Ten years ago we were living in our 300-year-old Mid-Devon Cottage and waiting to have the roof re-thatched. It was in a poor state. People often question how long a thatched roof will last, and the answer is not clear-cut. It depends on so many factors: the location of the house and its exposure to the elements; the wind, weather and temperatures across every season of the year; the type of material used, the pitch and height of the roof; and so on. You could estimate as a broad rule of thumb that a wheat-thatched roof in Mid-Devon might last for twelve to fifteen years, maybe more. On the other hand it could only last ten, which would be unfortunate because the cost of re-thatching is not cheap.
These two thatchers are descended from still more thatchers. The firm has passed from father to son over five generations.
We already knew that Richard had been born in our cottage, but we did not expect the effect of this to be a regular inspection by his own father, now ‘retired’ and checking up on the work being carried out in his name. The two on the roof were not very happy with this – it unnerved them somewhat every time they glimpsed the grey car driving slowly up the road past the house, but they could do nothing to prevent it.
Equally disconcerting for me was the odd occasion when I spotted Richard making business telephone calls to arrange other contracts, materials and such, from a position high on one of the ladders, leaning back against the thatch and gesticulating with his free hand. This might have seemed second-nature to him, but it was not easy to observe!
Right at the end I climbed up on to the scaffolding to take a look at their world, to appreciate the beauty of the finished result and to marvel at their competence. It was easy to examine the thatch, but when I turned round to appreciate the view it was the sheer height at which they worked with such apparent ease, the gaping spaces between the footboards and the ever-present possibility of tumbling off this perch if one lost concentration for a moment, which left a lasting impression.
And here is the finished result. A beautiful, eyecatching and iconic representation of the craft of a thatcher. So many thanks to Richard and Marc, this was worth every penny. I passed it again recently and although not quite as pristine and much darker in colour, ten years on it is still looking good...