Why my thatched cottage is the cream of the crop

Standing outside Gladstone Cottage in the Wiltshire village of Bottlesford, it's easy to see what gives this house its English charm – an imposing thatched roof.

At the front, the thatch is a traditional squared-off shape, and round the back it transforms into dramatic turret shapes. But, ironically, it was the wonderful roof on this five-bedroom house that initially put off the current owners, Haig and Juliette Tyler, when they were looking for a property in 2004.

'We'd never had a thatch before and we originally said we didn't want one,' says Juliette, 43. 'But we soon realised there were so many thatched houses in this area, the Vale of Pewsey, that if we ruled one out we would be seriously narrowing our options.'

Juliet Tyler's £725,000 Wiltshire thatched cottage

Thatch made in heaven: Juliet Tyler's £725,000 Wiltshire cottage

Indeed, the area is famed for its thatched properties. Actress Zoe Wanamaker lives in one nearby and many prospective buyers in the Vale are looking for them.

Initially, Juliette was concerned about the fire risk and the maintenance and insurance costs associated with owning a thatched house. But after seven years living in Gladstone Cottage, these concerns have been dispelled.

'The insurance bills don't seem to be any higher,' she says, 'but you have to go to a specialist broker.

'We had an inspection done by the Pewsey fire department and the insurers insist you have your chimney cleaned regularly and that you keep a fire blanket in the kitchen.

'But we found one unexpected bonus. When salesmen ring up trying to sell house insurance, we just say "We're thatched" and they hang up immediately.'

Haig, 43, an IT director, and Juliette, who is studying for an environmental science degree, have two children, Sebastian, ten, and Lucy, eight. They are now looking for a 'new project' – and have become so fond of their thatched roof that their next property has to have one.

'When we first moved in, I wouldn't even light a candle because I was so concerned about fire,' says Juliette.

'But you realise that a thatched house is no more likely to catch fire than any other house – it's just that if they do, there is a lot of combustible material in the roof.

'We've found that having a thatch is like having very good loft insulation. In the summer it is incredibly cool and in the winter our heating bills are far lower.'

Juliet Tyler at Gladstone Cottage

Clutching at straws: It took five months and £30,000 to thatch Juliet Tyler's roof

The couple have put in a new kitchen and bathroom and extended at the back to create a light and airy glass-vaulted reception room.

Their last job – rethatching the roof prior to putting the house on the market – means they are ideally placed to comment on the cost and implications of maintaining thatches.

And the disruption, not to mention the £30,000 bill, has not dampened their enthusiasm.

'The thatch was last done in 1988 and it needs doing every 25 years so we thought it might put off potential buyers if we didn’t do it,’ says Juliette.

'When the thatcher said it would take between 12 and 15, we thought he was talking days, but he meant weeks. He was here from November to March.'

The work added 12 to 14in of thickness to the thatch. Of the £30,000 cost, the straw – sourced from Devon – was £10,000.

It is possible to buy cheaper straw from Eastern Europe, but thatchers will work only with material they are familiar with.

'They are particular about the quality of the thatch. Apparently straw from Eastern Europe can be too brittle,' says Juliette.

The Tylers could have chosen Norfolk reed, which lasts 40 years, but the cost is much higher.

'When it was finished it looked wonderful,' says Juliette. 'It was a lovely golden yellow colour but now it has browned off due to the weather. We found out what a traditional craft it is while our thatcher, Martin Dimmock, was working. They put their own signatures on the roof and Martin does a very characteristic stitch in the ridge.'

Gladstone Cottage will not need to be rethatched until 2036, though the ridge of the roof needs to be restitched every ten years.

'Thatched houses retain their value if the thatch is maintained,' says Rory O'Neill, of selling agents Carter Jonas. 'If it has deteriorated it is seen as an expensive problem.

'But if the thatch is in good shape, then the houses are more desirable than tiled counterparts in this area.

'A uniquely shaped, freshly thatched property is always popular both from an aesthetic and practical point of view.'

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