Thatching at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

Britain’s best known Thatch?

tour-map-123The Scots may well disagree, as the thatched home of their bard Robert Burns, is also still going strong; as described in the page on the poet. But for England, the birthplace of William Shakespeare’s wife perhaps takes the crown. And it reflects well on our culture, that two of Britain’s best known thatches are associated, with a couple of the most creative minds these islands have ever produced…

As with Robert Burns’ birthplace, past generations have left us a good legacy of old images, of Anne Hathaway’s home; that show the thatch there has had many changes. These mirror what has happened to most thatched roofs in Britain. Historically a plain and practical roofing; most thatch has become very neat and often ornate. With long straw coating giving way to other thatching materials, in many areas. As will be seen, the thatch here has followed all these various fashions down through the years…

ann hathaway thatching

An early view… Perhaps the earliest. Dating from 1795, this print appeared in ‘Picturesque Views on the Upper or Warwickshire Avon’. The artist has captured a rather plain thatch. Which would have consisted of long straw. The type of work used on this building since it’s construction.

Anne Hathaway was born at Shottery, near the Warwickshire town of Stratford on Avon, in the 1550’s. Like many other towns, the risk of fire forced the local worthies to ban thatched roofs, around the time Anne was born. And you’ll find no thatch in the town centre. Fortunately Anne’s home then lay just outside the Mayor’s jurisdiction. And her hamlet of Shottery, still has some rather fine thatched buildings.

The house young Will Shakespeare would have known; and the one his future wife grew up in, is now the lower portion of the extant building. This is cruck built and has been dated to around 1460. The period when Anne’s ancestors moved in. Remarkably, Hathaway family members stayed here until 1892; when the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust took over. (Britain’s oldest conservation charity.) The higher section of the building, dates from the early 1600‘s. Perhaps being built in Shakespeare’s later days. This building was never a mere cottage; but a working farmhouse, for generations of the Hathaway family. Known in Shakespeare’s time as Newland’s Farm. With a goodly 90 acres (36h) of land. As they prospered, so the size of the Hathaway home increased. To the twelve roomed building we see today.

thatch ann hathaway

Fifty years later… This image, from ‘The Illustrated  London News’ of 1847, shows a squarish thatched roof, with a little influence from the Northern thatching tradition. Also a large thatched porch has appeared. The early photo below shows a similar scene, perhaps dating to the 1850’s


thatch ann hathaway

1860’s… The image above is rare, as it is dated… ‘Stratford on Avon. Dec;19th 1868’. It shows the same thatching as the photo on the right. This was produced by  John Burton & Sons, a Midlands firm of photographers. They were given the sole rights, to record the events celebrating the Bard’s 300th birthday, in 1864. Both photos show a newish thatch, in long straw. And the thatched porch, shown in the previous drawing, has gone.


1875… This early photograph, captures the thatch extremely well. Taken by Henry Taunt, the master photographer from Oxford; in around 1875. This image is from one of his streroviews, bigger images show that  it’s a fine day. And on the far left, some of the Hathaway family washing is drying well… This photo dates from when the cottage was still a working farmhouse. One mid Victorian thatcher, has recently been at work and replaced the right hand gable end. A neat job, in long straw. The rest of the roof is looking a little worn; with many holes, caused by birds, dotted all over. A typical roof, for this and later periods. Thatching simply kept the rain out. Only after many repairs would a new coat of thatch be contemplated…

thatch ann hathaway

In safe hands… These two images date to the time the Trust, that still takes good care of this building, took charge. The roof in the upper image is somewhat worn and to bolster the ridge, a long line of dark turf has been placed along the top of the roof. A type of ridging found on roofs following the Northern tradition of thatching. As mentioned in the previous page, this area lay on the border between two styles of work. All the early images show a tendency towards the more angular Northern tradition. With the later ones showing the rounded Southern style. The lower photo shows a new, well thatched roof, in long straw, again with a angular feel to it. No doubt the trustees felt it was time, to get their famous thatch up to a good standard. However they followed the latest craze, as the ridge is of mortar. This was all the rage around 1900, when Portland cement became affordable. But is now rarely seen outside of Scotland…

thatch anne hathaway

ann hathaway thatch


Front and back… Moving on thirty years or so; these two photographs show a neat thatch, in long straw, in around 1930. The mortar ridge is gone, now a fashionable ‘saw tooth’ ridge, protects the top of the roof. On the front at least… The rarely seen rear elevation is somewhat plainer, with repairwork under the large central chimney.




Changes… The decades after the Second World War saw the replacement of long straw thatching, by that of combed wheat and water reeds, over many of the Midland and Southern counties of England. Anne’s cottage being no exception. The left hand image is from the early 1950’s and shows an ornate long straw roof, newly thatched. Twenty years or so later and the roof has changed to combed wheat reed, topped with a ornamental block ridge…

thatch ann hathaway

Twenty first century… And combed wheat reed thatching still prevails. But the ridge is plainer and perhaps less jarring. And the rounded Southern style, with large over hanging eaves, is as traditional for Warwickshire thatching, as the earlier, angular Northern style roofs were. The wide gable at the road end, is made up of several old layers of thatch; preserving what the old images have shown. As much of what has been depicted, now lies buried safely under the latest coatwork…

Even with the bustle, that around two million annual visitors brings; this area retains a pleasant, rural aspect. For visitors to these shores, with time to see only one English thatch; this famous cottage will do very well indeed…

Finally, a look at some other Shottery thatching…

warwickshire thatching

warwickshire thatching

The Hathaway home is not the only thatched property in Shottery. The attractive row on the left date perhaps from the later seventeenth century, after the time of Will and his wife. As does the cottage on the right. Which, along with other property in around 1800, was converted into a workhouse and almshouses, for the parish of Old Stratford… The lower thatch, has a much shorter history, being a recently built, thatched house; which blends in quite well…