Thatching in Anglesey, Caernarfonshire, Merionethshire and Montgomeryshire


tour-map-north-walesAlthough culturally separate, from their English neighbours, for a good deal of their history; the craft, in these four old counties, shared much of the Northern thatching tradition with them. But thatchers here also employed working methods, used throughout the rest of Wales….

As is mentioned in the History section; a possible reason for these shared Northern traditions, was the large influx of conscripted English craftsmen. Who built and thatched, medieval new towns and castles, in this area, using their own native working methods.

The locals took little part, in constructing the invader’s new world, but may have had to follow the imported style. When it was realised that less skill, time and money were involved, with some of these Northern thatching methods. A similar spread of the Northern thatching style, occurred in Scotland, two hundred years ago, when the rich and powerful decided on a change…

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‘Between Llanydloes and Machynleth’… A print from 1813, showing some sad looking thatch, in the old county of Montgomery, probably not far from the border with Merionethshire. A modern visitor would struggle to find even a poor example of the craft hereabouts.

A century ago, Charles Innocent visited the Caernarfon area. He noted long straw and: ‘reeds’, being tied onto roof timbers, covered with wattle hurdles. Mr Innocent’s researches were however hampered, by a language problem. The Sheffield architect’s Welsh, being only slightly worse, than the local thatcher’s English… A Mr Evans in his Agricultural Report, noted rushes being used here, a century or so before in 1798. Straw rope was used to tie these materials on. This rope found another extensive use, as a outside fixing for rick thatching. This area’s thatchers also widely created, attractive rope top ridges, to both ricks and houses. As did those in the rest of Wales.

Of all the areas in Britain, there should be less thatch here than anywhere and indeed little survives. The products of the slate quarries of North Wales, did more to hasten the craft’s decline in Britain; than any other factor. But thatching has a habit of hanging on and a scattering of new and restored roofs can be found. Now, mainly coated in water reed…

Anglesey…

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A rare survivor … At Church Bay on Anglesey is the restored cottage at Swtan, now a charming museum. Earlier images, from the 1950’s, show the last thatches here having a rough straw coating; probably stobbed into place. But there were always enough resources hereabouts, to allow for more standard thatching practices. Copyright and thanks to Stephen Elwyn Roddick.**

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Another Anglesey thatch, near Moelfre, no doubt a restored roof, as the thatch at Swtan was the sole survivor for quite a while… Copyright and thanks to Jeremy Bolwell.**

 

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South west Anglesey… This splendid 1870’s image, is of thatch at Aberffro. The left hand area of the roof, appears to be stobbed long straw; with the rest coated in a standard manner. The gable end, is cemented and very windproof …*


Caernarfonshire; The Llŷn Peninsula….

The old corrugated iron bakery at Becws Islyn in Aberdaron, was demolished in 2015 and replaced by water reed, thatched premises. The old tinned roof building may well have originally been thatched… Photo; copyright and thanks, Alan Fryer.** Below is another 1870’s thatch, at Aberdaron, in a very poor state.* And a new little barn at Felin Uchaf, topped with a turf ridge. Photo; copyright and thanks, Eric Jones.**

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Still on the the Llŷn Peninsula…. In around 1880. The upper thatch at Nefyn and the lower at Abersoch, both look in a poor state; and like so much thatching hereabouts disappeared, over the next few decades. But the new images above, show a small revival…*

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Work in progress… ‘A stone thatched cottage in a remote mountain location’;* dating to around 1885. The photographer, John Thomas, regretfully did not give a site for this evocative shot. But given the location of most of his work, a spot in North Wales is pretty certain. The image shows a roof in long straw, completed but not finished with any outside fixings.

Merionethshire…

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Before the Camera… ‘A view of the mountains between Harleigh and Tan-y-Batch’; dated 1798. A very rare image of some Merionethshire thatch. In fact the thatch, in this old county, seems to have gone before the widespread use of the camera. Which should not be surprising, as here was the centre of the slate industry; home to the largest quarries and mine in the world. The location above may show Llanbedr, which lies on the road between Harlech and Tan-y-bont…



Montgomeryshire…

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Before the camera… ‘Welchpool, Montgomeryshire’; dated 1815. This old print, shows one of the attractive, timber framed, thatched buildings that appear in old photographs. As thatching, in this old county, survived well into the age of the camera. But now seems to have disappeared…

 
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A century old Montgomeryshire pub in Newtown… Sadly the ‘Checkers Inn’ is long gone. But this old photo shows some Northern style boarded gables, ending some angular, long straw thatch. And an ever popular, rope top ridge. Newtown itself being one of the English King Edward’s urban creations. In this case, sub contracted to one Roger de Montgomerie; who founded it in the thirteenth century. Probably using English labour, to construct and thatch his new development.

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Edwardian, Montgomeryshire thatch… Timber framed; left at Newtown and a boarded gabled roof at Welshpool. Showing thatch, similar to neighbouring Shropshire…

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1880’s Montgomery thatching… These two images show similar thatching techniques. The upper cottage was the home of the Ashton family, at Trefeglwys. Their home is coated in a standard long straw thatch, with rolled gables. As is the lower property, which is thought to be at Llanfihangel-yng-Ngwynfa. This housed the Rees family. Their home had a thatched chimney lum and a rope top ridge…*

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Finally, back on the Llŷn Peninsula….a last chance to see…

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The home of Richard Robert Jones; known more widely as Dic Aberdaron, who lived from 1780–1843. He was famous, for his remarkable grasp of languages.

vbgMainly self educated, he was said to be fluent in latin by the age of eleven; and added a dozen or so other tongues, over the next few years. His Welsh, Greek, and Hebrew dictionary was never published and he never capitalised on his natural gifts. Leading a later scholar to say. ‘Fair play to Dic – not everybody is silly in the same way’

His nickname came from his abode, the village where the new thatched bakery now stands. This image*, from the 1870’s, shows Dic’s cottage in an interesting state… What’s left of it is well thatched…

 

* The old images thus marked, were taken by John Thomas, (1838-1905), a well known photographer, of Wales and its people; whose work speaks for itself… His negatives form part of the photographic collection, of the National Library of Wales. By its courtesy, they appear here.

** The new images, found on this page, were taken from the excellent Geograph site; licensed for reuse under Creative Commons. For one reason or another I never obtained any, on my tour round Britain. So thanks to all concerned, for allowing their images to be used…