A day in the life
To begin a thatched roof, the master thatcher will first fit an underlying structure using timber rafters and battens. The thatcher will fasten the first layer of thatch to the battens and rafters. Then, the main coat goes on top, using bundles of material that are strategically placed, starting at the eaves and working up to the ridge.
But being a roof thatcher goes a lot further than just fitting the roof. Shane also showed us what it looks like when a thatched roof needs a bit of TLC:
“A little maintenance job today, giving this thatch its yearly tidy up. We’re going to get rid of all this lichen and all this moss build-up.”
And it’s not just greenery that can burrow its way into thatched roofs:
“This roof’s got a little squirrel damage. You can see the holes it’s made here. So, what I’m going to do is start pulling out the old reed around the hole. Once I’ve done that, I’m going to feed in some new reed.”
An ancient craft
Thatching is an ancient craft that has remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years. The first thatchers were bronze age inhabitants of England who would gather the materials at hand- straw and grass- to make a thick roof that would keep their home dry, as well as cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
The work of a contemporary master thatcher appears to be deceptively simple. The reality is that the varieties of roof styles, curves, ridgelines, and windows require special qualifications that usually take a five-year apprenticeship to gain.
Although being a roof thatcher may seem like a niche trade, Historic England highly encourages the conservation of traditional thatch.
The benefits of preserving this ancient craft can include recognising regional diversity, conserving the character of historic buildings and areas, protecting materials of archaeological importance, and sustaining traditional materials, techniques, and skills.
The owners of England’s most quintessential-looking houses have developed throughout history:
“Thatch used to be a poor man’s roof. Now, it’s a rich man’s roof. Our clients used to be old ladies who had lived in the houses all their lives. Now it’s young people with money.”
Although thatching roofs can be a time-consuming and expensive practice, homeowners are rewarded with a picturesque roof that is incredibly resistant to the elements.