Thatching Bell’s HouseWe know from the New Statistical Account that in Mid Argyll township roofs were thatched with “rashes” or “ferns”. “Rashes” were the Common Rush; “ferns” were bracken.
Bracken thatch lasts a long time, but the bracken is difficult and labour intensive to harvest. Rush is just about the worst possible thatching material one could choose. It can only be harvested for a few weeks each year. It must be used immediately when it is green, and once on the roof it quickly starts to rot.
Thatching style used to depend on the region and the thatcher’s preference. Thatch can also tell us about people’s relationship with their surrounding environment. The choice of material was a compromise between the best and the most readily available materials.
We thatch with rushes to preserve the skill of working with this poor-quality material, used through necessity, and so that we can remember how difficult life once was. Thatch needs regular maintenance and repair: the museum’s thatching team work on this roof every autumn. The layers build up year by year and the roof is patched or “top-dressed” with new material. After 8-10 years, everything is stripped off and we start again.
Bell’s house in the 1970s, with no thatch roof.
Thatch roofs quickly become small ecosystems in themselves, supporting the growth of plants and providing a home for insects, birds, small mammals and bats. Seeds remain in the thatching material, or are blown in on the wind and take root.