|Ancient thatch results in bread from
are just over 200 houses left in the country that can boast of having
their bread bin in the roof - strange but true.
Out reveals all.
is an archeobotanist with a passion for thatch and wheat.
He has recently been working with the National Trust at their Holnicote
Estate, Exmoor on a unique project.
Letts' passion for thatch reaped tasty reward
hope that grain from the thatching straw from the estate properties may
be sold in National Trust shops to bake an equally unique type of bread.
only about 225 -250 houses left in the country which have their original
base coat of thatch, smoke-blackened from the open fires of five centuries
ago, and because it's never been removed it's a perfect relic of that
recovered a small amount of the dead medieval grain remaining in the roofs
he inspected and took them to the Gene Centre in Norwich to search for
He then grew
a quantity of today's seed at the Holnicote Estate with interesting results.
in collaboration with Sandy Boyd - the National Trust's food marketing
expert - made use of both the straw for estate house thatching and milled
flour from Cotehele Mill in Cornwall - also National Trust.
The proof of the pudding, well - the bread, was brought together by the
Blue Mango bakery in Truro with the baking of the finest loaf.
a few hundred thatchers remain in the country today
The use of
thatch for roofing emerged from the Bronze Age with thatched cottages
and farm buildings became the norm in rural Britain for over a millennium.
It was common
practice in those days for buildings to use lightweight, irregular materials,
such as wattle and daub walls, and cruck beams. These structures could
not take the weight of any heavier roofing material other than thatch.
In those early times, people would only be able to use what materials
they could source locally. This meant materials as varied as broom, sedge,
sallow, flax, grass, and straw were commonly used.
The use of
wheat straw in the south of England was most widespread as reeds were
in East Anglia.
But whilst Norfolk reed was particularly prized by thatchers, in northern
England and Scotland heather was more commonly used.
|All elements of the thatching are made of natural materials
reasons, thatch was predominantly used by the poor - only occasionally
were the materials used on larger houses.
The famous Norman Castle at Pevensey in Sussex was one example of a larger
building, when, in 1300, six acres of local rushes were bought from the
marshes to roof the hall and chambers.
of thatching was largely due to the advent of improved transportation.
The emergent railway network in the Victorian era meant that cheap slate
from Wales became easily available all over Britain resulting in buildings
being constructed of stronger materials.
of combine harvesters had much to answer for too. With a far shorter cut,
the wheat straw became unusable for anything other than grain production.
So how do you thatch?
main thatching materials in use today are water reed (Norfolk Reed), longstraw
and combed wheat reed.
Sedge, from wetland areas, is also used extensively in ridging to bind
the main thatch at the apex [see thatching
Combed wheat reed, or 'Devon' reed is predominantly used in the south
and west of the country. Although very similar in appearance to water
reed, it is in fact straw.
is a very labour intensive process
is initially tied into bundles, laid on the roof beams as an underlayer
and secured with hazel or withy rods. An upper layer is laid over that
underlayer, and a final reinforcing layer added along the ridgeline.
reed is dressed into shape with a legget [see
thatching terms] onto the roof. However, as with longstraw, it is
not necessary to remove all the existing material from a roof prior to
will usually leave his individual "signature" or decorative
feature on the ridgeline as a very personal note of his or her craft.
Although there are national average figures quoted for the longevity of
each type of material, these are of little use as judgments on performance
- or likely performance. This can only be made in individual circumstances.
heart and tum warming end to the search for ancient grain from the
of a thatched roof bears the brunt of the weather and, as the fixings
are external, it requires attention on average every 10 to 15 years
used for the ridge is usually the same as that used for the main coatwork
[see thatching terms], however,
water reed is too stiff and brittle.
of thatch depends on many factors such as roof shape and design, the pitch
and its position (geographically and topographically), the quality of
the material and undoubtedly, the high degree of skill of the thatcher.
you know your
Biddle from your Stalch,
or your Legget from your Spit