One of the things our visitors love on our Cotswolds Day-Trips the most is getting to see inside a traditional English thatched cottage.
They describe our home as a hobbit house or like ‘being in fairyland’.
I guess when people imagine what a typical country cottage looks like, something like ours comes to mind!
And they’re intrigued by the thatched roof.
Thatching simply means the use of straw of grasses as a building material. Thatching was one of the first types of roofing to be used – right back in the Bronze Age.
One of the reasons thatching was used was because it was one of the lightest weight materials available at the time for cottages, huts and farm buildings. If you think that the walls might have been wattle and daub, you didn’t want a really heavy roof pressing down on them. And there was no convenient way to transport slate across Britain! People were very practical and basically used whatever material they could get hold of such as flax, broom, heather or reeds to build roofs for their homes.
Funnily enough, thatch was primarily used by the poor. How things have changed with thatched cottages reaching high prices nowadays and being really sought after! Sometimes a thatch is the difference between getting planning permission or not. In the Guardian there was an article with master thatcher Glen Holloway , who, when asked if the thatching trade was in decline said. “No, it’s picking up again because of all the new-builds.”
“If someone wants to build a complex of 10 houses [in a place like Dorset], in order to get planning permission they’d probably have to do three or four in thatch to blend in,” he said.
Even churches have used thatch and I recently read a funny story that goes like this:
The parish church at Reyden, near Southwold, was roofed in 1880 with thatch on the side of the church hidden from the road, and with tiles on the side facing the road. Presumably the tiles looked more elegant than the more commonplace thatch.
I guess they wanted to give a good first impression!
It’s interesting how things have changed. In the Victorian era, better transportation and the ability to get other materials – such as slate – across the country meant thatching began to decline. And you might be interested to know that the combine harvester – which is a huge time-saving device for farmers – has an unfortunate side effect: it makes wheat straw unsuitable for thatching. So much so reed is still grown over in Norfolk, specifically for use as a thatching material.
Anyway, I’m pleased to read that there are more thatched roofs in the UK than in any other European country as I’m rather fond of them myself!