A Thatched Roof by Beverley Nichols

This is the second book in the Beverley Nichols Allways trilogy, the first one is Down the Garden Path which as you would expect is mainly about the making of his first garden in his first house, a thatched Tudor cottage in a village which he calls Allways, in Huntingdonshire.

I had to laugh as the beginning is about how he hadn’t taken possession of his house for a few years after he bought it but had rented it out to an American couple. They kept writing to him telling him of improvements they had made to the property so when they departed and he eventually moved in himself he was horrified to discover that the improvements included painting everything with lemon coloured distemper, which was a cheap sort of paint which came off on your hands and clothes if you brushed against it. Even the original Tudor beams had been covered by it.

His tenants had also left a lot of furniture and ornaments behind, for which they expected him to stump up payment, but he was appalled by their taste in furniture. What really amused me though was that his description is almost a copy of the decor in Cragside, Northumberland, even down to a Welsh dresser which had the words East, West – Hame’s Best carved into it! The mock warming pans, samplers, pewter and even mock patchwork quilts (it was printed patchwork fabric) were just not to his taste, although I can imagine that nowadays a lot of people would be keen to give house space to those possessions.

Inevitably his garden does play a part in the book from time to time, as do his neighbours Mrs M and Undine and at times he is really quite catty, if he had been a friend of mine I would have offered him a saucer of cream. He was of course ‘gay’ in the modern sense of the word – and how I wish we could recapture that word for its original use now, as in ‘don’t those flowers look gay’ but it was a time when homosexuality was still illegal, for men, and I suppose the usual description in the 1930s would have been ‘flamboyant’. His name was actually John Beverley Nichols and as an adult he opted to be known as Beverley, he seems to have been comfortable in his own skin, rather than suppressing his character as so many did in those times.

So apart from this being a funny account of the sort of dreadful staff which he had to put up with in the beginning (you can’t get the servants you know!) – it’s also a peek into a way of life which was only 80 years ago, but – my – how things have come on in that time.

To begin with his thatched cottage didn’t have a proper water supply, he relied on a well in the garden and the water was brown, but lovely and soft! He did get central heating, almost unheard of in those days and electricity pylons began to stalk across the countryside, marring the landscape but still not bringing electricity to the village. What they would have thought about life as we live it now, I don’t know. But I suspect that Beverley Nichols would have been one of the first to try out any new technology. Anyway, I enjoyed the book and intend to read the last one of the trilogy, A Village in a Valley, whenever I can get a hold of it.

We happen to have friends who own a thatched cottage in an English village and so I know that as soon as it starts to get chilly of an evening – the local wildlife move into their winter quarters AKA the thatched roof and walls of the cottage, and they can be heard moving about and galloping across ceilings all winter, then there are the creepy crawlies too which find the thatch very cosy.

So, whenever you see a thatched cottage, bear that in mind. Beverley Nichols doesn’t mention mice but he does mention rats – quite a lot!