Discover more about the enchanting English thatched cottage and the best counties in England to find them.
The English thatched cottage began in the primitive thatched dwellings of the Bronze age. From as far north as the Scottish Highlands to the most southern point of England thatch was used, the thatch may be made of heather, straw, or reeds depending on the area. Thatching is one of the oldest building crafts and the thatched roof is one of the oldest forms of roofing.
You can find the English thatched cottage in most counties in England but especially in the once major corn growing counties. Thatch was used as a form of roofing for all types of cottages, the half-timbered cottages in the woods, the stone cottages of the Cotswolds and the cob cottages of the south west of England. Some of the once major corn growing counties are listed below, here you can find the English country thatch cottage.
The English thatched cottage is a beautiful adornment to the English countryside so much so that it attracted the attention of connoisseurs of the “cult of the picturesque” in the later part of the eighteenth century when popular artists such as Helen Allingham started painting the country thatch cottage and creating the romantic scenes that idolised cottage life.
The thatched cottage was becomming a part of the English country estate by the nighteenth century when the gentry wanted a taste of the good life and the simple pleasures of cottage living. The humble cot became the Cottage Ornée. These cottages are large by comparison and no money has been spared to build them. Thatch for the first time was being used on homes of the wealthy. The Cottage Ornée is a part of England's country paradise.
Thatching has not changed much since mediaeval times and modern advances have not helped. The modern strains of wheat are two short and the combine harvester cuts the stalks too high and makes a mess of the straw. Thatching needs whole straws so that they can be aligned in bundles to place on the roof. For this the straw needs to be harvested by hand.
When thatch ceased to be the cheapest form of roofing because tile, especially Welsh slate in the 1820's became available the English thatched cottage began its decline. The railways soon made building materials freely available and the builder did not need to use what was close at hand but could choose as he pleased.
The most common wheat used in the south of England is Wheat straw. This is a characteristic of thatched cottages in Hampshire, Dorset and Devon where a heavy layer of thatch is used to create a sumptuous overhanging full thatch roof. Wheat reed is used to create clean straight stems more common in thatched roofs in Somerset, Devon and other southern counties.
Norfolk reed is particularly loved by thatchers and is traditionally associated with the county of Norfolk. Norfolk reed grows wild in the sea marshes and rivers and is called 'phragmites communis' it has been used since prehistoric times.
Heather was normally used to thatch cottages in northern England and Scotland.
Thatch is a natural, renewable material, an excelent insulator and keeps you cool in summer and warm in winter. It's sound proof and flexible, not to mention the most beautiful roof a person can live under and if done well and with the best quality reeds it can last several decades.
The average thatched roof in England is about a foot thick and some English country thatch cottages are given an even more generous helping that gives the roof the soft lines of a snow drift, as if the cottage is wrapped up, all cosy in a blanket with its eyes or windows peeking out.
Improving the quality of the material has helped the English country thatch cottage and the craft of thatching survive to this day. It is thanks to farmers willing to grow traditional varieties of grain and harvest them by hand and to builders and thatchers commited to the tradition of thatching that will keep the English thatched cottage around.
The thatcher is a wonderful sight to see, I have seen thatchers at work on timber framed cottages in Worcestershire and it is a wonderful reminder of a time gone by. Some craftsmen leave their mark on the thatch roof with some creation made of straw as their signature.
If you would like to know more about thatching I highly recommend reading the "The Thatchers Craft" published by the Rural Development Commission U.K (RDC)
Above: If you like the Francis Frith photo above go to Old Photos to see more.
Photo: The only thatched vestry in use in England today is found in Buckland-in-the-Moor notice the 'cat slide' roof.
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"The Cottage Homes of England."
By Stuart Dick and paintings by Helen Allingham 1909
"The English Cottage."
By H. Batsford
By Lydia Greeves and John Miller.