The Craft of Thatching
To get our new year off to a good start, our first General Meeting Talk, on Thursday 16th January, was on the subject of Thatching. David Wood, from Rugely in Staffordshire, talked to us about the art of thatching and used a portable section of thatched roof to help him.
David had the healthy complexion of someone who has worked outside for 42 years as a master thatcher and with a twinkle in his eye, he entertained us with countless anecdotes while explaining and demonstrating his craft. He showed us how to cut hazel and willow stakes to make fixing loops and form the decorative patterns for the upper ridge part of the roof. Surprisingly, he works without protective gloves, but admitted to using plenty of ‘Atrixo’ hand cream at night.
Thatch does not always have to be routinely stripped off and replaced. In many cases, due to modern practices, thatched roofs last longer. So they can be refreshed by layering new thatch on top of old. In this way, it is possible for the thickness of a thatched roof to grow to several feet.
David told us a story about a village gift shop that sold picture post cards, tea towels and other items bearing the picture of a beautiful local thatched cottage. But David was commissioned to strip and re-thatch the old – very thick – thatched roof and the result was a very different, slimmer roof. The gift shop owner was not at all pleased, however, he did survive because three years later he was seen to be selling mugs depicting the new look thatched cottage.
David explained the old and new material types and methods of fixing. Thatchers used to get local blacksmiths to make hundreds of fixing spikes of varying lengths, but the metal workers are too busy making wrought iron gates and the like, these days.
In the olden days, thatchers used straw, taken as a by-product of a normal farmer’s harvest. But these days, with changed farming methods and other factors, there is much less suitable straw available. So water reed is used instead.
new young men are still being attracted into apprenticeships to learn the
thatching craft, so that we can still look forward to seeing ‘chocolate box’
thatched cottages on our travels in the future.