“Thatching The Thatch” – January 2015

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We are being asked lots of questions about the Thatch and the Thatching, so I seized the opportunity and grabbed the Thatching team on a well deserved      tea-break on a cold January morning to get the answers to the most important queries.

Is Melvyn working on the Thatch roof?
Melv; local character, Frontman for the Universe Inspectors, thatcher and general all round decent bloke, is working with the Thatching team on the roof.  A man of many trades, he has a new solo album out “10 Knots in the Right Direction” which features some great local musicians and was produced by local musical genius Pete Bruntnell.

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So who is doing the Thatch thatching?

The Thatching is being done by James Hunt, Master Thatcher, and his team including his son David (also a Master Thatcher) whose maternal Grandfather, John Jones (from Georgeham) thatched the Thatch, and his Great Grandfather, David Jones also thatched the Thatch many years ago.
Talking to the Thatchers, I realised that there is an immense pride in the work that they do. They are entrenched in the locale and it’s histories and covering a mere roof takes on such a significant role when you are responsible for the continuation of the “picturesque” image we all rely on to keep the visitors coming to North Devon. Tradition and heritage are their uniform and maintaining that requires passion.
I’ve always believed that the Catering trade has two types of people; those that love it and those that can’t do it ,there is no grey area, there is no middle ground and I suspect Thatching is like this only more so because its a rare gift passed down through the generations.

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Are you using Norfolk Reed?
“Sadly not. Do you want the long answer? “ I opted for the short answer,                I got a sense that the Norfolk reed beds were a bit of a sore subject for Thatchers, Norfolk it would seem is one of the few areas in the country where marsh reed grows that would be available to be harvested in sufficient quantities to be a viable raw material to be used.
Most of the other Marsh areas have long been infilled and utilised as arable land and the reed beds that would have been around 100 years ago have long gone.    It seems that if they could find sufficient reed locally and at the right price, then that is what they would choose to thatch with. As I have said its all about tradition and that means using what’s available locally.
The Norfolk reed beds were taken over by the RSPB several years ago to guarantee that the marsh habitat survived for many birds and reed harvesting stopped for many years. The RSPB have recently taken on reed cutting apprentices to restart the cutting of the reed as they have found that without it the marsh and reed beds are actually filling up and deteriorating.

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“We are, however, using a water reed though as this would have traditionally been used to Thatch the Thatch, its called “Phragmites Australis” or Southern Reed. Unfortunately most of the reed beds in North Devon have vanished though you can still see marsh reeds growing out on the Braunton Burrows Biosphere just not enough to make commercial sense in harvesting as we need several tons for a roof the size of the Thatch’s.”
“The Ridge will be made from Devon Wheat from Winkleigh”. James laughs, “Melv here likes to finish the ridge in marsh reed but I think the wheat gives a better finish and is more traditional.”

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The Ridge is the Thatcher’s signature on his work and as it will stand there as a testament to his abilities for up to 30 years, it’s significant. I suspect that the more costly wheat finish is there to make a statement – “James Hunt thatched this” – and I like that too, The Thatch is a personal place, it’s not corporate, it’s made by the people that choose to work there and by those who choose to spend their own precious time there and if James Hunt wants to put his stamp of pride on it then who am I to disagree.

Do you take all the Thatch off before putting new Thatch on?
“No its stripped back to approx. the last 18 inches of Thatch, and then the new reed goes straight on top.”
So its bit like archaeological dig? You are peeling back the layers of time?
“Yes the reed on the base layer is probably the reed from when the Thatch’s roof was originally done and could be several hundred years old.”
How thick is the Thatch when it is complete?
“3 feet +”

What holds the Thatch on to the roof?
“We are using Hazel cross pieces and Spars (some thatchers call them Pegs) which are hammered into the Thatch to bind it all together, but its also dependent on how you lay the reed. We put a bend on the reed to put tension on it, we call this the “kick”, so it’s trying to flatten itself on the roof and then the Spars we use are split, twisted and folded so that they are constantly trying to straighten even when pushed into the roof and this provides tension across the roof.”

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Very Simply the Thatch is hugging the top of the building and doesn’t want to let go.
I kind of like the idea, especially as the Pub is named for it’s roof. To think that it is giving us all one big protective hug is reassuringly homely.

How much does the roof weigh?

“In thatch by the time its finished probably over 8 Tons.”
And that all gets carried up ladders by hand?
“Pretty much, it keeps you fit! And we do it year round. Most people think we only work six months a year, ……. I wish, ……… it’s year round, the only real problem can be the wind!”
How often do you need to re-Thatch a roof?
“Most roofs between 25 and 30 years, but the ridges need doing every 10 years as they are so exposed to the weather.”
So how much does it cost?
“I get asked this all the time and I’ll give you the same answer I give everyone …. Lots!

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With thanks to James Hunt (Master Thatcher, Yelland  01271 860551), David Hunt (Master Thatcher, Bideford 01237 424428), Clayton Loufer (Master Thatcher, Hatherleigh, 01837 811620), Melvyn Eveleigh (Croyde Legend) and Caoilfhionn for suggestions and advice.

P.S. Anyone interested in Melvyn’s Solo Album please email me at steve.thatch.croyde@hotmail.co.uk and I’ll pass contact details on to him.

 

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