Thatching in the West Country

by Conor Meehan

During week 7 the four Scholars were joined by lead-worker Fellow, Tyrone Oakley for the week’s adventure. The group were guided by architect Jo Hibbert (2002 SPAB Scholar), the director at Levitate West Architecture and Design.

The first site visit of the week was to St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Exeter where Jo showed the group the affect of water infiltration on the building, as well as structural cracking and wide scale stone damage.

After securing emergency funding the structure was temporarily safeguarded and applications for further funding were made. 2009 Scholar Meriel O’Dowd, a Heritage at Risk surveyor for English Heritage, was also onsite to explain the allocation of emergency funds for buildings at risk.

Tuesday began with a visit to the Walronds, a Grade I Listed Cullompton townhouse. 2010 SPAB Scholar and architect, Andy Faulkner along with head architect, Marcus Chantry of Benjamin & Beauchamp Architects, were onsite to show us around the magnificent building.

Dating from 1605, the Walronds is now nearing the end of a large conservation project. The project has ensured that the house will continue to be the hub of the community and that it will generate long term funding options by providing space for events. The building was particularly interesting due to the diversity of the work being undertaken, such as plasterwork consolidation and repair, timber repairs, plastering, slate roofing, service installation and stone conservation.

New Picture (1)The day finished with off with a visual survey of St. Andrews Church in the same town, with Jo showing the group the various issues that she thought needed immediate conservation and repair.

On Wednesday, the group ventured to Somerset to meet Tom Dunbar, 1999 Fellow and master thatcher, who along with Nigel Bunce (also a master thatcher) was thatching two buildings in sunny Somerset. After a quick run through the thatching technique, the cocky Scholars were handed a wooden “legget” (a tool that hits the ends of the reeds and pushes them into position) and urged to have a go. Needless to say, thatchers complete a 4 year apprenticeship for a good reason! Attempting thatching in both water reed and wheat was a humbling and utterly worthwhile experience.

New Picture (3)

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