Thatching in Cumberland, Westmorland & Furness

Goodbye to the ‘wriggly tin’…

81aThe modern county of Cumbria, includes the historic counties of Cumberland and Westmorland; a small area of Yorkshire, around Sedbergh and the northern, detached part of Lancashire, often called Furness. Until recently all existing thatch lay under corrugated, galvanised sheeting; what the locals call wriggly tin. With the craft being effectively dead. Now, after many years, the thatcher’s are back; and the sheets are off. But the new thatch rarely follows the previous working methods or materials…

thatch cumbria

Before the Camera… Above, some Lake District thatch, of which there is now very little, but this old print shows some. The romantic view is of Buttermere; in around 1830. Showing the central block of cottages, as being thatched. The lower image is of Milnthorpe, in the very south of the old county of Westmorland, on the river Ken. Thatch is shown on the far left, in the 1850’s…

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This area is part of the Northern tradition. Long straw was used in the lowland areas; heather in the upland parts. A bed of turf often being used under both materials; as well as forming the ridge for many roofs.

Two centuries ago the farmers, known as statesmen, made much use of local rushes; if a roof of slate proved too expensive. Exploiting such a valuable resource was often controlled by custom. In Ravenstonedale the locals could not start rush cutting until: the first Tuesday after St. Bartholomew’s day at twelve ‘o clock in the day‘. And as mentioned in the Materials Intoduction; Bassenthwaite Lake in the northern Lake District, is surrounded by many acres of rushes. Local tradition has it, that a shilling (5p) paid to the parish council; allows a load of rushes to be cut. A resource from time immemorial; these were used to thatch the local hay stacks until the 1950’s…

In other parts, the supply of wood for spars, also had it’s customs. Spars here are known as spelks. The right to cut gadds, to make these; was paid for in the form of a fowl; known as the spelk hen.

Another pleasant custom, formally existed on both sides of the Solway Firth. Here many homes; resting on crucks and clay walled, were built by the whole community, in just a day or so. Many a newly married couple started life together; in a house built and thatched for them, by their neighbours. A few of these buildings now sport a thatch roof once more. The water reed and ornate ridges may not be traditional; but they do look better than the wriggly tin…

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Restored thatch, near Carlisle… The above longhouse, near Durdar has Tudor origins and a 1689 datestone. The right hand, seventeenth century cottage, near Dalston; was also once a longhouse. If a rather short one; with originally one room for the family and another for their animals…

The lower thatch, at Kirkoswald, has a date stone of 1693 ;the house was probably originally lower and raised to two storeys during the 1700’s. Photo; copyright & thanks, Humphrey Bolton.**


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Coastal thatch… Near a misty Solway Firth, at Burgh by Sands. The thatch here is of water reed with a very ‘Northern’ timber gable end..


The above cottage is much older than it looks, being of Tudor origin. Now restored and thatched, at Brisco , close to Carlisle… Below is an Edwardian scene from the same village, depicting a cottage with some repaired coatwork, under a likely ropetop ridge… Top photo; copyright & thanks, Brian Norman.**

West Curthwaite…. This building, with a date stone of 1666, was one of the first hereabouts to have it’s ‘wriggly tin’ removed. The corrugated iron roof lay over an old wheat straw thatch on a turf base. The unusual stone buttresses hold up clay walls… Photo; copyright & thanks, J Thomas.**/h6>

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Dated doorways… Often found hereabouts. The one above is from the cottage at West Curthwaite. The right hand example, from the longhouse, near Durdar.

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On Eden‘s banks… These old images, of Wetheral , a few miles upstream from Carlisle; show more than a few thatched roofs. The left photo, from around 1880, depicts a long, dark thatch, probably of heather, close to the River Eden. Below the church is another thatch, which when looked at closely, seems to have been topped with a rope top ridge. The right photo is a little later, depicting, ‘Ferry Cottage’. Which served tea and hot water, to visitors; a century or so ago.
City Thatch… ”Old Cottages on Stanwix Bank Carlisle… High Road to Scotland on the left… High Road to Newcastle on the right”. Just north of the River Eden and an unrecognisable, major road junction today ! The thatch of around 1900 had a neat rope top ridge, similar to the thatch above at Wetheral no doubt. The coatwork is worn and repaired in a similar fashion to the roof at Dearham below. Using straight thatching spars as large staples…

Cumberland 1796… This thatcher’s bill relates to work for the Edenhall estate; which lay further upstream from Wetheral. In 1853 the estate paid one William Thompson, for thatching at ‘High Foy Close’. He received two shillings and sixpence a day. A fifteen per cent increase in wages, in nearly sixty years! ( More accounts from the Edenhall estate pop up throughout this site.)


More Edenside thatch… In Westmoreland. The scene opposite dates from around 1900, showing two thatches in Kirkby Thore. They both are ridged with turf and the nearest has a turf gable.

Similar work is shown below in a photo entitled, ‘‘Appleby, Westmoreland. The Sycamore Tree under which Wesley and Knox Preached’… This is a very rare, early image of Westmoreland thatch dating to the 1860’s. The roof is of heather with a wooden gutter. This photograph was one of many taken by Helmut Petschler and his wife Alice. They have a page, detailing more mid Victorian thatch in the History section… LINK
More Appleby thatch… The row of thatched buildings depicted above, was once situated in the market place of the old county town of Westmoreland; the roof also consisted of heather topped with a turf ridge. This image dating to several decades after the Petschler photograph.


Thatch, in the Pennines… Above, a small water reed roof at Long Marton. Photo; copyright & thanks, Humphrey Bolton.** And on the right, the Post Office at Brampton, in the old county of Westmorland. Coated with straw and topped with turf, in around 1910. And below, an attractive restored thatch, at Blencarn.

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Relic of the good old times… Thatch, near the church at Dearham, which lies about 2 miles east of Maryport; from an 1890’s stereoview . The reverse states ‘In Cumberland there is still a goodly number of these relics of the good old times; they are always picturesque’. The roof here is being held on, by using straight thatching spars as large staples. Similar to work once seen in Scotland..

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Seaside thatch… on the left, at Ravenglass; in around 1925. This fisherman’s cottage, is protected, by what looks like a roof of marram grass. A popular coastal thatch, in the north of Britain. The top image shows some coastal thatch at Egremont, around 1900

And finally, some more seaside thatch, in Furness…


On the beach… In Furness. Sometimes called, ‘Lancashire Over Sands‘. This intriguing Victorian image, was taken near the beach, at Dalton in Furness. The children look too well dressed and shod, to have lived here. Probably being brought in, to create a ‘romantic gypsy scene‘… A Cottage would just about describe, the wattled walled, thatched building in the background. Although some might call it a hut. To the left, a detached chimney perhaps had a use in smoking fish. The thatch is probably of marram grass, this scene being near the extensive dunes, of Duddon Sands. Turf provides the ridge. The whole structure consisted of materials, found very close at hand. Being no different in construction, to homes from the prehistoric period onwards…

** Some of the new images, found on this page, were taken from the excellent Geograph site; licensed for reuse under Creative Commons. So thanks to all concerned, for allowing their images to be used…