Rare ex­am­ples of York­shire thatched roofs are in de­mand

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY - Sally Coulthard

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.

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