Thatching in Northamptonshire & Buckinghamshire

97aAs mentioned, in the introduction to the various thatching styles, these two counties form a long boundary, between the rounded Southern and the angular Eastern thatching traditions. With influences from both styles being found here. Both now and more frequently in the past.

Parts of Northamptonshire were also influenced by the Northern tradition. Charles Innocent, in his book published in 1916, noted the use of the stobbing method. The old images also show some boarded gable ends, another classic Northern thatching method. These are now gone; with the Southern style becoming more prevalent, in both counties, in recent decades.

The area that forms these two historic counties; includes the old Soke of Peterborough and the new conurbation of Milton Keynes. The former is now in Cambridgeshire, with which it shares little, with respect to the craft. The latter has been split from Buckinghamshire but has much in common with it’s former county. So both these areas are included…

thatch milton keynes england

Milton Keynes… The Swan Inn, long before the village became a city… But this pub has survived, with some more thatched properties, one dating from the fourteenth century.


Soke of Peterbourgh… Some poetic thatch in Helpston. Here lies John Clare’s birthplace, He being born here in 1793; known as the ‘Peasant Poet’, often using his Northamptonshire dialect. It is said he published his first poetry, in the hope of avoiding his parent’s eviction, from this cottage. His star burned very brightly, but briefly. Eventually disappearing into alcoholism and mental illness. But he is now considered one of the leading romantic poets, of the early nineteenth century. This cottage is now in the care of a trust and welcomes visitors…

Long straw thatching was in general use, in both counties; and is still to be found. This may not have always been thrashed material. In Northamptonshire, James Donaldson in his Agricultural Report, noted in 1794: ‘The wheat is cut very high from the ground…after that is done the stubble is cut with scythes… it is either used for litter, or for thatching houses’. Over in Buckinghamshire, at Wendover in 1813; thatchers were reportedly paid, ‘two and six pence a day, and the boy a shilling.

Mending the thesking… The above bill was issued at the end of March in 1830; for a small thatching job, at Maids Moreton. This village lies at the northern end of Buckinghamshire, close to the county town. The thatcher, one Joseph North, was quite literate but seemingly lapsed into a local dialect, by referring to ‘thesking’. As is noted in the History page…( )….there were more than a few other names for thatching at this time. As indeed there were and are, for the humble thatching spar, which Joseph refers to as a ‘spray’. The sum of fifteen shillings probably accounts for five days work. (Contemporary thatchers, in neighbouring Oxfordshire, were on three shillings a day.) Whether our man used his straw to repair, ridge or rethatch part of the Reverend Gilbert’s roof, is not known. But 150 ‘spray’ don’t seem enough, to complete any of these types of thatching. Perhaps more were provided, by parish ratepayers; who may have been responsible for the property; represented by Messrs. Nelson and Atkinson, who took a year to settle Joseph North’s account…

Other materials than straw were used in the past. In the very north of historic Northamptonshire, access to the Fens allowed the use of Fenstraw or rushes. In 1523, these were made into Russhrope. Used for tying on a thatched roof, in Peterborough.

Similar work was carried out in May 1546. The Royal accounts show a bill headed “Peterborowe,” for “reparacions of the saltt coottes belonynge to ye maner of Monkeshall” Payments included, ‘for a thousand of reed to repair Stanworth Coott 10s. carriage of the same 12d., meat and wages of Robt. Jacson and his men thatching of the same coott, 7 days, 8s. 2d., 2 dossyng of ruse rope” for the same 18d. And to the same thatcher, ”for regyng of the same coott another coott in the holdyng of Robartt Elward,” 3s. 4d. Total 24s.

In 1797 William Pitt viewed the Northamptonshire village of Naseby, ‘All of which I observed… covered with thatch, except the church and two dwellings.’ Today, thatch is found still widely; both counties having goodly numbers…

thatch northamptonshire

Northamptonshire long straw… At the Cranfords. Plain and simple, with rolled gables and a hint of the Eastern tradition, at Cranford St John. And a long row of long straw, at Cranford St Andrew.

thatch northamptonshire

thatch northamptonshire

thatch northamptonshire

‘More Northants thatch… At Wollaston, on the left. Where combed wheat reed covers a seventeenth century house, that may have started life as a medieval barn. The right hand image shows worn long straw thatch, at Byfield, a century and more ago…

The lower, 1930’s image, of Moreton Pinkney depicts some ‘Northern’ boarded gables, on the far right. The work here being done, as ever, in long straw…

thatch northamptonshire

thatch northamptonshire

thatch northamptonshire

Still in Northants… The cottage on the left lies in Potterspury. A village alongside Watling Street, the historic divide; between the Northern, Eastern and Southern thatching traditions. This thatch following the latter style. The right hand thatch, is very similar; lying at Lower Boddington, in the west of the county…



Academic thatch… Each of the two counties can boast a thatched school. Left at at Croughton, in Northants. And right, where the original Victorian school, at Dropmore in Buckinghamshire; now extends into more modern buildings…

thatch buckinghamshire

Into Buckinghamshire… A tranquil scene, in 1930’s Bletchley. The thatch shown here, being multilayered long straw. Although now almost swallowed up, by neighbouring Milton Keynes, this place still has more than a few thatches.

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Bucks long straw thatch… At Castlethorpe, with a rounded, multilayered roof.


thatch buckinghamshire

thatch buckinghamshire

Curved and straight… Curved thatch, at The Bell in Chearsley. The location for a least one television drama. The angular thatch, in the 1920’s image at Horsenden, shows more than a hint of the Eastern thatching style. Extended, this cottage still provides an attractive home..

thatch buckinghamshire

Above,’The old part of Princes Risborough’… Taken in the 1950’s, this photo shows some curved long straw thatching. With some very dangerous electrics… However the thatched homes are still going strong.

Opposite and half a century earlier, is what is now the High Street in Wendover. The scene depicts a long row of thatch, no longer extant; with some unusual wooden edges to the upper windows.

thatch buckinghamshire

Timber framed thatch… Above, at Padbury. This Buckinghamshire village has much to show. Many roofs, like these, being thatched in long straw. The traditional material, for both the historic counties, of Northants. and Bucks., whatever particular style the craft tended to follow…. On the right is a combed wheat reed thatch, in curved southern style, at Great Horwood.

Finally, a long lost cottage , with a American connection…

thatching northamptonshire

Northamptonshire lays claim to be an ancestral home of the Washington family, with one Lawrence, moving to Great Brington, towards the end of the Elizabethan period. The old photo shows a cottage at neighbouring Little Brington, around 1900.

zzzx1165This house had an interesting history. Built with a datestone above the front doorway, with an inscription, as shown.This was thought to refer to the birth and tragic death, of one Gregory Washington.  For around a century visitors, many from the United States, came to Little Brington to see “Washington House”. In 1956 the thatch was set alight by a spark from a steam road-roller… The house remained roofless for several years; being demolished in 1960. Only the datestone remains… In nearby Great Brington, another cottage is now thought to have also been the former home of the Washington family, but it bears no signs, indicating its possible connection, with the ancestors of George, the First President of the United States of America…