Our homes and villages have been shaped by the agricultural and social developments by the generations before us. Being that thatch has such strong characteristics as a vernacular material it forms a unique part of our cultural heritage.
It can be considered that thatching is one of the oldest crafts practised in Britain. Different styles and variation would have been formed by the availability of organic materials that were close by. Early roofing materials included Bracken, mud, foliage, gorse, heather, broom, reeds, rushes and sods of the earth.
Thatching as it is still practised today has changed very little since the middle ages, there are still a few examples of 13th century thatched buildings present.
Before the industrial revolution thatch was the most commonly used roofing material. Thatch was a inexpensive material to use that was readily available and that was easily supported by simple roof timbers.
Areas such as East anglia used water reed from the marshes and waterways, but the most widespread thatching material was straw. A plentiful by product from a harvest straw thatching was the dominant thatching material. Rye was the prefered thatching material to use but wheat straw was generally used the most, barley and oat was used as a last resort.
By the 18th century thatched roofs started to dramatically decline, advances in agriculture and industry produced other readibly available materials such as slate and tiles.
Technological advances in the farming industry also had a significant impact on the thatching industry around the mid 20th century. The availability of good quality thatching straw declined with the arrival of the combine harvester.
Combed wheat from the West Country helped revive the thatching industry after the introduction of the combine. Processed and threshed slightly differently to long straw using a comber it produced grain free and uncrushed stems.
Only in the 1970’s was the value of preserving thatched roofs as part of our heritage recognised, with local government grants offering to promote re-thatching of previously thatched roofs and preserving what remained.