Thatchers are skilled craftspeople who roof, re-roof or repair thatched properties. They have to conform to strict rules governing the materials and methods they use in order to preserve the building in its original form.
The preparation of the roof and materials before work starts is vitally important. At the start of a job thatchers erect scaffolding or secure ladders to the building, and prepare the straw, wheat reed or water reed into bundles ready for use. The old roof is stripped and timbers are checked, repaired, treated or replaced where necessary before thatching begins.
Thatchers secure bundles of straw or reed to the roof battens using tarred cord or metal hooks fixed to the roof timbers. They work section by section, starting at the eaves and working up to the ridge. They secure the courses as they move up the roof, and fix the ridge in position with hazel wood strips and hooks. They shape the ridge into patterns, which can be quite intricate.
Thatchers use a range of cutting and fixing tools: shearing hooks, needles, eave-knives, hammers and mallets. Some also grow and harvest their own thatch materials.
Working hours are dependent on available work, but may include early starts, late finishes and weekends. Hours of work are longer in summer and shorter in the winter, although some thatchers work at night under floodlights.
Thatchers work outdoors in most weather conditions. Much of the work is done from ladders or scaffolding. Old roofs can be very dusty, and reed seeds and spores from wheat straw can produce very difficult conditions for anyone with chest conditions.
Work may not be in the local area, so a driving licence is usually required.
As a thatcher you should:
Most thatchers are self-employed, working alone or with one partner, one trainee and/or one labourer.
Most thatched buildings are in specific areas of England and there are large areas with little or no thatch. Most work is in rural areas, especially in the West Country, East Anglia and the Midlands. Small numbers of thatchers work in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. There may be some opportunities for qualified thatchers to work on contracts overseas.
There is a lot of competition for thatching work. The Countryside Agency advises those who live outside a main thatching region to have another form of income which can provide the flexibility to undertake thatching work as it arises.
Conservation regulations often do not allow owners to replace thatch with other materials, therefore the number of thatched properties is reasonably stable. The amount of business, however, is dictated by the owners’ ability to afford the work.
If you would like to know anything about Thatcher that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.