Dressing a Thatched roof; a final finish


With all the ridging complete; on a new thatch, the thatcher now concentrates on tidying and trimming the coatwork. In a process called Dressing… With the wheat thatches especially, this transforms a shaggy roof, into a clean and immaculate thatch… Each of the main thatching materials are treated in a different manner, to achieve the desired effect.

Water reed… Driving off.
This material differs from the wheat thatches, in that it is not practical to trim any new coatwork, with a sharp edged hook or knife; as it is too hard. The reed is instead driven into place with the thatcher’s legget. It is a fact soon learnt in the craft, that the better and tidier the original coating; the less dressing there is to do… If the coatwork has been carefully laid, the thatcher only needs to remove the marks caused by the ladder…

A better finish can be obtained, if the dressing is combined with brushing down the new roof with a stiff broom. This removes any litter between the reeds, and really cleans the roof out. The thatcher taps in any bumps and eases out any dips, as the roof is cleaned. If the material has been fixed properly it is very difficult to move, so the scope for improvement is limited… Another good reason, for the courses of thatch to be laid carefully, in the first instance.

All the eaves and gable ends are also dressed into place. Like the main roof, these should be completed as well as possible, when being thatched; so little work will now need doing. There is often some levelling up to do; especially when scaffolding has been removed; and the line of the eaves is revealed, for the first time from the ground. The exact finish, given to eaves and gables, varies a great deal from thatcher to thatcher.

thatch denbighshire

Dressing water reed… A Denbighshire pub has a final brush down; on the left. The thatcher here has placed a sheet under the right ladder, to stop any further foot marks in the coatwork…

Combed wheat reed. Sheared off…
Like many other aspects of this material, a combination of methods, used to finish the other two types of thatch are employed. The roof is dressed in a similar fashion to water reed, but is also trimmed; something after the fashion of long straw…

The coatwork is brushed and tapped into place; and is often also trimmed with a shear hook. If the material is quite tidy, this shearing down is not always necessary. When done, it should be done lightly. As the thatcher is in effect, slicing off the working thickness of the roof… It has been known for some very untidy coatwork, to be sheared down, way beyond a proper level, to get a decent finish…

The eaves and gables are cut, either with an up turned shear hook, a true eaves hook, or more likely, a good pair of garden shears. Each have their own adherents…

17p

We have seen this gent before , in the section on tools. But our man shows clearly the shearing action of his hook, at Selworthy, Somerset; in around 1910

Long straw… A comb out and a peg down.
The long straw thatcher uses no legget; so there’s no tapping in required. Instead the coatwork receives the attentions of the side rake; in a combined raking and beating action. Any untidy strands are trimmed with a small pair of shears.

The thatcher has also to fix down the gables and eaves with a line of liggers. Like the ridge, this can be a plain or ornate feature. Giving this material it’s distinctive appearance; as shown below, in around 1945…

long straw finishing

The long eaves knife, unique to long straw; now comes into it’s own. With a sawing action the thatcher cuts the gable ends to a square shape; as shown around 1930, in Suffolk. Often cutting the eaves, with a smaller version of this tool; or a true eaves hook, or garden shears…

36e





To cover with wire netting or not?

Long straw… With the best will in the world, a roof in this material, will not be so tight as one in a reed thatch… So a tidy covering of wire netting is a good idea.

Combed wheat reed… The roof should be tighter than long straw; but not so firm as water reed… So perhaps the gable ends and ridge could be covered. Or if the roof is prone to bird damage, maybe it’s best to cover it all over.

Water reed… Should be firm enough to ward off most problems, the ridge will need covering, to extend it’s life…

As with thatching, the more complicated the roof shape the longer wiring will take to complete… Wiring should always be carried out with two things in mind. It should be as unobtrusive as possible and more importantly, should be easily removable, in case of fire. The most common method of fixing, is to lay the wire in strips down the roof and join them, by twisting the edges together. The edges should not be twisted too often or too much. The strips can then be removed easily… Care should be taken to lay the wire in a vertical line, as anything else looks awful… Normally, rolls of wire netting 3ft (900mm) or 4ft (1200mm) wide are used, having a 19mm mesh size.

The eaves and gable ends should be fixed with similar aims in mind. Spars or wire staples, pushed in between the wallplate and the eaves, give a good result. Wire staples are also the best method of fixing wire, when only the ridge is covered; being almost invisible. ..

With this done, a standard roof is finished… Any chimney fillets can now be fixed, any scaffolding removed. The site can be tidied and the final invoice presented… One family of Somerset thatchers, always left the tie from a bundle, hanging from a gable end. When the inevitable question was asked, the reply was…‘ If the cheque bounces, one pull and the whole roof comes off!