A Thatching Story


All thatchers agreed that higher thatching prices and many more new roofs to thatch would be good business for all of them.  This meant (putting aside trying to get higher prices) that there would have to be more new build thatch (or less thatchers).

Not to think like this was irrational and none of them were irrational.

If thatching was to change from being a quaint cottage industry, thatchers knew thatching had to be sold to outside bodies. They had to deal with people who were not thatchers such as planners, architects, builders and surveyors; they had to allay people’s concerns about the risk of fire; they had to encourage Insurance Companies to lower their premiums; and they had to show that thatching had not only a history but also a future as a viable roofing product.

The thatchers knew this, and understood that they, and they alone, were uniquely placed to talk and advise about thatching.  They could draw on their traditions their skills, their inventiveness, their ability to adapt and they knew the weight of their argument passed on from generation to generation would stand them in good stead.

However, it soon became apparent that the thatchers’ fierce independence and suspicion of outside bodies was also a problem in dealing constructively with outside organisations, and very soon thatchers saw any move to rationalise the trade as unwanted interference; although the exception to this was helping in the development of fire preventive products and other periphery non thatching  topics.

After a period of time, the thatchers met to discuss progress.

The thatchers had no written manual on agreed good practice; they could not agree on what exactly constituted a square of thatch; they could not agree on an industry wide guarantee; they could not agree on what the term Master Thatcher meant; they could not agree on how long a thatched roof should last when thatched in different materials; they could not show how any of their number were actually qualified to thatch; and they were represented by different named trade organisations vying to be the official mouthpiece of thatchers.

This subjectivity meant if they could not agree amongst themselves, how could they convince an often skeptic public?

However, thatchers were comforted by the fact that all those things did not matter because thatching was a craft and it was up to these outside bodies to accept that fact – history had after all proven that to be the case.  The thatchers argued that thatching continued to be a craft because there was often not an absolute definitive answer to questions  in thatching (because thatching had evolved over many years). Who was to say what was RIGHT and WRONG?

The thatchers  knew deep down that theirs WAS a cottage industry and many of them were happy to continue  to thatch in Straw and some in Reed, some in this style and some in another and many were swayed by the 2001 English Heritage(EH) document which said:

“Thatching is in a unique position as an industry or craft: the thatcher exercises a degree of independence unknown in other building trades, and information about thatching is often subjectively presented”

The problem was that EH were not concerned with helping to create more thatch as many thatchers wanted but in maintaining the existing stock of thatch much of which was listed (EH said 24,000 buildings were listed). EH concentrated on looking to the past as some thatchers did, working with conservation officers and listed building officers who enforced their views, and while some thatchers agreed with the views of EH, many did not and the status quo continued, and very few new roofs that were built for thatch.

The planners and architects continued to view thatchers as a small unique group of people and the UK thatching styles to be unlike those found in other countries; nothing much changed and it was left  to the thatching industry to carry on with their traditions and different trade organisations ….. and that was the catch!

In order to understand about thatching one had to be a thatcher, and to be a thatcher and accepted as one, one had to accept its traditions.