I came across a book I had packed away in the attic the other day called “Akenfield”, by Ronald Blythe- “Portrait of an English village” and first published in 1969.
The book is as the title suggests – a description of a real village somewhere in East Suffolk (Akenfield is not its real name). The chapters deal with everyone in the village from the Vet, the Magistrate, the Orchard Men, the school, the Wheelwright, the Saddler and the Thatcher, and many more individuals. In a few more years with the passing of time the book will be even more relevant as a piece of social history.
As a Thatcher it struck a chord with me and made me realise how things have become a little easier for Thatchers today thatching in Suffolk with our air conditioned vehicles etc…
In the book, Ernie Bowers is the Thatcher aged 55 and he was 19 when he started on his own.
My dad said “well, son, it’s up to you now. It was our parting. That was all he said. I had two boys like the others and I was out on my own… The farmers didn’t let the farm labourers do the thatching, they always came to us. It was different in Norfolk, where they’d let anybody do a stack…. in East Suffolk it was a special job and my father and myself, working apart with our two boys each, would thatch anything up to 600 stacks a year”.
“Thatching was very cheap when I was young… my father would re-lay a ten foot square of roof for £1 and think that he was earning money… today to thatch the roof of an ordinary cottage will cost between £4-£500”.
“I get up at half past five in the morning. I work many hours. I get tired, but I will be all right, I suppose…. you can’t get into conversation with a young person as you could years ago. They just haven’t got the interest. They don’t want our kind of talk. They’re all strangers – all strangers.”
I guess in 1969 hippies and music festivals were the order of the day – and it’s interesting to read that then, just as it is now, very few young people are interested in thatching.
As to the location of Akenfield there are several clues in the book, one being that it is equal distance from Woodbridge, Wickham Market and Framlingham in East Suffolk – maybe its Charsfield or Monewden?