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Thatcher Devon

However, although the village where they finished up is near to the Exe estuary, they were unable to find a suitable thatched house anywhere in the area they wished to live in.  “For some reason every thatched property we saw was either the wrong size of in the wrong position,” said Sue.

Eventually, the couple found a barn in a village of Haldon Hill to the Southwest of Exeter and decided it was near enough to both the estuary and Tim’s hospital to be acceptable.  They planned the conversion with car, incorporating into their scheme many of the details they had seen and liked in the properties they had viewed.  However, they were unable to reach an agreement with the farmer who owned the building on how much land they should have as the garden plot, so they withdrew.

“It was all a headache at times but the househunting gave us a myriad of ideas for the design of our new thatched house when we eventually found a plot,” said Sue.

When they finally settled on some land at Kenn, they immediately liked the village, which boasts the traditional features of pub, stream and masses of thatch.  Future neighbours reacted favourably when it became known that the Bunkers intended to thatch their new home.

Gaining planning permission, once the plot was secured, created no major problems.  “Thatch is the traditional material round here,” said Sue.  “We would have been allowed to have a slate roof because that is also a local style, but when we found that there was very little difference in price between thatch and new Welsh or Cornish slate we had little difficulty in going for thatch.”

Four years later the huge roof, with its very steep, 50 degree pitch is well bedded down into the surrounding landscape. The building, like so many Devon cottages, looks almost as if it has grown out of the encircling hillside on which it is situated.  The newer thatch over the L-shaped extension housing the bedrooms of the Bunker’s two teenage sons and the open-fronted garage, now matches the original thatch in colour.

Thatcher Simon Hallworth undertakes about one new thatch a year but few as large as the Bunker’s house.  “It was a very large roof,” he said.  “It is the steep pitch that makes the house fit in so well with its surroundings.  It also, of course, helps the rain run off, and so prolongs the life of the roof.  The Bunker’s roof is made of one of the most long-lasting of thatching materials – water reed.  It is not traditional Devon reed (or Norfolk reed – the other traditional source of water reed for thatching in the country) but from Turkey – the origin of a large proportion of thatching reed used in Britain nowadays.  However, the ridge is of Devon combed wheat reed, the traditional ridging material in the country.  Hallworth and his partner, Roger Martin, worked closely with the builder to give the roof the look of a Devon thatch that had been in existence for many years.

Master Thatcher Devon

“You cannot age a thatch artificially but you can make the shape of the roof look old,” said Hallworth.  “I was able to recommend a few tricks to the carpenters that enabled them to lower the gable ends.  This meant we were able to drop the thatch down over the eaves and give the roof a traditional rounded look.

“The problem with new thatch is that, unlike with cottages that have been standing for hundreds of years, there are no underlying layers to build on.  This means that the rounded feel so vital to thatch roofs, has to be carefully contrived.  When in 20 or 30 years time, the Bunkers’ home as a new surface coat on the roof, the thatch will acquire a traditional, well-worn look and the house will blend in even better with its surroundings.”
“We think it is the ideal family house, as well as a building that fits in well with its surroundings.”  Another reason why the Bunkers feel their home is a success is because the main living areas of the house are only one room thick, as in a traditional cottage.  There is no feel that the building is a modern squarish design, with a coating of thatch as a concession to its surroundings.  The main windows are on the south side, both gaining most of the sun and the views of Haldon hill behind.  This was a deliberate decision because, eventually, there will be further building on the north side of the property.

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Hallworth & Martin Thatching
Leisure Leigh
Station Road
EX21 5XB 
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