Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Crowland thatch

click photo to enlarge
There was a time, long ago, when thatch was the most common roofing material to be found in the British Isles. Not only houses but churches, pubs and barns could (and still can) be found with this kind of covering. As well as the reed and straw, roofs were thatched with flax, heather, gorse and broom. But slowly, down the centuries, this vegetable material was replaced by mineral in the form of stone, slate, clay tiles and finally concrete tiles. Yet thatching never entirely disappeared. Thatching is no longer local and cheap but it can still be reasonably commonly found in the areas where it was once popular, and it is still a very good insulator.

Today long straw thatch and combed wheat - both using by-products of grain production - are still found. So too is reed thatch, occasionally using native reeds from places such as the Norfolk Broads, but more often imported from Eastern Europe, particularly the area of the Danube Delta. Many traditional buildings, often from the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, that were always thatched, continue to be so roofed. One or two builders offer newly constructed houses with  a thatched roof. I've seen them in Lancashire and Norfolk, both areas where thatch was popular. And, because of the demand for the re-roofing of old buildings and the occasional new-build, the craft of the thatcher continues.

Thatchers have always shown idiosyncrasies in the way they fix together the straw, reed, hazel or briar, and in the manner in which they finish ridges, gable ends and the edges of dormer windows. Many have also been keen to add individual thatch sculptures to their roofs, sometimes as a mark of who made it but often as a piece of whimsy or in response to a request from the owner. I've seen owls, pheasants, witches and cockerels decorating thatched roofs. Today's photograph of cottages in Crowland, Lincolnshire, features a thatched roof with a cat in a characteristically feline pose.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On