Where can you learn about traditional thatching techniques in rural Devon?

The art of thatching is embedded deep into the rural traditions of England, where it continues to be a significant part of their architectural heritage. A thatched cottage in Devon is an idyllic image, a symbol of a simpler time. Thatching is still alive in these parts of Devon, where the skill continues to be practiced and passed down from generation to generation. So, if you've ever wondered how these thatched roofs are made and want to learn this traditional technique, you've come to the right place.

Discovering the Art of Thatching

Thatching, the practice of creating a roof from dry vegetation such as straw, reed, or other similar materials, is a traditional roofing technique. By learning this craft, you'll gain insight into the preservation of historic buildings and the traditional way of life in rural England.

In Devon, you will find several establishments and individuals dedicated to teaching these techniques. They host workshops and courses, allowing you to learn hands-on from experienced thatchers. Courses typically cover the different types of materials used, the history of thatching, and the practical skills you'll need to thatch a roof.

But why learn thatching in Devon? Isn't it just a quaint, old-fashioned craft? The answer to that is a resounding no.

Thatching: A Craft Rooted in Tradition and Sustainability

Thatching is not just about maintaining traditions. It's about embracing a more sustainable way of living. When you choose to thatch a roof, you're choosing a material that is environmentally friendly, naturally insulated, and completely renewable.

Thatchers in Devon typically use two types of materials: straw and reed. Straw, especially wheat straw, is a locally abundant material that has been used in Devon for centuries. Reed, on the other hand, is a more durable and longer-lasting material. Both are excellent insulators, making thatched buildings warm in winter and cool in summer.

Moreover, thatching is a craft that fosters community. Thatchers are often part of a local network of craftsmen and women who support each other, promoting traditional skills and local materials. By learning to thatch, you're joining a community that values history, craftsmanship, and sustainability.

Where to Learn Thatching in Devon

Devon boasts several locations where you can learn the craft of thatching, immersing yourself in this time-honored tradition.

One of the most well-known institutions is the Devon Rural Skills Trust. This organization offers a variety of courses on traditional rural crafts, including thatching. Their thatching course will teach you the basics of the craft, allowing you to thatch a small roof by the end of the course.

Moreover, there are several professional thatchers in Devon who offer apprenticeships. For instance, Master Thatcher Alan Jones has been thatching roofs in Devon for over 40 years and often takes on apprentices.

Thatching: A Hands-On Experience

Thatching is a hands-on craft. It's about feeling the straw or reed in your hands, understanding how to layer it correctly, and knowing how to secure it so it's watertight and durable. This is a skill that can't be learned from books alone; it must be experienced.

When you learn to thatch in Devon, you'll be taught by experienced thatchers who have honed their craft over many years. They'll guide you through the process, from choosing the right materials to mastering the technique. You'll learn about the history of thatching, the role it plays in preserving historic buildings, and the ways in which it contributes to a sustainable lifestyle.

But more than that, you'll be taking part in a tradition that dates back centuries. You'll be working with materials that have been used to build homes for generations. And you'll be learning a craft that, in its own humble way, helps to preserve a piece of England's heritage.

The Rich Heritage of Thatching in Devon

Stepping into a thatched cottage in Devon is like stepping back in time. These buildings, with their quaint, rounded roofs and rustic charm, are a testament to the craftsmanship of past generations. They speak of a time when buildings were crafted by hand, when every single piece of straw or reed was carefully selected and placed.

By learning to thatch, you're not just acquiring a new skill. You're becoming a part of this rich heritage. You're helping to keep alive a craft that has been a part of Devon's history for centuries.

So, if you're interested in learning more about thatching, you'll find no better place than Devon. Whether you want to become a professional thatcher or simply learn a new skill, the opportunities here are plentiful. So why not give it a try? Who knows, you might just find that you have a knack for this traditional craft.

Thatching Materials and Techniques

Thatching in Devon is distinguished by its use of water reed, combed wheat, and long straw as materials. These elements, locally abundant and steeped in folklore, provide ample opportunities to explore the rich crafting tradition of thatched roofing in this part of the United Kingdom.

Water reed is a popular choice, known for its durability, natural insulating properties, and ability to withstand harsh weather conditions. It's also a sustainable material, growing in wetland areas and harvested in a way that encourages new growth. Master thatchers in Devon use this material to create water-tight, wind-resistant, and aesthetically appealing thatched roofs.

Combed wheat and long straw are the more traditional thatching materials used in the West Country, including Devon. Combed wheat, also known as wheat reed, is stronger than long straw and is typically used on steeper roofs. Long straw, on the other hand, is known for its golden hue and is used on more traditional, rounded thatched roofs.

Beyond the selection of materials, the technique of thatching is also crucial. It involves layering the chosen materials in such a way that water is directed away from the building, ensuring the thatched roof is waterproof. This technique varies depending on the chosen material and the style of the thatched roof.

The Impact of Thatching on Local Heritage Buildings

Thatching plays a significant role in the preservation of heritage buildings. Many of the old cottages, farmhouses, and even some churches in Devon are listed buildings, protected by law due to their historic and architectural significance. Thatched roofs are a key characteristic of these buildings, contributing to their charm and historic appeal.

Preserving these thatched roofs is important for maintaining the character and integrity of these buildings. It requires a keen understanding of traditional thatching techniques and the use of appropriate materials. Thatching in this context is not merely about creating a roof; it's about respecting the building's history and preserving its heritage.

However, thatching is not limited to listed buildings. Many new-build homes in Devon are choosing to incorporate thatched roofs, blending the traditional with the modern, and using the thatched roof as a distinguishing design feature. This trend illustrates the lasting appeal of thatching and its relevance in contemporary architecture.


Thatching is more than just a craft in Devon. It's a tradition, a way of life, and a testament to the sustainable practices of the past. From the rich selection of thatching materials like water reed, combed wheat, and long straw to the traditional techniques used to create durable, waterproof roofs, thatching embodies the essence of rural Devon.

By learning to thatch, you can become part of this tradition. Institutions like the Devon Rural Skills Trust and professionals like Master Thatcher Alan Jones offer invaluable insights into the craft. They provide the opportunity to not only learn a new skill but to contribute to the preservation of Devon's rich heritage.

So, whether you are a resident of Devon, a visitor, an architecture enthusiast, or simply someone looking to learn a new craft, consider exploring the art of thatching. You'll not only gain a new skill but also become a part of a tradition that has been a part of Devon's history for centuries. And who knows, you might just find yourself under a thatched roof, soaking in the charm of a bygone era, one straw at a time.