At the forefront of conserving buildings of heritage for generations to come, thatching is an extremely important job that is carried out by small dedicated number of craftsmen around the country. Being up on a roof for eight to ten hours a day, completely at the mercy of the elements is certainly not suited to everyone. But those people who do it, and have a passion for it – often passed down through the generations, have a very different opinion. For them it’s much more than just an occupation, and the work they do lives on as a reminder that some things truly are worth keeping.
As one might expect of a specialist industry such as this, thatching work tends to be more widely available in places where old buildings and heritage have played a significant role in the history of the area. Equally, due to the nature of thatching being a somewhat irregular affair that’s only needed once every hundred years or so, work tends to be carried out by firms who also do carpentry work and other associated practical tasks.
Thatching is an interesting and fascinating skill to learn, but naturally, and as with any occupation, there are downsides. One being that thatchers have little or no protection from the elements and are often forced to work in conditions which are occasionally less than satisfactory, such as standing on top of a building exposed to high winds and heavy rain. On top of this there are endless splinters and blisters to contend with, and a certain hardiness is required in order to brave a full working day and everything it can throw at you.
Still, those wishing to pursue thatching as a career learn to love their job and make the most of the many and varied benefits: namely the satisfaction of knowing that their work will see the roof of a listed building live on for many more years to come. And there is far more to this job than merely laying the reeds on the roof’s: before this can be done it needs to be cut down (in January and February), cleaned with a pitchfork and braided into individual bundles, before being hoisted up for use above ground.
So what makes a good thatcher? Well you should enjoy working with your hands and have a genuine interest in being a craftsman of time honoured trade. Manual dexterity, ability to work efficiently, ability to work at heights and a love of the outdoors would also be beneficial.
So where to begin if you do choose this? Well, first of all (most companies being in the UK) you’d want to find out who does the thatching in your area and ask if there are any openings as a apprentice. Generally apprentices are taken on at an early age and an employer would favour candidates with carpentry skills. Don’t expect to find jobs posted online or in the newspapers: thatching is a closed-community, and those who succeed in becoming apprentices usually possess an ability to be self-motivated and are quite capable of thinking on their feet. There are also some courses available in the UK, although these are few and far between.
As an apprentice you will have to prove yourself by doing a lot of the manual work such as carrying materials and cleaning before being given a chance to learn the trade. As for what happens next, that’s entirely up to you. After doing an apprenticeship, many thatchers choose to open their own business which can prove to be very lucrative; equally, though, success can be had working for one of the few established companies, eventually leading to a senior position.
The last thing you need to remember about thatching is that it’s a love-over-money occupation, meaning many choose thatching as a lifestyle rather than a way to a fast buck. If your serious about finding an interesting career in this niche traditional industry then get in touch with National society of Master Thatchers to find firms in your area.