The Craven Bed & Breakfast - Thatching

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  Mike Smith, Master Thatcher at work

A stay with us during the summer would have been extra special. You would have been able to watch the ancient craft of thatching being practiced at our 17th Century home, The Craven. The task was carried out by a Master Thatcher, who progressively re-thatching the whole of the Craven roof in traditional Devon combed wheat reed. It was an unforgettable experience to watch this ancient craft and skill being performed and some guests actually had the chance to try their hand under the Master Thatcher's guidance.

A Brief History of Thatching

Roof thatching is one of the oldest building crafts. The craft of roof thatching has changed very little since the Middle Ages and there is evidence that using thatch for roofing goes back as far as the Bronze Age in Britain. In Britain alone there are over 55,000 thatched homes although the numbers are falling.

The life af a thatched roof is surprisingly long. Thatched roofs can last as long as 60 to 70 years and the life of a combed wheat reed, according to figures from the Hampshire County Council, is typically 30-40 years.

A roof thatcher usually works alone or with members of his family in a small business and a modern thatcher usually spends 5 years in an apprenticeship to a master thatcher.

The basic technique in is that the thatch is first tied in bundles, laid in an underlayer on the roof beams and pegged in place with rods made of hazel or withy. An upper layer is then laid down over the first, and a final reinforcing layer added along the ridgeline. Individual thatchers often leave a personal "signature", in the form of a decorative feature of some kind that marks the job as his alone.

The Craven is thatched in traditional Devon combed wheat reed. On a combed wheat reed roof the straw is sorted: "combed", so that only the butts are visible on the surface of the roof and the straw is laid at such an angle so that only a very small length of the straw is exposed on the surface. This method of thatching was traditional in Devon and hence is often referred to as "Devon Reed".

Carol Wadsworth, The Craven B & B, Fernham Road,
UFFINGTON Oxfordshire, SN7 7RD, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1 367 820449

Last updated 5th October 2011