Thatching, in Flintshire & Denbighshire
This page covers the historic counties of Denbigh and Flint, which wrap around each other, with Denbigh once cutting Flint into two… Although culturally separate, from their English neighbours, for a good deal of their history; these counties share much of the Northern thatching tradition with them. But also have some thatching 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. A similar spread of the Northern thatching style, occurred in Scotland, two hundred years ago, when the rich and powerful decided on a change..
Photo Shoot… This rare image, above and cropped opposite, shows work in progress at Llanelian-yn-Rhos in the old county of Denbighshire; now in modern Conwy. Even rarer is to see a lady up the ladder; not a thatcher but seemingly a 1930’s tourist, probably based at nearby Llandudno… She has been given some thatching spars, perhaps as a memento to pose with. The thatchers are coating the roof with long straw, more in a repairing manner than with a full thatch coatwork. Both thatchers are tidying the new work; the upper thatcher has hand shears, the lower is using a side rake. What they have completed so far looks well done. The thatch appears very thick, made up of many layers, some perhaps as old as the building; in this case they would have dated from the late 1400’s. As this building is still standing, being a cruck framed hall house. It still carries at thatch roof; now of water reed and of a much different design… (Another hall house at Ruthlin is shown below.)
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. 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 surviving and more than a scattering of roofs still remain. Now, mainly coated in water reed, many with ornate ridges…
Firstly, a tour of the thatched pubs hereabouts, extinct and extant…
Thatched pubs seem to abound, in these counties… The upper image shows The ‘Red Lion‘, at Hope in Flintshire. A scene taken, on the August Bank Holiday, of 1904. And showing a long straw roof with rolled gables and a rope top ridge. The lower left hand photo* is the George and Dragon at Abergele in Denbighshire; taken in the 1870’s. Showing a similar roof, to the Red Lion,but without the rope top ridge… .
A Flitshire pub…The Old Tavern Inn, near Mostyn. Both the Red Lion and George and Dragon have been replaced, by others of the same name; the Old Tavern is still in place.
New Ridge…’The Llindir Inn‘, in Denbighshire; claims to be oldest pub in North Wales.
Denbighshire…The ‘Horse and Jockey‘, in the heart of Wrexham, around 1950 and today. This pub started life as a hall house, in the sixteenth century. Thatched and still in business, with an ornate ridge and roof of water reed. Modern photo; copyright & thanks, Rept0n1x**
Yet another pub…This splendid thatch once graced the village of Cerrig-y-drudion, once in south west Denbighshire. The thatcher here coated with the stobbing method, finishing with a fine rope top ridge. Its details being identical to those found in Ireland.
Brick end… The opposite image shows some typical ‘Northern’ thatch,at Rhosnesni, now a suburb of Wrexham, in around 1900. The angular long straw roof, with a brick gable, being found throughout this area and the neighbouring English counties.
Ruthlin thatch… These two images of the Denbighshire town date from the 1870’s.* The right hand cottage evidently belonged to one Edward Roberts; no doubt the gent in the top hat. The vertical lines, in his worn roof, show where the strips of long straw thatching were originally joined together. They are around 3 feet (0.9m) wide… The same size as modern thatching.
The upper right image is entitled ‘The oldest house in Ruthlin’. This snowy scene also shows more thatched buildings in the distance. The timbered gable end, is a very Northern thatching method. Happily, as shown below, the thatch has survived…
Still ‘The oldest house in Ruthlin’… Restored in 2000; a cruck framed hall house, from the sixteenth century.
Denbigh Cottages… around 1900. The left cottage lay next to Nant Water Mill, showing some squarish long straw thatch. The idyllic scene on the right lay at Nany-y-Hynon, near Colwyn Bay… The cottage, in the quiet lane below, also lay near Colwyn bay, at Mochdre. Note the rope top ridge and the thatched, tightly roped hayrick…
More Denbigh thatch… A renovated longhouse att Coed-y-Foel. Dating from the Tudor period, with a new roof of water reed. Further north and still in Denbighshire, is the small cottage below at Rhuddlan, overlooked by the castle…
Halfway House, old and new… This Denbigh cottage lies on the slopes of Moel Fenlli, with a stunning view of the Vale of Clwyd. The old Edwardian image, shows travellers taking a rest. With the thatch of longstraw, topped with a large rope top ridge. The modern thatch has a decorative cut block topping. Modern photo; copyright & thanks, Eirian Evans**
More rope topped ridges…. The upper left hand photo shows a Flintshire, roped top ridged house, at Maes Hafn near Mold, around 1910. The right hand Denbigh thatch, lay at Abergele; described as ‘the old meeting house’, in 1897.* The right hand side of this property is coated in directional repairwork. The left looks in better shape, with a rope top ridge.
Maelor Saesneg… Or ‘English Maelor’, was the southern detached part of Flintshire; an area close to the English border. The thatch details of the houses at Hamner, in the Edwardian images and the modern roof below, could just as well be in neighbouring Shropshire.
The school opposite lies at Penley and is older than it looks, being built in 1811. The first free school in Wales and probably now the only thatched one… Photos; copyright and thanks, John Harding.**
Finally, from Maelor Saesneg… A witch tale, from Penley.
In June 1657, the local justice of the peace, heard the evidence of seven villagers from Penley, accusing their neighbour, one Ann Ellis of witchcraft…
The ‘evidence’ consisted of the usual tales, of sick cows, lame adults and poorly children; that were normal in these cases. Ann was the typically accused person; being poor, a widow and perhaps a gifted healer. It seems her neighbours were quick enough to call her in, to bless the sick and hurt; but turned against her when things went wrong. She ‘had a bad report to be a witch of all her neighbours’, according to one witness.
What is of interest, is that in the evidence given that June, was a belief that a witch’s spell could be broken, by burning some of the thatch from their house, in front of the affected person… This was done in front of one John Birch, of Overton Foreign, by his daughter; it seems that he soon recovered. This remedy also had a bonus; that if during the thatch firing the suspected person appeared, it was a sure sign of their guilt… (Unlucky for them, if they had called round solely to complain about their thatched roof being damaged!)
Ann was committed to jail, absconded and jailed once more. Things were looking grim for her. She seems now to have panicked and started accusing other people, for her alleged crimes. One person she named was Jane, the wife of John ‘the thatcher’ of Penley, whom she alleged had bewitched one William Hughes and his child.
Ann eventually went on trial at Flint, and happily for her, was acquitted.
This belief of taking thatch from a witch’s roof was widespread, and in this case, seems to have been effective. A useful trick to remember; you never know when it might come in handy…