Why Suffolk is the home of the perfect thatch
PUBLISHED: 11:59 30 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:28 20 February 2013
Pretty as a picture, thatched cottages are a hallmark of our county. But what sort of people live in these picture postcard homes and what is it like? We asked some proud owners
Pretty as a picture, thatched cottages are a hallmark of our county. But what sort of people live in these picture postcard homes and whats it like? We asked some proud owners
Charlie and Denise Brown of Monks Eleigh
My wife Denise is an accountant and works for the Ministry of Defence, we moved up from London after relocating for the convenience of my job. Denise was the finance company director for a social services provider before crossing over to the MoD. I am a civil servant also working for the MoD.
We have lived in the house for just over five years. It was in a little bit of a sorry state and we believe that we are now just about on top of things, but it has been a lot of hard work on our part and others.
It has always been a dream to live in a countryside village in our own thatched house. When moving to the area, we looked long and hard to find the sort of place we liked. As I was under relocation with my employer, they allow a reasonable period in which to relocate to the area, so it was pretty intense. We covered the whole of east Essex and west Suffolk looking at over 50 houses in three months.
It was much by chance we found Spring Cottage in Monks Eleigh. We discovered the advert in a local paper whilst on our way back home to Battersea. We moved in April 2005 and in a short time realised that decoratively, the property needed a good makeover throughout, although structurally the building is sound.
The biggest expense was the thatch roof that was completed last year, but we continued with some serious landscaping and planting around the property; we also installed a log burner and opened up all the fireplaces so that we can have living fires in the winter.
We believe the house to be early 1700s although the tithe map in the church dated 1724 does not show our property on it. I am told this was not surprising as Spring Cottage was originally two workers cottages and probably housed the workers for the local mill down the lane. The status of the then occupiers did not allow them to be included on the map.
We have chosen furniture carefully to make sure all fixtures and fittings remain in character with the building and the surrounds. Repair work is carried out professionally and sourced from reclamation yards wherever possible. We do not believe that modern day living has affected the character of the house; we make sure we are comfortable and warm, which is one of the charms of living here, warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
We realise buildings like these are living structures and there is always something to be doing or needs repairing, we do love to keep up with the maintenance work and we tend to treat it as looking after an old friend.
Such houses do have drawbacks. They are, as previously mentioned, a living item. The cost of the roof was a significant outlay and we are already preparing for the upkeep; we are making provision to spend more money on the roof as we understand the ridge will need replacing in about 10 years. The windows are single glazed and as a listed building, plastic windows are out of the question. The cottage is not a very effective insulator and running costs can be high, although the thatch roof is the insulation and the temperature can be significantly warmer upstairs. The insurance cover is significant, especially recently where companies have had to pay the price for the popularity of wood burning stoves that apparently cause a lot of the claims nowadays. We have had to spend a significant sum in fitting fire alarms and ancillary equipment to satisfy insurance company standards.
Overall we are very pleased with our choice and the location is perfect. Village life suits us well and we are a friendly and active local group. We have no regrets and hope to be part of village life for a very long time to come.
Mike Stephens of Monks Eleigh
I am the head of the Employee Services Centre providing a range of services to most NHS staff in Suffolk. These include, pay, pensions, expenses, benefits and welfare and company cars. My partner, Tom McGee, works as chef in a local residential care home. We have lived here for 18 months having moved from Brent Eleigh, one mile down the road!
The cottage looks typically English chocolate box, not that I have ever seen such a box of chocolates! Being 15th century its full of charm, not to mention the cobwebs and the thatch (some eight tons), keeps the cottage warm and cosy without the need for constant central heating in the colder months.
The thatch is great in windy weather as you dont get the sound of the wind and you never need worry whether a roof tile will blow away. Our roof was re-thatched in 2007 which means its good for another 30 or 40 years and no maintenance.
Having lived in towns in the past, for us there is no comparison. Village life is extremely friendly, as when in the front garden passing villagers stop for a chat over the garden wall, or just toot their car horn as they drive past. Living opposite the village pub and restaurant, The Swan, is also a great part of village life - if not so great on our waistlines - and the community village shop and post office adds to the community spirit and quite literally when you need another bottle of wine!
My role is head of business for St Jamess Place Wealth Management, responsible for East Anglia and our 83 partners across Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. Louise is a finance and administration officer at St Josephs RCVA Primary School in Sudbury.
Weve lived at the cottage for seven years now, having bought it twice in the last 15 years! First time it fell through...
Simon and Louise Coll of Long Melford
The thing we like most about thatch is how cool it keeps the house during the summer and warm during the winter. No real drawbacks, it was thatched last in the 60s with Norfolk reed, and requires a new ridge next year!
Pound for pound its no more expensive to insure per thousand pounds of cover, however, the re-build cost is slightly more expensive than a standard build.
To put things into perspective, Henry VIII was on the throne when our house was built!
Mark and Dain Keating of Chelsworth
My husband Mark is a solicitor, now retired, and I am a housewife.
Weve lived in this house nearly seven yearshaving come from Islington, in London. We chose to retire to Suffolk because of the easy access to north London for visiting my three children who were all still living there then and because Mark had grown up in Woodbridge. Now one son has become a consultant gynaecologist in the Isle of Wight, another has moved to Sussex and my daughter lives in the Lebanon! And we hardly ever go back to London if we can help it!
Chelsworth is a great, sociable village to live in, and were always too busy to go to London so no, we wouldnt ever move back!
We always swore wed never buy a thatched house, but fell in love with this one and that was that. The advantages are that its cool in summer and fairly warm in winter. The disadvantages are the cost of maintenance new ridge every 10 years, etc and the fire risk and consequent higher insurance.
A cousin who visited us from the American backwoods told us that when she took photos back to show her friends they enquired if we were very poor, as we could clearly only afford a grass roof!
Steve and Jenny Caley of Westhorpe
Jenny Caley is a call centre manager for an insurance company and Steve is a area retail manager for an oil company.
Weve lived at the house since February 1990, and added a garage, an extension and some extra garden. House is mid 16th century, heavy timber framed with long straw thatched roof (well thats 65% of it, the balance is traditional construction with clay pantiles roof). Its described as baffle entry, which means you enter on to the chimney stack. We have some old copy deeds going back to the early 1700s with the owners names on them. Its Grade II star listed (externally protected with one or two internal points of interest). The internal interest is a piece of terracotta carved into the crest of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk who married Mary Tudor (Henry VIIs sister) after her marriage to the King of France ended in the kings death. We are led to believe that at one stage four families lived in the property, one family either side of the chimney, one in a lean-to on the back and one in a shack in the garden. The house was the local post office around the turn of the 1900s.
There are probably lots of technical advantages to thatch, but we like the fact that each thatched building is unique, has lots of character and brings a never-ending stream of friends and visitors who are just passing by. It also seems illogical that it should work as a roof in the first place! Its a natural product in a world of man-made materials. It keeps a traditional skill alive and is, to some extent, at odds with the ordered lived we lead. We both travel a lot, particularly myself. We like going away, but we like coming home even better.
Disadvantages are the regular maintenance, higher insurance costs and concern about fire, a few more insects, a bit more dust and a lot more draughts on windy days. Thatch is a good insulator, but its amazing how easily the wind finds its way through four feet of compressed straw.
Would we swap it for town living? Certainly not, its not just the age of the property or what its made of, we know we can always find noise if we want to, but the peace and tranquillity of our home is something wed like to hold on to. Its a bit glib to say we are minding it for future generations. Weve made concessions to modern living (the house had no locks at all when we moved in!) but its a part of our heritage and wed like someone in a hundred years or so to look back at us as residents as we do our predecessors.