The traditional art of roof thatching is still thriving in Timperley
PUBLISHED: 10:31 06 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:18 20 February 2013
One of the most traditional countryside crafts, roof thatching, is practiced by a family firm in one of Cheshire's suburbs, Timperley
Those picture postcard images of Cheshires rural idylls, where rolling acres of countryside are punctuated by black and white dwellings wouldnt be the same without the odd thatched cottage.
And, despite its incredibly long history, the thatched roof is still very much in demand in the ultra-modern 21st century.
John Burke and Sons, a family business based in Timperley, has thatched the roofs of Cheshire folk for generations. Originally from the Galway peninsula, John Burke the elder, founder of the family firm and one of the youngest ever Master Thatchers, moved to Cheshire in 1947, working on projects for the Earl of Stamford and Lord Egerton of Tatton Park.
Now Johns son, also named John, heads up the business along with a team including brother, Jack, and Mark Cob, another Master Thatcher and the only non-family member.
John, aged 29 - a Master Thatcher in his own right - lives in Timperley with wife, Emma, and baby son John. He said: The business is a family affair, with six generations in the thatching trade.
Weve had success over the years because we work hard, ensuring that whatever the job, the end product is a well-thatched roof.
The team have worked with a whole range of buildings, including some
on the Chatsworth estate, Derbyshire, Lord Grosvenors Cheshire lands and even thatched whole villages for scenes in the television adaptation of Thomas Hardys Far from the Madding Crowd.
Weve had some unusual requests for thatch, said John. But its all worth it when the jobs done and the roof is finished.
The businesss traditional craft is reflected in the quality of their work, which has been recognised with many awards. The team are the five time winners of Best Thatched House in the Country and have also picked up the award for Best Trade Stand at the Cheshire Show over nine times.
John said: I think our success is down to our uniqueness, were the only firm of Cheshire thatchers thats still a family business, whereas many others continue to commercialise, using foreign workers and modern materials.
I think people like the personal approach we have and, as a small company, we keep things simple and get the job done.
However, John Burke and Sons has not always evaded the public eye. John seniors Collie, Iggy, became a media sensation, with reporters flocking to capture his daring climbs up the thatchers ladders to help his owner with work on the roofs.
Iggy loved working with us. He even slept in a kennel with a thatched roof. Sadly hes no longer with us, but my brother Jacks chocolate Labrador, Max, comes to work with us now.
Hes not as brave as Ig was, he sits at the bottom of the ladders instead!
As the public continue to tighten their purse strings, its surprising that such a traditional trade has kept afloat during these difficult times. So why is thatching such a viable alternative to slate roofs?
here are many misconceptions about thatching, said John. People think thatch needs to be replaced frequently, that it takes a long time to thatch a roof and that it attracts insects.
All these ideas are old wives tales and, in actual fact, thatching is a great roofing solution which is also environmentally-friendly.
To thatch the roof of an average-sized house John and his team need three weeks. Once in place, the thatch will last for 40 years, while the ridge (the highest point on the roof) is replaced every 10-12 years.
John said: Thatching uses only natural materials and many of these are sourced from across the Uk, so with a thatched roof, your carbon footprint is low and the roof is biodegradable.
So how can we tell John Burke & Sons thatch from the rest? John said: Look out for our scalloping detail on houses across Cheshire; its a telltale sign that weve been busy thatching.
There are approximately 1,000 full-time thatchers in the UK.
There are more thatched roofs in the UK than in any other European country.
Thatch is lighter than roof slates, so less timber is needed in the roof to support it.
Some older properties have base coats of thatch which were applied over 500 years ago, enabling historians to analyse the materials used for thatching in the Middle Ages.