Devon Builders: The History of Thatching

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How many of us who are lucky enough to live in picturesque South Devon have admired the wonderful craftsmanship of the Devon builders who created the thatched cottages that adorn our many towns and villages. Although we at The Builders SW don’t practice the age-old art of thatching we do know a little bit about it and in this short article we will provide a little information about the history of this historical Devon building craft.

Devon Thatching

Thatching has been around for hundreds of years and it has not been limited to Devon or even the United Kingdom. In some of the countries around the equator thatch is still the conventional material for providing a roof covering over dwelling places.Thatching techniques have, as a matter of custom, been handed down over the course of generations for around three hundred years in the United Kingdom in general and Devon in particular. All kinds of material are used for thatching around the world, including palm leaves, but in Devon the material employed has always been straw, which became prevalent when cereals were first grown as part of the diet. In fact, in Devon and the remainder of Europe, thatch was probably the sole roofing material that was available to the majority of the populace in the countryside and its hamlets, parishes, villages and towns until the late 19th Century when it was superseded by Welsh slate and other solid roofing materials. Nevertheless, the construction of thatched properties in the united Kingdom actually rose during the middle of that  century, corresponding with the expansion of the agricultural industry. Sadly, it had a corresponding decline during the early part of the 20th century when the agricultural industry was affected by a deep recession resulting in a significant reduction in he number of people needing accommodation in rural areas. Such was the impact on the thatching industry that living in a thatched house became something of a stigma, indicating that the occupier was poor. All these reasons, together with a far better transport infrastructure that allowed the transportation of different roofing materials to rural areas, combined to cause a substantial depletion in the number of thatched properties that were being coupled with an unsurprising reduction in the number of skilled thatchers. Ironically, in recent years, thatch has regained its popularity and any stigma attached to owning a thatched property is long gone. In fact, it is now more likely to be construed as an indication of wealth to own a thatched house rather than the opposite. The popularity of thatching is increasing and there are now believed to be in excess of one thousand professional thatchers in the country, many of whom are located in Devon, which still has an abundance of thatched houses.

Newton Abbot Roofing

Thatch: The Pros and Cons

One of the principal benefits of thatch is that it is much lighter than other roofing materials. This means that far less timber supports are required to hold the roof. Thatch is also pliable and amenable to fitting onto some quite irregular roofs.

Far and away the greatest disadvantage of thatch is that is perceived to present a greater fire risk than other roofing materials. This means that thatched properties are more difficult (and costly) to insure. Thatching is also a labour intensive process, meaning it is far more costly to cover a roof with thatch than with slate, tiles or other materials. Thatch is also more susceptible to damage from birds and other wildlife.

Despite the perceived disadvantages, there are  still approximately sixty thousand thatched houses in the  United Kingdom, with more and more being constructed annually.

Although at The Builders SW we don’t build thatched houses, our Torquay, Newton Abbot and Exeter builders do just about everything else. Why not contact us for a quote?

The Builders SW
Sterling House,
Decoy Industrial Estate,
Newton Abbot,
TQ12 5NA

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