Thatching in Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire

88aThe historic shires of Pembroke, Cardigan and Carmarthen, that lie in the south west corner of Wales, make up this area.

I have included this area within the Southern thatching tradition, but only just… The widespread use of the stobbing method, in these counties, almost tips the balance, towards inclusion into the Northern area. But this is outweighed, by the curved roof shapes mostly found here; and the almost exclusive use of straw, for ridging.

Historically, poor soil and a harsh climate, lead to material shortages, in this corner of Wales; which, along with its historic links to the craft in Ireland, perhaps helped give this area a distinct thatching style.

Only Just… The above image shows a ‘Rush thatch at Pontrhydfendigaid’. The use of rush instead of straw for thatching and the use of turf, with some crook and caber outside fixings; would not normally place this roof in the ‘Southern’ tradition, only it’s location does. As mentioned, it is the climate and the avialability of materials, that are the main factors, in how a roof is thatched. This Victorian scene, shows a Cardiganshire cottage, that lay in the shadow of Dibyn Du and Pen y Bwlch, two handy sized mountains; not the best land for cereal crops… Pontrhydfendigaid straddles the River Teifi, no doubt a good source for rushes. The lady on the left, seems to be wearing a medal, I wonder what it was for?

  Much use was made of straw rope, as a replacement for wood here. In Pembroke, it also replaced the small roof timbers, in a similar fashion, to some highland thatching methods. Straw ropes also replaced liggers, both on ridges and the edges of long straw roofs; as the old images show. This scarcity of material also becomes apparent, under the thatch coatwork. Here turf, small branches, gorse and bracken; were used as an underlay, thus saving any straw, for the top layer of thatch.


This area had much in common, with thatching in central and southern Ireland. Using the same name for thatching spars; scallops; and the practice of employing straw rope, instead of liggers, on both eaves and ridges. As seen above, in the photo of a County Waterford thatch.   As with other parts of Wales, the rope top ridge is found here, again being identical to work seen in the very heart of Ireland. Along with more than a few place names; these shared thatching methods, could be part of a legacy, from a large Dark Age migration from central Ireland, to the area known as Demetia; covered today by these three counties. Along with centuries of trade and travel, across the Irish Sea…

The stobbing method is old enough, for the language of Wales to have named the tool used in this method; being a Tobren, literally, a ‘thatching stick‘. A thatching practice once used widely hereabouts. A Tobren is illustrated in the page on Non Standard Thatching. Found Here. In 1917 a co-author, for ‘An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire’, praised the look of the thatched cottages, in Carmarthenshire. But was afraid they were ‘doomed to extinction’ and ‘fast disappearing, before the increasing use of corrugated iron.’ …‘The thatcher, who at his best is an artist… will probably in a couple of generations be altogether extinct.’ And so it came to pass… House thatching became a rare occurrence, for any thatchers, in these three south western counties. Kept busy instead, into the early 1960’s, thatching ricks and stacks, for the local farmers. Today this large area still has little thatch. As in other parts, the tin sheeting has been removed and more than a few roofs are coated. Now usually in water reed and combed wheat reed; with very little straw rope in evidence, to hold down the ridges and eaves… But better than the ‘monotonous covering of leaden-coloured slates’; noted by the 1917 ‘Inventory’

Before the Camera… This print, from around 1830 shows the ‘Vale of the Teify near Newcastle’… The Newcastle being Newcastle Emlyn; the river forming the border between the counties of Carmarthen and Cardigan. The artist has shown some rather thickly thatched homes, one with a round thatched lum chimney. The other having the hint of some outside fixings holding down the coatwork…

From the same area and time, as the above print, comes a tale of bravery; as noted in the Weekly Chronicle, on Sunday 25th November 1838… ‘’On Thursday, as one of the stewards of Earl Cawdor was riding home with about £2,000 rents he had been collecting, a man jumped out of the hedge at Bolowan near Carmarthen, and knocking Mr. Rees off his horse, mounted it and rode off. A thatcher saw the robbery as he was thatching a house near the spot, and followed the thief, whom he saw take the valise from off the horse, and leaving the animal, take to the fields with it. The thatcher followed him at full speed calling out” Stop thief!” and after a chase over hedge and ditch he came up with the robber, whom he seized, and tried to take into custody, but the fellow presented a pistol to his head and threatened to blow his brains out if he did not let him go. Fortunately the alarm was given, and assistance arriving, the thatcher was able to disarm the man, and take him into custody. The thief’s name is John Owen, and he lives at Newcastle Emlyn. He has been examined before the county magistrates, and remanded. Mr. Rees is nearly 80 years of age.’’ The thatcher appears to have been one John Thomas of Voelcwan. John Owen was transported for 15 years…


thatch wales


Distinct Style… Two long straw roofs, with ridge and edge fixings, consisting of sparred down, straw rope. The upper cottage was at Newquay; being noted as the last thatch, now replaced by a garage… The opposite image, from the 1880’s, is of work at Cellan, finished with a rope top ridge; very similar to the County Waterford roof, above. *. This use of straw rope, is seen more in Cardiganshire thatch, than in the other two counties…


More Cenarth thatch… A neat new thatch, on an 18th century cottage possibly the oldest remaining building in the village. The corrugated iron roof was replaced, in 1992. photo; copyright and thanks, Jo Turner**

thatch wales

Thatch and slate… At Gilfachrheda. This old view, from around 1910, shows a thatched rick, in the foreground. Neatly fixed with straw ropes. But much of the village has roofs of slate, some very new. Like the cottage on the right. Where the end wall, still shows the old thatch roof line well. A small thatch is still to be found, tucked away behind the large building, behind the rick. As expected, this thatch is finished with a rope top ridge, held with sparred straw rope.

thatch wales


Coastal thatch… The left image depicts the beach side dwelling of Jane Leonard, known as ‘Shani Pob Man’. This well known local lived near New Quay. In a cottage, with eaves and gables fixed with straw rope. No doubt all being swept away, after her death in 1917. The upper photo shows a restored cottage at Llanon; with a thatched chimney lum and rolled gable end. The lower image, shows more thatch at Aberaeron, Full of straw roped roofs, around 1900… Llanon photo, copyright and thanks, Jeremy Bolwell**

thatch wales

Inland Cardigan thatch… The upper, Edwardian image shows a home near Gartheli. The thatch has been repaired with straw, fixed with a rope, probably of straw, held by wooden fixings, seemingly similar the ‘crooks’, used in Scotland… The lower image is of an attractive, restored cottage at Troedrhiwfallen, near Cribyn. Like many of the restored thatches, in the three counties, this one earns its keep as a holiday let. Photo; copyright and thanks, Greg Stevenson**



thatching wales

Changes… At Crwbin. This photo, from around 1920, illustrates some differing fashions in the craft well. The centre, of this little roof, retains the local type of work. Long straw, topped with a rope top ridge. But the gable ends are newly done. Possibly in combed wheat reed, brought in from Glamorgan. The thatcher has even finished with a fashionable ‘saw tooth’, ornamental ridge. Hoping no doubt to complete the centre section, at a later date.



Camarthen cottages… left, at Pumsaint, in combed wheat reed. Photo; copyright and thanks, Jeremy Bolwell**. And above at Llansawel, in water reed. Photo; copyright and thanks, Phillip Halling**.


Just in Carmarthenshire. The upper, Edwardian image shows: ‘The last of Yr Hendy gwyn- ar- daf’ at Whitland. At least this end of the cottage still looks in a reasonable state. With a long straw thatch, possibly stobbed into place; keeping things dry; near the border with the old county of Pembrokeshire… As is the location of the lower photo, which depicts the hamlet of Login. This shows the thatch in around 1910, having rope top ridges along with some thatched chimney lums.


Camarthenshire pubs… The White Hart at Llanddarog, is much restored; and now brews its own beer. Photo; copyright and thanks, Richard Rogerson**. The right hand, Masons Arms, at Kidwelly, has always retained it’s thatch, since being built in the eighteenth century… Photo; copyright and thanks, ‘Jaggery’**. An early fire brigade was in operation, in the town of Carmarthen, in 1633; when the mayor one Thomas Atkins, purchased “twelve buckets, with two hooks to pull the burning thatch off the roofs, and iron hats for the firemen…”


thatch wales

thatching  wales

‘Old’ thatch… On the left, ‘The oldest House in Kidwelly’. A medieval cottage, that once stood close to the surviving pub, the Mason’s Arms. ‘Old Llanelly’, appears in the right hand image, of around 1905; showing a cottage at Bryn, near Llanelli (the spelling was altered in 1966…). Right on the border with Glamorgan. Unlike the combed wheat thatch, in that county, the roof here is of long straw, with the remains of a rope top ridge…



Survivor… Penrhos Cottage, near Maenclochog, was for many years, said to be the only remaining thatch in Pembrokeshire. This early nineteenth century cottage, was preserved by the local authorities and welcomes visitors. Photo; copyright and thanks, ‘Pennyghael2’**

Similar… The scene opposite is from an old postcard dated 1907; depicting ‘Cottage on Marloes Road, Milford Haven’; the building being somewhat similar to the one above… The thatch however is quite different, appearing to consist of a thin but neat coat of directional thatch, held in place by lines of wooden fixings.

Below are two restored roofs. On the left at Marloes. And a tiny cottage, on the right at Tretio Photos; copyright and thanks, Jeremy Bolwell & ‘Ceridwen’**


aaaaaaaThis image shows a similar cottage, to the upper right hand one… But the thatch shown here is much older, dating from 1880’s. It lay at Eglwyswrw; and shows a straw roped roof, of long straw, with a rope top ridge. Similar to work in Cardiganshire, which lies fairly close by…*

The lower photo is from the same period, depicting the ‘Old Post Office at St Davids’. The thatch here consists of a directional repair, fixed down with wooden thatching spars and liggers. And, as ever hereabouts, finished with a rope top ridge. *



Coastal thatch… This 1908 postcard, shows a cottage selling refreshments, at Newgale; overlooking St Brides Bay. The thatch here is long straw, held firmly in place by outside wooden fixings. Topped with a rop top ridge. As seen in several of the old images, the gables ends hardly protrude over the wall. A case of a windy climate taking preference over style…

Finally, some very coastal Pembrokeshire thatch…

thatch wales

thatch wales

The post card and the  two holiday snaps below it, seem to date from the late 1930’s. All show the sea weed drying huts, then found on the beach at Freshwater West; known today more for its surf, than any seaweed… The bottom right snap is entitled ‘Seaweed gathers at Freshwater West’.


The seaweed, of course, was destined to create the famous Welsh laver bread. Collecting laver was known in Pembrokeshire, from at least the early seventeenth century; ending commercially in the 1950s. A laver seaweed drying hut has now been restored, as shown on the left. At one time, up to 20 drying huts could be found along the beach here, each one maintained by a local family…

The thatch shown, in the 1930’s pictures, is very basic. Possibly marram grass, laid on directionally, topped with a turf ridge. Rare images, of just two, of the many small thatched buildings, that were once found throughout Britain…

* The old images thus marked, were taken by John Thomas, (1838-1905), a well known photographer, of Wales and its people; whose work speaks for itself… His negatives form part of the photographic collection, of the National Library of Wales. By its courtesy, they appear here.

** Most of the new images, found on this page, were taken from the excellent Geograph site; licensed for reuse under Creative Commons. For one reason or another I never obtained any, on my tour round Britain. So thanks to all concerned, for allowing their images to be used…