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Here is the full quotation:

No matter what a man is—I wouldn’t give twopence for him”—here Caleb’s mouth looked bitter, and he snapped his fingers—“whether he was the prime minister or the rick-thatcher, if he didn’t do well what he undertook to do.

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    The hay in ricks (or stacks) had to be kept dry or it would spoil and be useless as animal feed. Before the development of affordable waterproof tarpaulins (let alone plastic sheet) this could only be done by thatching the rick with straw. A rick-thatcher would be a farm hand who had the job of thatching ricks at haymaking time. The same job had to be done with stacks of harvested but un-threashed corn at harvest time. There is a description of this process in Thomas Hardy's "Far from the Madding Crowd" where Gabriel Oak thatches Batsheba's corn stacks after Troy neglects to have it done.
    – BoldBen
    Nov 6, 2020 at 3:27

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thatch

to make a roof for a building with straw or reeds

-Cambridge

rick

a stack of hay, corn, straw, or similar material, especially one formerly built into a regular shape and thatched.

A rick-thatcher would thatch rick (or stack).

Until the middle of the last century, perhaps more than half of all the thatching carried out in Britain, was this type of work… Stacks and ricks dotted the countryside and filled the farmyard. Cereals of every type were stored, awaiting the thresher; hay was kept dry for a winter’s feeding; all safe under a thatched covering. This employment kept the craft alive, when domestic thatching was in serious decline…

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  • One of my favorite movies of Heath Ledger...he was named Thatcher for his father, who fixed roofs. No doubt some antecedent similarly named was a forefather of the famous "Iron Lady". Nov 6, 2020 at 4:02
  • To ths day, the modern profession survives as "roofer"... Nov 6, 2020 at 4:12
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Most British people would know what a thatcher does. We still have thatched buildings, and they have become popular again recently for ecological reasons.

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