National Trust's First Property Re-Thatched In Time For Christmas 2005

By Richard Moss | 15 December 2005
shows a photograph of a thatched roof and chimney against a blue sky

Work began on the thatching of Alfriston Clergy House in September 2005. © Richard Moss/24 Hour Museum.

The National Trust has completed a 12-week restoration on the thatched roof of Alfriston Clergy House – the first building it ever purchased.

Work to re-thatch the roof began in September 2005 and will be completed with all the scaffolding removed in time for Christmas 2005.

The Clergy House was rescued from decay and possible demolition when the National Trust’s founders purchased it for the nominal fee of £10 in 1896. During the intervening years the house has been completely restored and has come to symbolise the Trust’s ethos of preserving the nation’s heritage for future generations.

shows an old black and white photograph of a thatched cottage with people stood before it.

The National Trust saved the property from an uncertain future when it was acquired for £10 in 1896. © National Trust.

However, the current thatched roof was nearing the end of its life, having last been re-thatched in 1939 and a re-roofing was undertaken by master and apprentice thatchers Roger Evans and Tina Nash.

“There’s a lot of background to this and quite a bit of planning ahead – several years of looking toward the future of when it would be done,” explained Glen Redman, National Trust Countryside Manager for the South Downs.

“Of course the thatchers had to live somewhere so they’ve been living on a farm somewhere just down the road in caravans,” he added. “We’re lucky in that Roger here is the number one in long straw thatching.”

shows a photograph of a man trimming the edge of a thatched roof

Master thatcher Roger Evans puts the final touches to the eaves of the Clergy House. © Richard Moss/24 Hour Museum.

Roger and his small team, which also includes Yuriko Okashi a thatcher from Japan on a work placement, have replaced the Norfolk reed thatch from the previous repair with wheat ‘Maris Wigeon’ straw laid over the top. The latter is believed to be more typical of thatched roofs in East Sussex.

Work on the re-roofing has also included the preservation of a patch of rare moss, Leptodontium gemmascen, which has been painstakingly moved to an area where the old thatch is being retained until the newly thatched straw ages.

shows a photograph of a man leaning over as he looks at a portion of thatched roof

Glen Redman of the National Trust inspects a patch of rare moss preserved at one end of the roof. © Richard Moss/24 Hour Museum.

The preservation of the moss has been a top priority for the National Trust, which is working as a joint-lead partner with English Nature in a bid to conserve this extremely rare plant.

“This has been yet another interesting project - they’re all different as I’m sure you can imagine,” explained thatcher Roger Evans. “This job has had all the usual little quirks, some we’ve not come across before.”

“It’s a very rare moss, only to be found in one or two locations in this country,” he added. “Believe it or not it's invisible to the eye - we’ve been assured it’s there and we’ve reserved an untouched area of roof so they can monitor the growth of it.”

Photo of a thatcher working on a roof

Thatcher Tina Evans hard at work on the thatched roof. © Richard Moss/24 Hour Museum.

Overlooking a picturesque green and churchyard in the heart of the South Downs, Alfriston Clergy House is a fine medieval thatched hall with its own cottage garden and a characteristic stamped chalk and sour milk floor.

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