Below are two extinct Surrey thatches. Left, at Norwood Park and at Windmill Road, Wimbledon Common, on the right. Both thatched in Edwardian long straw…

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thatch london

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1880’s Thatcher’s bills, from Kent… These come from the Park Estate, Eastry. The price of coating, ‘per square’, has only risen from three shillings to four, since the Agricultural Report of 1796… As was normal practice, the employer supplied the thatching material. But a 1897 bill from Mr Jordan, shows him supplying three hundredweight of straw, at two shillings and sixpence per hundredweight. And the ‘price per square’ (i.e. 100 sq. feet) had eased up to around five shillings…

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Large Kentish thatch.. The upper house at Smarden, is a lovely example of a late medieval, Wealden Hall House. Quite a few survive hereabouts but few retain their thatch roofs. The lower house at Borden is just half the age at three or so centuries old. And shows a sparred long straw finish to it’s eaves.

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thatching england

Kent tiles and thatch… Along with an Edwardian ornate ridge, at Wingham. This extant cottage dates to at least the Tudor period, having the upper storey converted, in 1667; as the date, above the windows, still shows.


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tatch england

Kentish Eastern style… An angular roof, atop a splendid timbered house, at Lynstead, on the left. The old image on the right at Beltinge, shows thatch similar to that found in East Anglia; also being quite angular. The modern roof, below, at Goodnestone has similar work. With an identical ridge, plainly finished with several lines of liggers. And appears to be coated in long straw…

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thatch england

Surrey now has less than one sixth of Kent’s thatch but some attractive examples remain… This timber framed cottage is infilled, with good Surrey brick, no doubt from the same source that created so many tiles; that replaced so much thatch. But not this long straw example, at Bisley.



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Old Surrey thatch… At Newchapel, showing a rather worn long straw thatch. Along with two wooden pole ladders, slung under the eaves.


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Extinct and extant Surrey thatch… Above at ‘Lingfield Lane, Redhill’. this grainy image, from around 1900 shows a long straw thatch, with rolled gable ends. Similar to work in Sussex. The right hand cottage at Chipstead belies it’s age; restored, but dating from the Tudor period. The water reed, thatched cottage below, at Lingfield, is also older than it seems. Starting life as a barn, in the 1400’s…

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thatch england

thatch england

        Idyllic Surrey thatch… Near Banstead.

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Finally, some royal thatch, just eight and half miles from Charing Cross…

Hidden away in the south west corner of Kew Gardens, ‘Queen Charlotte’s Cottage’, is an example of the then fashionable, Cottage Orné style, being built by George the Third’s consort, in the 1770’s. This Thames-side property was used by the royal family in the late 18th century. Usually for rest and refreshment, during walks in the extensive surrounding gardens. It was last used by the royals in 1818…

Queen Victoria rarely visited the cottage and in 1898 she opened the cottage and its grounds to the public; in commemoration of sixty years on the throne.

As with other well known thatched buildings, a pictorial record exists of the property and the roofs covering it…

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The print, shown at the top of this page, dates from 1820. It shows the cottage roof in a poor state, with probably it’s original thatch in place. This looks like a coat of water reed, possibly from Norfolk. So it seems the royal paymasters, did not keep to local long straw thatching… The image above, from around 1870, depicts a similar scene; a water reed roof, with a fashionable ‘saw tooth’ ornamental ridge. This was almost certainly carried out by thatchers from East Anglia…

 

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thatch london

Repairs… It seems that Queen Victoria left the thatched roof here in a poorly state, when she handed over the property in 1898. The left hand photo, shows extensive repairs, to the main roof, at around this time; along with a new ‘saw tooth ridge’. These repairs had been extended over the lower roofs, by around 1900, as the right hand image shows. The material used seems to be water reed, not the best type of thatch to use when repairing…



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Local long straw… The above image dating to before 1909, shows the cottage, with a neat coat of long straw thatching, done in a local plain style. This seems to be the only time this roof has been coated thus…


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thatch london

Return to water reed… After the excursion into long straw thatch, the custodians of the cottage, evidently decided that a return to water reed thatching was desirable… The left photo, dates from around 1930; showing a fairly plain ornamental ridge. Also shown are the bluebells, for which this spot is well known… The right image shows the 1950 rethatch, also in water reed, with a similar ridge.

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Into another century… The twenty first century has the cottage, as ever, coated in water reed, with a return to the ‘saw tooth’ ridging of the nineteeth…



This cottage lies in an delightfully quiet spot, next to the Thames. Queen Victoria ordained it remain as she knew it; and her wishes have been carried out…