A picture of a traditionally built English cottage from an American point of view may include a thatched roof. What could be more like a fairy tale than that.
Generally, you see a lot more of the slate shingles on older cottages today in England, but a thatched roof is a real treat.
Thatching is the traditional craft of building a roof with dry vegetation such as straw. The bundles of straw are thickly layered to shed water away from the inner roof. Thatch was used by the majority of homeowners in the countryside and in many towns and villages until the late 1800s.
And then came slate.
The real commercial production of Welsh slate began in 1820, and along with the innovative building of canals and railways to transport it, it gave builders an alternative material for many English roofs.
Gradually the use of thatch declined, and with it the craftsmen who were professional thatchers. There are approximately 1,000 full-time thatchers at work in the UK now, and it has been growing in popularity again with the interest in historic preservation and using sustainable materials.
A good thatched roof can last over 50 years, and a new layer of straw can be applied over the weathered surface. This is called a “spar coating”. Over 250 roofs in southern England have base coats of thatch that were applied over 500 years ago! Since the 1980s there has been a movement to grow the older varieties of wheat which are tall-stemmed and better for thatching. This has helped renew the feasibility of thatching.
It’s nice to see a traditional craft becoming popular again. I do just love to see a thatched roof in the English countryside.
Hi Pat, Thatched roofs are beautiful, another interesting read as well as educational. jac x