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Thatching in Cambridgeshire

Thatching in Cambridgeshire

Stanford, Christopher Paul (2002) Thatching in Cambridgeshire. PhD thesis, University of Greenwich.

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A brief introduction defines the aims of the thesis in which thatching is analysed in Cambridgeshire as a living craft. The first chapter sets the historical context of thatching as a means of providing a waterproof roof in England and more particularly in Cambridgeshire, and how, over the years, this form of roof is now largely restricted to small houses in the countryside. Most of Cambridgeshire's thatched houses are small, were built for agricultural workers and small yeoman farmers, and have a form, though not necessarily a fabric, which is five centuries old. They are mostly thatched in wheat straw, but a significant minority is thatched in water reed. These houses are now increasingly owned by people employed in towns who, thanks to the motorcar, choose to live in villages and like the idea of living in a thatched cottage. Practically all of these houses are listed and protected by conservation laws and regulations.

Chapter 2 examines the various materials used for thatching in Cambridgeshire, particularly wheat straw and water reed. How they are grown, harvested and prepared for use is explained, together with an analysis of their specific qualities and life expectancy. How the age of a thatched roof may be judged is set out in detail, and the method of doing so was applied to the thatched roofs of twenty-five parishes, and also to a number of old photographs of thatched roofs.

Chapter 3 examines the characteristics of Cambridgeshire roofs, specifically those that were designed for a covering of thatch and what obstacles modern roofs present to the thatcher today. Chapter 4 then examines the training of the thatcher, most particularly the traditional form of apprenticeship still in use, why this continues and how it has been little affected by attempts to introduce government-sponsored training schemes. The methods of working are then analysed, and this again shows the continuing survival of traditional practices.

Chapter 5 provides a detailed explanation of precisely how Cambridgeshire roofs are thatched in the three main ways using long wheat straw, combed wheat reed and water reed. This encompasses preparation on the ground and how such obstacles as dormers and chimneystacks are overcome, from eaves to ridge.

Chapter 6 analyses the results of an extensive survey of about half of the 700 surviving thatched roofs in Cambridgeshire, and endeavours to explain the distribution of the various types of thatch. It accounts for the survival of a significant quantity of thatching material from the late Middle Ages, and examines the life-expectancy of a long-wheat-straw roofs, which is demonstrated to be on average between 35 and 40 years. This result is compared with the expectancy for water reed, and also for wheat straw in other parts of the United Kingdom, concluding that the quality of thatching in Cambridgeshire, as well as its climate, are particularly favourable to longevity.

The Conclusion draws together these results and underlines the problems of a traditional building skill practised in what are more or less ancient ways in the current climate of conservation and economic prosperity based on the efficient use of material and human resources.

The thesis is supported by a catalogue raisonne of all the thatched roofs in twenty-five Cambridgeshire parishes (and three in neighbouring parishes), and by appendices, one of them giving the responses to a questionnaire sent to all the thatchers known to be working in Cambridgeshire.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:
Uncontrolled Keywords: thatching, roof construction, architecture
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NA Architecture
T Technology > TH Building construction
Pre-2014 Departments: School of Architecture, Design & Construction
School of Architecture, Design & Construction > Department of Construction Management
Last Modified: 14 Oct 2016 09:22

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