Letter: A straw poll on thatching

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The Independent Online
Sir: I refer to Peter Dunn's article ('Conservation: the last straw', 28 July) on the merits of thatching in water reed rather than the traditional Dorset-style combed wheat.

If, as the article seems to imply, the correct vernacular detailing is unimportant then why not thatch in heather or marram or turf, as used elsewhere in Britain? To extend this philosophy, why not use artificial slate instead of natural slate or concrete block instead of natural stone? These materials are cheaper and more readily available. The rich regional diversity of our architectural heritage would, however, be the poorer for it.

Historic buildings are much more than the sum of their component parts ie, the materials from which they were constructed. These materials, and the methods with which they are used, particularly in the case of vernacular buildings, are part of a much wider cultural heritage reflecting regional landscapes, lifestyles and traditions. Following on from the lead laken by the Prince of Wales on architecture, we are all too eager to rant and rail against the anonymity of modern design, whether it be town centre pedestrianisation schemes or neo-vernacular superstores masquerading as medieval tithe barns. Rightly so, they rarely respect or relate to our familiar and cherished local scene.

Historic buildings are, however, deeply ingrained in our regional and national identities. To degrade them by encouraging the use of such alien materials as Turkish water reed or Spanish slate will eventually destroy this finite cultural heritage. To quote John Ruskin (1849): 'Old buildings are not ours, they belong partly to those who built them, and partly to all the generations of mankind who are to follow us.'

Yours faithfully,

MIA SCOTT

Conservation Officer

Clydesdale District Council

Lanark

28 July

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