One of the first jobs was to remove this old thatch, known locally as ‘Black Thack’. An unusual collection of items was discovered - a child’s clog shoe, an iron key, a pewter table spoon, an iron hook and four cotton dresses - working clothes of about 1890-1900. Several of these items may have been deposited as good luck charms.
To re-thatch the roof vast quantities of long-stemmed heather were required. The Forestry Commission offered a site that was intended for burning and planting, and an entire acre was stripped by using powered cutters as well as pulled in the traditional way. The heather was two feet long on average, and bound into ‘loggins’ and thence into ‘threaves’ (25 loggins), it totalled four large high-sided lorry loads.
Originally the closely-spaced roof timbers would have first been overlaid with hand dug ‘divots’, and so the modern equivalent - lawn turf, was used laid ‘green-side’ down to stop the drying soil falling out. The thatching, carried out by master thatcher John Warner, started at the eaves and progressed to the ridge in horizontal courses. Although the thatch at the eaves has no apparent thickness, it is actually up to two feet thick. Each course was fixed with modern thatching hooks securing an iron bar or ‘sway’ to hold the heather in place onto the rafters. Heather is a material which is laid ‘upside down’ compared to other materials in that the root end is placed on the inside against the turf.
The ridge, which needs the longest lengths of heather, was held in place with long hazel and willow spars used like giant hair-pins. After clipping the rough ends, it was finally dressed with a layer of turf, green side up, which is a traditional way of finishing Northumbrian roofs. Finally the thatch was given a protective layer of black mesh that at first was secured by spars positioned in the hollows that form on heather roofs. Unfortunately, this made the roof look like a giant buttoned sofa and so the spars were all moved to the ‘hills’. This looked much better and the result was a roof that lasted some 20 years. In 2008, this whole process was repeated, still using heather, but this time done by Stephen Letch who looks after several other Landmark thatched buildings in East Anglia. He specialises in long-straw thatching, which is a less commonly-used form of thatching these days, but not dissimilar to how a heather thatch roof is laid.
The various outhouses were removed, and working with Stewart Tod & Partners, our architects, a new single storey kitchen and bathroom block was added to the rear, with a lobby and door to outside, all under a handsome stone tiled roof. This meant that the original kitchen/living room could be used just as a sitting room. The chimney stack, which had had a brick top in 1988, was rebuilt in stone.
Upstairs the partition was removed to create a single large double bedroom boarded on the walls and ceiling, and by making a new doorway through to the granary at the head of the stairs, a twin bedroom was formed. The latter, though difficult to keep warm, allows you to sleep under the knotted tent-like thatch.