Moulding, Knapping and Thatching in East Anglia

by Ross Perkin

Last week the Scholars embarked on a journey of discovery in East Anglia. The region’s identity is heavily linked to the natural material found there. East Anglia contains little stone but has a seam of clay suitable for making bricks. The extensive chalk belts contain a plentiful supply of flint which has been used for both rubble-work and knapped facing to walls for centuries. The use of long-straw as a traditional roofing thatch takes advantage of the expansive and fertile agricultural landscape.

The week started with a visit to Bulmer Brick and Tile Company near Sudbury in Suffolk. CEO Peter Minter spent a full day with us and outlined the history of one of the oldest producers of handmade bricks in Britain. Clay is taken from the ground behind the brickworks and goes through a milling and mixing process. After this it is thrown into a wooden mould and air-dried for a number of days before completion in a traditional brick kiln. The Scholars each made three bricks which are to be used at Hampton Court Palace (if they pass quality control procedures!).

Week18_Bulmers brickyard

Scholar Richard making a brick at Bulmer Brick and Tile Ltd with Peter Minter

We then travelled up to Norwich to meet Nick Warns (Scholar, 1984). Here we visited two flint churches. The walls of the church at Winterton-on-sea were built with an unknapped flint core with loosely knapped flint facing. The walls of St Mary’s in Great Yarmouth were a closely knapped flint face with a brick core. The different construction methods resulted in very different conservation approaches.

Week18_flint at Worton on Sea Church

Rebuilt, fully pointed, knapped flint above existing knapped flint at Winterton-on-Sea Church

Later in the week the scholars visited Shawn Kholucy (Scholar, 1981) in Hoxne, Suffolk where we saw some exquisitely close-knapped, flush-work flint at St Peter and Paul, Eye.

Eye Parish Church, Suffolk

Close-knapped, flush-work flint at St Peter and Paul Eye Parish Church Suffolk with Shawn Kholucy

Week18_thatching

The tradition of long-straw thatching has developed primarily in Suffolk and South Norfolk. Master thatcher Graham Borrill spent an afternoon explaining to us the entire process of the craft from field to rooftop. Graham grows his own long-straw which is put through a drying and threshing process before it is arranged into ‘gabbles’ and laid out onto a roof. The long-straw differs visually from wheat and water-reed thatch which is used in other parts of the country. Graham inspired all of us Scholars with his tales of travelling as a roadie with the Rolling Stones.

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