Banbury master thatcher shares look into the ancient trade

Banbury master thatcher shares a look into the ancient trade used to roof homes and buildings for hundreds of years.

Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 1:46 pm
Updated Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 2:30 pm
Banbury master thatcher Michael Stanley shares a look into the ancient trade used to roof homes and buildings for hundreds of years.

Michael Stanley spends most of his day perched high above the ground near the top of a steeply pitched roof as he replaces the thatch on a home, which more often than not is several hundred years old.

After working in the thatching trade for more than 15 years Michael has started his own business - M. Stanley Master Thatchers. He is nearly finished with his first job as a master thatcher replacing the thatch roof on Holly Tree Cottage in Church Street, Bodicote.

Michael went through an apprenticeship scheme of around three to four years in the beginning of his thatching career.

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Master Thatcher Michael Stanley has started his own business - M. Stanley Master Thatchers

He said: "It's the first job on my own as a master thatcher. I've worked for other people, and now I am going out on my own as a master thatcher.

"I've done the work since I was 16 though. I've worked 15 years for some of the best thatchers in the area.

"I grew up in Bodicote so it's really special to me to have my first job in Bodicote as a master thatcher. This is where I got my first love and curiosity for it. As a kid I used walk around and look up at people doing it."

Thatching is an ancient craft.

The intricate detail at the roof top of the thatched cottage replaced by Michael Stanley in Bodicote

The cottage for his current job dates back to the 1700s, which he described as a relatively modern house for his thatching jobs.

Michael said: "It's all about the preservation of English heritage and protecting the past. The last one I worked on dated back to 1240.

"It really connects you to the past. You get an enormous connection to the past. It's so hands on, and you can see timbers are handmade. It's very handcrafted and not industrialised at all."

There are two key ingredients to thatching a roof, which include reed and hazel spars, which are essentially big wooden pegs. The reeds on a thatched roof are not weaved together, but pinned down with the wood pegs.

Michael defined the craft as using an organic material to waterproof the roof of a house.

Typically one of three types of material are used to thatch a roof, all of which have varying life expectancies. There is wheat reed, which typically lasts 25 years, then water reed, which typically lasts 45 to 50 years and the long straw, which usually lasts around 20 years. Wheat reed is the style most often used across Oxfordshire.

He added: "The strain of reed we use is grown in Somerset and Devon."

Every roof is different, and each comes with its own set of unique challenges. He uses a combination of very traditional and modern techniques.

People can get modernised additions such as a skylight or vellex window included in their thatch roof.

Michael added: "People can have what they want, but they'll need planning permission. The council will only allow you to put on what you take off."

A thatched roof is a designer roof, and usually very expensive because of the labour and high standard involved in the job. Most thatching jobs occur on quite old properties, but around one in five jobs involve the thatching of a roof on a new build property.

Michael added: "Many people see thatching as a dying craft, but it's actually growing slightly.

"There is no machinery. There is no short cut. It takes time. Everything is done by eye and hand. It's all man-power. It is incredibly labour intensive, but it keeps me fit."

For more information you can contact Michael through his business M. Stanley Master Thatchers by phone here: 07979 551 987 or by email here: [email protected]