Thatching in Huntingdonshire & Cambridgeshire

92aThe area now known as Cambridgeshire, mainly consists of these two historic counties. Also included in this modern conglomerate, is the old Soke of Peterborough. But as this area has a different thatching heritage, I have included it under the county of Northamptonshire. To which it historically and stylistically belongs….

Thatching in both the old counties, of Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire, adheres rigidly to the Eastern tradition. And there are still many examples of the thatcher’s art. Especially in the south of both old counties.

Although lying fairly close to the Norfolk reed beds, long straw thatching has held on in goodly numbers. Often being multilayed with turned gables. Rolled gables, being less common than in other long straw areas.

In the past, areas in the north of Cambridgeshire around the Fens, provided Fenstraw or Fenthakke. Which mainly consisted of rushes. A resource in use for many centuries. ‘Straw namely rush’ ,was used to keep the half built turrets of Cambridge castle dry, during the winter of 1286.

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Preachers’ thatch… This image from around 1885, shows a thatch at Teversham, near Cambridge. Famous at this period, as the site of the first sermon, of one Charles Haddon Spurgeon, at the tender age of 16; in 1850… He quickly rose to be the foremost Baptist preacher of his day. He fell out with his fellows, in the southern United States, over his opposition to slavery. And shortly after was left the vast sum of £20,000 to found a charity for children, which is still doing good works to this day… This cottage still stands, much altered.

There is much to see hereabouts. Even the long defunct Huntingdon Rural District Council, has left a legacy. Of some pleasant thatched homes, for their tenants, at Hemlingford Abbots. What a pity most local authorities failed to follow suit…

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Rural District thatch… Attractive homes at Hemlingford Abbots. A village with a good deal of thatch, including the long cottage below.

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Some more Huntingdonshire thatch…

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The old image above is of some typically, Eastern style water reed, near St Ives, a century ago. The lower left cottage, at Hilton, shows a long straw thatch. And some of the water reed cottages, at Waresley cum Tetworth, in the lower right hand image, are still extant. The scene depicted here dating to around 1900.

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More Huntingdonshire thatch… A modern roof of long straw, at Godmanchester. This small town, contains more than a few thatched properties.

And in Cambridgeshire…

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Old Row… These cottages, at Boxworth, make up the oldest, purpose built terrace, in England. Constructed in the 1730’s; to house local estate workers.

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The above long straw thatch at Orwell, from around 1935, shows some very Eastern style details. Work found in this village today, still follows a similar tradition….

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Very eastern… This newish, long straw roof at Barrington, is another excellent example of the Eastern thatching style. The angular roof carrying a well proportioned ornamental ridge. In this case topped with a very well made straw animal…

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Ridge and repairs… for this long straw thatch, at Dullingham, in the east of Cambridgeshire.

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Finally, in the north of the county… Lies Whittlesey, a town with a good number of thatched roofs. The two cottages above showing some excellent work…

And, for two hundred and fifty years or so, the home of some thatchers; who travelled widely…


The Oldfield family, shown above in around 1930, practiced their craft hereabouts from at least the early eighteenth century. Then the huge Whittlesey Mere had extensive reedbeds; used by this family until it was drained in the 1850’s.

This was a good material, in a 1932 newspaper interview, the Oldfield brothers stated they knew of roofs coated by their grandfather’s generation, still going strong. Norfolk Reed was now used, laid for £5 a square.

With the acquisition of a motor lorry, the family firm started taking jobs far and wide, ‘from Devon to Lancashire to Kent’, in 1932. Evidently the family cat decided to join one trip, enjoying a cosy ride to Sussex; hidden in the water reeds. Then having to be sent home, by train from Chichester….

Work on the Royal Estate at Sandringham in Norfolk, brought a Royal Warrant to this firm; as it often does today, to modern thatchers…

The premises, shown in the image, were occupied by this family firm, from around 1850 to the mid 1970’s…

Much of the above information, was gathered from a article by Geoff Oldfield, who sadly died in 2015.

However the Oldfield family where not the only Cambridgeshire thatchers, on the move…


Top of the game…These two Edwardian Postcards, are two, of a series issued by the Soham thatcher J.G. Cowell. Who like the Oldfields, seems to have travelled south to work. Having a telephone, in 1908, shows this firm really were at the top end of the craft…

Other neighbouring counties also had such large firms; what Charles Innocent, in 1916, called ‘Capitalist Thatchers’