Excellent Cotswold Businesses - Man of Straw


ThatchingAs we have explained in an earlier post, the Cotswolds region, contrary to what many people expect, is not thatched-roof country - it is mostly limestone slate country. But there are thatched roofs here and there and they need repairing and replacing from time to time. This is skilled and challenging work; and so that is why there are people like Robert Lee, whose daily work is much like that performed by his forbears over centuries ad infinitum Mr Lee hails from Oxenton (where he is also a bell-ringer), a small village at the foot of the Cotswold escarpment not far from Broadway. Initially he was going to be a lithographer, until the chance to learn a skill that would see him outside in all weathers, and well above ground, came his way. It is a way of life, he says, with many pleasures, though not without its dangers: a broken limb or two is likely to be the lot of a thatcher at some time or other. And the hands! A thatcher's hands are a sight to behold. Thatching, being tactile work, depends a great deal on 'feel', which means that  gloves can be a hindrance. But straw (as opposed to Norfolk reed, widely used throughout the country), the material used in the Cotswolds, is rough stuff and calloused, thorn-filled hands the natural consequence.

I was surprised to learn that thatcher's work in pretty much any conditions. Only the heaviest rain or snow is sufficient deterrent: and straw has remarkable rain-proofing qualities, as the water tends to run off its waxy exterior. A thatcher, furthermore, does not usually need to remove the whole thatch – just the outer layer is enough, if the straw below, which may be a couple of feet thick, is in good condition. In fact it is quite possible for the original thatch on a 500 year old house still to be in place. It is tough stuff.

The straw Mr Lee uses is Devon long straw, which is in fact a kind of old-fashioned wheat. In the past, until hardier and shorter varieties of wheat were developed to withstand summer storms, all wheat would have looked like this. Now it is grown specifically for thatching, (although the grain is used as well for bread and so on). The great thing about straw, once it is packed densely together and tied into the roof, is its durability and strenght – much more resistant to leaks and to strong winds than a tiled roof.

A newly thatched roof is a thing of beauty and Mr Lee and his colleagues make a wonderful contribution to the landscape (and the skyscape). For anyone needing thatching work, Mr Lee can be contacted on 01242 674879.

Anyone interested in learning more about thatching and making it part of their holiday, please contact Cotswold Journeys on info@cotswoldjourneys.com

NewsVictoria Fielden