When people think of a region like the Cotswolds, thatched roofs and roses around the door tend to come to mind. There are plenty of doors surrounded by flowers but very few thatched roofs. On the contrary, in the average Cotswold village, all the roofs will be made of the same material as the buildings they protect – limestone. That, of course, is because if there is one thing to be found in abundance around here, it is stone, so much so that until recently, when crop strains have been developed to cope with the conditions, and machinery to go with them, the earth must have been very difficult to till. It is no surprise, therefore, that for centuries the whole of the Cotswolds was covered in sheep. But the soft, workable stone is an excellent building material – at one time, almost every village had its own quarry. Oolitic limestone, in particular, is so workable that it is possible to see it and as building techniques advanced, it was discovered that it even made a good roofing material. So, villagers would hew blocks of limestone from the ground and leave them exposed over the winter. When a frost came, moisture between the layers of rock would freeze and force them apart, after which they were cut and shaped into individual tiles. A hole would be knocked through the thinnest end of each tile and then hung on pegs projecting from a steeply pitched wooden framework sitting atop the building in question (steep because limestone is porous).
Today, when there are fewer quarries, replacing tiles is more expensive than it once was. However, it is possible to buy some very convincing artificial tiles – the question is whether local authorities will permit their use in an A.O.N.B. (area of outstanding natural beauty). They should, because it is quite difficult to distinguish natural tiles from artificial ones – but there have been cases where, absurdly, house owners have been fined for using artificial tiles and told to replace them with ‘the real thing’.
And yet, for obscure reasons, a few examples of thatch remain in the Cotswolds, and very beautiful they are too, especially in Stanton and Chipping Campden