Why does the UK have so many thatch roofed buildings?
England has always been a good source of thatching material and thanks to the high quality of the raw materials needed to create beautiful and functional roofs they can last for up to 50 years before having to be redone. This is testament to not only the quality of the thatch used, but also to the skills of the UK based thatches and builders.
UK thatching practices are fairly traditional for the most part and in many instances thatched roofs that were originally built over 500 years ago are still maintained today. In fact, there are more than 250 roofs in Southern England alone that have still got their thatch base coats that were applied before the 1600’s. These roofs provide evidence of the types of materials that were used for thatching over the centuries and prove that advanced thatching materials and skills were evident even back then.
Did you know? During medieval times the thatching material of choice was made up of wheat, rye or a “maslin” mixture of both crops. This means that nothing went to waist with crops being used to build housing and for baking bread.
Thatching over the past century
Over the past 100 years there have been a number of fundamental changes in farming technology that first had a negative effect on roof thatching in the UK, but later created a boom period that has lasted from the 1980’s until now.
The availability of good quality thatching straw in the UK saw a massive declined after commercial combine harvesters were introduced into the farming arena in the 1930’s. This was further exasperated by the introduction of new “short stemmed” wheat varieties and the use of nitrogen fertilizers that weakened the structure of the straw and reduced its quality and longevity.
This all changed in the 1980’s, when the eco friendly and aesthetically pleasing side of thatch was recognized and once again brought thatched roofs back into the mainstream building practice. This has once again led to resurgence in the growing of quality thatch raw materials such as the older tall stemmed wheat crops such as:
• Squareheads Master
• Rampton Rivet
• April Bearded
This conversion back to the more traditional wheat raw thatching material was short lived however. Strict EU and UK laws ensured that no individual or organisation was allowed to give, trade or sell seed of an older variety of wheat within the European Union. This forced traditional UK and European thatches to look elsewhere for their raw materials and to start importing Cape Reed from Southern Africa as well as water reeds from all over Europe.
Did you know? It takes about 4-5 acres of reed bed to produce enough reed to thatch an average UK house. More than 80% of the thatching reed used in the UK today is sourced from Eastern Europe, China, Turkey and South Africa.