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January 1949. 65-year-old marshman Mr Jack Wisken (in the boat) with his mate Mr Edwin Shingles harvests reeds on Colman’s marshes at Woodbastwick. The reeds were destined for thatching on Col. H Cator’s estate. Photo: EDP Library
Saturday, February 8, 2014
Harvesting reeds for thatching and other rural crafts has traditionally been a task for the winter months and over the years EDP photographers have captured this quintessential East Anglian scene in pictures of haunting and atmospheric beauty.
1 Our first picture was taken in January 1949. 65-year-old marshman Mr Jack Wisken (in the boat) with his mate Mr Edwin Shingles harvests reeds on Colman’s marshes at Woodbastwick. The reeds were destined for thatching on Col. H Cator’s estate.
2 In late December 1952, Mr Russell Sewell and his friend Mr Albert Sharman were photographed cutting reeds near Surlingham Broad, recently acquired by the Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust. Mr Sewell ties a bundle of reeds, pulling away odd lengths to make a neat end. The reed cutters could cut and stack 6-10 fathoms a day, a fathom being six bundles of reeds, measuring six feet in circumference. Cutting was done with a reed sickle and only that year’s growth was cut. Mr Sharman had been a thatcher for almost 50 years before turning his hand to reed cutting; Mr Sewell had been a reed cutter for 27 years.
3 Our next photo, which is undated but seems to be from the mid-1950s, shows Mr Herbert Beales “dressing” reeds after they have been cut. This was an operation which was difficult to reproduce mechanically, as the machinery manufacturers grouped around him were able to appreciate.
4 Guist is the location of our next shot. Mr TS Clitheroe was one of a team of three cutting reeds there in February 1955 for the Great Ouse Water Board. The reeds are some of the tallest in Norfolk, being 10 feet in height.
5 Later in the same year, reed was being bundled up for export to America where it would be used for house thatching. The workmen were employed by Mr WR Farman, reed thatcher of North Walsham. Mr. D Cushion on the left of the picture was one of two thatchers travelling to America to do the thatching.
6 When not harvesting reeds Mr Archie Taylor of Rockland St Mary – seen here preparing to transport bundles of reeds from the marshes to the edge of Rockland Broad – liked to relax by playing records on his 50-year-old gramophone, according to our EDP report in February 1962.
7 Mechanisation had started to come in by the mid-1960s. Here a manually-operated reed cutter tackles the reeds at Ranworth, with the bundling-up still done by hand in our picture from 1966.
8 By 1971, fully mechanised reed cutting was being demonstrated at Ranworth to a party of thatchers from all over the country. Mr Francis Cator’s 150-acre reedbeds produced annually some 25,000 bundles for thatching.
9 A few bundles of reeds provide a very handy windbreak for this team of three cutters at Hickling in 1974.
10 Our last picture, taken in 1975, shows reed cutting by hand along the river bank at Magdalen, near King’s Lynn – a task which had not been taken over by mechanisation.