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Sussex Homes: The Attractions of Thatch

A thatched roof has to be the icing on the cake for a traditional English cottage. This style of roofing has been used for hundreds of years and is not only attractive, it’s also sustainable. Thatch provides great insulation properties which help keep a house warm and cosy in winter and cool in summer.

A beautiful example of a picturesque thatched cottage has just come on to the market on the fringes of Storrington through Fowlers in Storrington (£679,950). Water Lane Farm lies about a mile from the village centre, just on the corner of Water Lane. This charming cottage also comes with a range of outbuildings that could potentially become a self-contained annexe, a spacious workshop, or that perfect work-from-home office.

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Marcel Hoad of Fowlers says, “We’re finding the property market extremely busy at the moment and we’ve already had some genuine interest from potential buyers. Anyone who passes Water Lane Farm will see just how lovely it looks, it really does fit that “chocolate box” description. 

The cottage would make a great home for downsizers, or for anyone looking for all the character of a period cottage to help them achieve that dream of country lifestyle, especially those who are able to work from home.”

Water Lane Farm is surrounded on all sides by mature gardens which extend to around half an acre. Along with trees and flowering shrubs, the country cottage idyll is completed with a productive vegetable plot, generous areas of lawn and an Indian stone patio area.

What’s now a garden store was once an outdoor privy and the grounds also feature an original well. A small pond with a waterfall provides the sound of trickling water as background to a warm summer afternoon on the patio.

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“Inside, the Grade II listed house is just as charming with all the beams and character you could want for,” says Marcel. “The inglenook fireplace which spans almost the entire width of the drawing room has a traditional oak bressumer above and to the side is an exposed bread oven as another reminder of the history of the property. On a more practical level there is also a gas point and the drawing room floors are now finished in engineered oak from Cowdrey Park.

Water Lane Farm dates back to the 17th century and it’s believed that Oliver Cromwell stayed here while he made plans to overthrow King Charles I. Whatever the reality of Cromwell’s visit, this home has certainly welcomed many generations under its thatched roof over the centuries.”

The kitchen has recently been refitted, complete with a Butler’s sink and a stretch of oriental stone worktops. There are two staircases, one leading from the kitchen to a double bedroom with part vaulted ceiling. The second staircase leads from the dining room to two more bedrooms, one of which is a magnificent 17’8 principal bedroom with a vaulted ceiling, exposed pine flooring and an original fireplace. Even the ensuite shower room features exposed wall and ceiling timbers.

This is definitely a dream cottage but it’s worth making sure that you’re ready to take on the responsibility that comes with a Grade II listed house of historic interest and the care and maintenance of thatch.

Thatched Sussex cottage

Fortunately, specialists are on hand to offer sound advice, including the Thatch Advice Centre which is a free resource run by Master Thatchers and owners of thatched homes. It’s designed to help people make the right choices about their thatched properties and offers a directory of specialists for more advice.

There are three main types of thatch used by craftsmen:

  • Water Reed (including Norfolk Reed), the most durable thatching material
  • Combed Wheat Reed, widely used across the country
  • Long Straw, also a wheat straw but which undergoes a different process and laying technique to give a shaggier effect and has the shortest life expectancy of the three

Life expectancy of thatch varies according to the type of thatch, the location of the property and its orientation (a south-facing elevation wears more quickly), any overhanging trees and even the steepness of the roof pitch, which can determine the depth of thatch.

Should you need to maintain or replace a thatched roof, the best route is to get three quotes from Master Thatchers from the locality and thoroughly check references, recommendations and insurances before making your choice.

If you are considering buying a thatched property, you should take expert advice. Initially however look to see whether any climbing plants are damaging the roof and check whether the wire netting covering has any gaps. More importantly, ask when the house was last re-thatched, with which material and by which thatcher.

Fire risk is an important consideration but those risks can be reduced with the use of fire barriers, retardant sprays and other protections. NFU Mutual, which provides specialist insurance for homes with thatched roofs, found that a higher proportion of fire claims in thatched properties involve wood-burning stoves.

Research undertaken by the Fire Protection Association has also shown that a wood-burning stove poses a greater fire risk for thatched homes than an open fire. There are several reasons including the higher temperatures reached and the likelihood of large sparks and embers from the chimney.

Thatched cottage Sussex

Historic England has plenty of information about traditional thatch, and has also issued guidance to reduce fire risk, such as regular chimney sweeping to prevent build-up of tar and soot, installing a suitable flue liner, checking the distances between the thatch and the top of the chimney pot, and fitting guards to prevent birds from nesting in chimneys.

West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service has a useful booklet which can be downloaded from the West Sussex County Council website and advises that “although thatch fires are not common, over 90% of thatch roof fires start as a result of a faulty flue or chimney.” Recommendations include chimney insulation, having the chimney swept twice a year, and having it inspected by a qualified chimney engineer.

While a thatched roof does therefore require extra care and maintenance, most thatched houses are very well looked after to preserve both the home and its heritage.

A thatched country cottage with roses round the door is a dream home for many. But with so few thatched homes around, not everyone will be lucky enough to enjoy the reality of living in a “chocolate box” thatched cottage such as Water Lane Farm.

Contributed by Bridget Cordy 

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