PROPERTY OF THE MONTH
They’ve been part of our lives since the Middle Ages, and are often thought of as quintessentially British – it’s no wonder so many of us yearn to live in a thatched cottage. Most common in the ‘corn-growing’ counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent, Devon and Dorset, thatched cottages can be found across the country. Even for new homes in rural areas, thatch remains a popular sustainable alternative to tile or slate.
The thatch itself differs according to location – reeds are used in the marshlands of East Anglia, heather in Scotland – but wherever the cottage is, there’s usually a potential buyer chasing it. ‘Thatched cottages are a perennial favourite,’ says estate agent Fenella Russell-Smith of Marchand Petit in Modbury, Devon. ‘They’re so attractive, with lots of history and character.’ Thatched roofs were invented in the days when wattle and daub walls were too lightweight to support a heavy roof. By the 18th century, they had become a cornerstone of the English ‘picturesque’ movement. Artists began to create paintings idealising rural life – and rose-entwined, chocolate-box cottages entered the popular imagination. Although most of these cottages were built as modest homes for agricultural workers, by the 19th century, the aristocracy were creating thatched retreats of their own. Iris Small, who’s lived in a listed thatched cottage near Winchester, Hants, for 35 years, says: ‘My furnishings are simple, in keeping with the property. Polished wood and painted white furniture with pale, neutral décor help reflect the light. We love living here, and the natural insulation means it’s cool in summer and cosy in winter.’