We are lucky to live in such an interesting and attractive area containing the range of different landscapes associated with the Dorset–Somerset borderlands. For centuries, local architecture has reflected the variations in underlying geology through the vernacular building styles and materials used. Our area has many beautiful thatched houses and thatcher’s can often be seen renewing buildings across the region.

So, the answer to the title question. A thatch is more than thatch once it becomes classed as Cottage Orné. So what’s the difference?

Essentially, thatched cottages are very common and usually built from local materials by local builders. The thatch on the roof is uniform, often with a distinctive local ridge pattern. Cottage Orné is something more complex and was very fashionable in the decade 1810-1820.  The term is used to describe any small or medium sized house rustically situated in a countryside setting, and ornamented to convey a picturesque effect. All the buildings were individually designed, expensive and consequently relatively rare. They were generally built by the wealthy either as rustic retreats for themselves or as embellishments for their estates.

These “rustic” stylised cottage designs developed as part of the Romantic movement when some sought to discover a more natural way of living as opposed to the formality of the preceding symmetry of Neoclassical Georgian architectural styles. Towards the late C19th, architects inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement also designed natural houses, but these are not Orné. Alice Lodge, near Hinton Parva, Dorset illustrates some of the key features.

The thatched roof was often built in several different levels for ornamental effect and the eaves overhang from the walls was always very wide. There were normally thatched verandahs around the house and also thatched porches shielding the doors. Most of the low overhanging thatch was supported by a number of roughly cut timber pillars. The ridges to the steeply inclined thatched roofs were often topped with large rustic thatched peaks or tufts. Leaded-light windows were also included and tall chimney stacks were sometimes used to emphasis the cottage style.

The area around Yeovil and Sherborne has a number of such buildings. The featured photo shows the very picturesque thatched lodge found in Goathill, near Sherborne. The detached Lodge to Sherborne Park was built mid-late C19. The lodge has a particularly massive height to the thatch.  The roof is wired in, has wonderful waves that rise to a flat ridge. The thatch has a wide overhang from beautiful mellow-tinged stone walls. Across the valley is another wonderful example of different roof level thatch at Readers House.

Round Lodge, the former gate house at Compton House midway between Yeovil and Sherborne is also an interesting example. The original building has a sympathetic modern extension, but retains its original enchanting conical thatched roof and classic verandah.

So, next time you’re out and about, try to find and explore more of these local delights.