Rare examples of Yorkshire thatched roofs are in demand
IF someone asked you to picture a chocolate box village, you’d probably think of a thatched cottage. And yet, if someone asked you to picture a Yorkshire village, the thought of a thatch wouldn’t cross your mind.
When you think of Yorkshire rural buildings you think of solid stone and pantile roofs, or ramshackle barns topped with slates.
Very few examples of thatched buildings have survived in Yorkshire and yet, believe it or not, the county was once bursting with these delightful buildings.
Only a century-and-a-half ago, thatch was a common sight. A valuation of Helmsley, in North Yorkshire, for example, in 1868, records that of the 256 houses in the market town at that time, 66 were thatched, 156 tiles and 34 slated.
A few houses, especially those belonging to the gentry, were covered with slate before the 1700s but, until the introduction of pantiles during the mid 18th century, most roofs in the region were still thatched.
As a building material it made perfect sense – lightweight and inexpensive, Yorkshire thatchers used whatever materials grew locally – heather, rushes and straw.
So where have all these thatched buildings gone? The answer lies in the Industrial Revolution.
The introduction of canals and then railways, which both crisscrossed Yorkshire, allowed mass-produced pantiles and slates to be easily and cheaply transported.
Thatch was also predominately a rural material, used in the countryside because it was cheap and freely available.
Thanks to an agricultural recession at the end of the 1800s and rural populations moving to cities for work, the number of thatched properties gradually declined, as did the number of professional thatchers.
But all is not lost. A few examples do survive.
Ryedale Folk Museum in Hutton-le-Hole has a cracking collection of thatched buildings, all which were transported from other sites and lovingly rebuilt.
Harome, the tiny village just outside Helmsley, which just also happens to have two awarded-winning restaurants, The Star and The Pheasant, is also lucky enough to have kept a handful of its prettiest examples.
Another picturesque village – Thornton-le-Dale – has a smattering of beautiful thatched properties, while the prize for the most unlikely thatched survivor has to be a tiny, white, thatched cottage right by the harbour’s edge at Runswick Bay.
Some of the estate villages in Yorkshire have been better at keeping their thatch, perhaps thanks to parsimony rather than any overriding passion for period properties.
Warter, in East Yorkshire, for instance, has a glorious stock of beautiful thatched cottages close to the village green.
From the coast to the Dales, dotted around all four corners of the Yorkshire region you’ll find some extraordinary survivors.
Most will undoubtedly be listed buildings now, which at least ensures their survival for generations to come.
It’s funny to think though, that once considered the “poor man’s roof”, thatch is now the symbol of rural affluence and Yorkshire thatched cottages, though rare, continue to be some of the most desirable properties on the market.
Thatching is an old roofing method and has been used in both tropical and temperate climates. It is stil used a lot in developing countries.
Thatched houses are harder to insure because of the perceived fire risk, and because thatching is labour-intensive it is much more expensive to rethatch a roof than to cover it with slate or tiles. Birds can damage a roof while they are foraging for grubs, and rodents can be attracted by residual grain in straw.
Thatch roofs do not catch fire any more frequently than roofs covered with “hard” materials. Most fires occur because of faulty chimneys.