Family of thatchers comes home to roost at Farndale’s most photographed cottage

Roofs are like people to William Tegetmeier, each as individual as the next. He remembers the one on Oak House, in Yorkshire’s famous “daffodil dale” as it he had seen it just yesterday.

In fact, it is some 25 years since he last tended to it, and during the time in between his daughter has become his apprentice.

One of Yorkshire’s few remaining thatchers, up and down ladders for half a century, he has begun the month-long job of replacing the straw that protects one of the country’s most picturesque cottages from the elements.

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Oak House stands close to the River Dove as it meanders through the unspoilt Farndale landscape, deep within the North York Moors. Beneath its straw topping and sometimes uneven plasterwork nestle three bedrooms, three reception rooms and a morning room.

Master Craftsman William Tegetmeier and his apprentice daughter, Phoebe, are re-thatching Oak House, Low Mill, Farndale, North Yorkshire. Picture: James Hardisty

“I take an ongoing interest in each roof and I know them intimately,” said Mr Tegetmeier, a native of Wiltshire who has lived in Scarborough for 10 years and in York for 30 before that.

“This particular one stands out as the last thatched building in Farndale. It’s completely isolated and in an absolutely beautiful area.”

It is also one of the most photographed houses in Yorkshire, especially during the two or three weeks in March and April when people flock to see the thousands of wild daffodils that cling to a mile and a half of the riverbank.

“The house is right in the middle of the daffodil trail,” said its owner, Alice Lavin, who fell in love with it at first sight and now runs a business from there selling skincare products made from locally-grown medicinal plants.

Master Craftsman William Tegetmeier and his apprentice daughter, Phoebe, are re-thatching Oak House, Low Mill, Farndale, North Yorkshire. Picture: James Hardisty

She didn’t own it when Mr Tegetmeier last thatched it, but knew him by reputation. She had not realised that the re-thatch would involve a new generation of craftswoman.

Phoebe Tegetmeier, who is in her 30s, joined her father in the business a year ago, having “decided to give it a go”, he said.

Her new boss remembers when Farndale had five thatched houses and when straw was the roofing material of choice in such communities.

“But then reapers and binders died out and combine harvesters reduced the supply of straw that was available for roofs,” Mr Tegetmeier said.

Master Craftsman William Tegetmeier and his apprentice daughter, Phoebe, are re-thatching Oak House, Low Mill, Farndale, North Yorkshire. Picture: James Hardisty

Even so, enough thatched cottages remain in Yorkshire and the surrounding counties to keep him in work.

“There have been lulls occasionally but at the moment it’s extremely busy. A lot of the old roofs I thatched first time around are coming up for a re-thatch.”

Depending on the size of the property, a completely new roof will cost up to £10,000 and last for around 25 years – a sound investment, said Ms Lavin, who believes the green agenda will see a revival of such house types.

“The thatch gives fantastic insulation and it’s very weather resistant,” she said.

“There’s an awful lot of misunderstanding – people think that getting insurance is difficult. Actually it’s no more than for a normal house. But unlike those, it’s green and sustainable.”

The location made it doubly special, she said. “Farndale is a forgotten valley. People know about it during the wild daffodil season, then they forget about it until next year.”

It was not just the roof but also the garden that drew her to it, and which has been the inspiration for her business, Annwyn Botanicals, whose products are nominated in four categories at this year’s Free From Skincare Awards.

“At some point it must have been planted by someone with an awareness of medicinal plants,” she said.

Ironically, the venture has been so successful that she now needs bigger premises, which will mean that Oak House will soon go on the market, with an asking price of £585,000.

“It will be the hardest ever house to leave,” she said. “The next one will have to be somewhere exceptional.”

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