Thatching - A brief history

Thatch, the oldest surviving building craft arguably predating the Neolithic period.


To cover this subject from its early beginnings up to date would require at the very least a few hundred pages. This is a small snap shot of a vast subject that has been intertwined with every day life for several thousand years but ,in some respect, its historical importance has gone unnoticed by many historians.


Thatch was the most common form of roof covering everywhere in Britain until the end of the mediaeval period and it remained the practical solution for many roofs in rural areas until the mid 19th century. Commercial production of clay tile and slate on a huge scale saw the beginning of the end for thatch as a common roofing material. The expanding rail network brought these materials within easy reach of most rural areas and the thatched cottage became the exception, rather than the rule.


Materials for thatching were those types of vegetation found readily at hand. Rye and to a greater extent Wheat straws, were widely used from the Roman conquest up until the 1950s.


There was however a much wider range of materials used along with the cereal straws during this period. Heather, broom & gorse, bracken, fen sedge, water reed, mixed wetland grasses to name but a few.


Flax, wood shavings, pea vines and potato stalks have also found a place in this fascinating store. The introduction of the combine harvester and the new varieties of shorter stemmed wheat saw a dramatic decline in the uses of traditional threshed straw.


Combed Wheat Reed, Long straw and Water Reed together with sedge as a ridging material are the forms of thatch in most general use today. In its rarity, thatch has gained value as a property asset, and as part of our building heritage, contributing much to the landscape of our countryside.