THOMAS Hardy’s Cottage has had the front of the roof re-thatched. While the work was under way, visitors were able to watch this traditional craft in action on Hardy’s childhood home, which is in the care of the National Trust.
The work was done by Scott Symonds, a Master Thatcher based in Chideock, who re-thatched the cottage some years ago, with his father, Dave Symonds, who taught him the family trade.
Scott says: “I remember being in my late teens when my dad and I first came to re-thatch part of the roof. We’ve re-thatched the roof in sections over the years, rather than doing it all in one go. This is to allow the rare thatch moss that grows on the roof to migrate to the newly thatched areas.”
The Symonds family come from a long line of farmers in Dorset and they grow all their own reed for thatching. They use their own farm as well as a National Trust tenanted farm in Chideock for growing the crop. They have completed work on many National Trust roofs including Shedbush Farm House holiday cottage near Bridport and on the Killerton estate in Devon.
The Symonds were both involved in the 2015 film adaptation of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. They helped advise the film crew on farming methods, for example during the harvest scenes when Bathsheba examines the crop. Scott’s uncle provided the straw for the ricks featured in the famous fire scene on the farm.
Dave was also an extra in the film, as Scott explains: “They asked all the extras to go to costume and makeup, and when my dad turned up they simply sent him straight through as he already looked the complete vision of a Victorian labourer!’”
Scott has given a bundle of straw from the material set aside for re-thatching Hardy’s Cottage to local beekeepers who intend to use it to make a traditional skep bee hive (a straw hive, traditionally used for keeping bees until around the start of the 20th century when wooden hives became the common design.)
Pictured: Re-thatching Hardy’s Cottage; © National Trust/Rachael Raine