Thatching has been in existence for centuries as a way of roofing a building, both in this country and around the world. It remained the only roofing material available to most people living in the countryside, towns and villages in England, until the late 1800s, as agricultural practices expanded. However by the end of the 19th century (due to agricultural recession and rural depopulation), thatched properties became a mark of poverty, as numbers of them declined.
During the past 30 years however, there has been a revival as thatch has once again increased in popularity and is now a symbol of wealth rather than poverty. There are approximately 1,000 full time thatchers working in the UK and interestingly we are recently experiencing a renewed interest in the preservation of historic buildings, with the use of more sustainable building materials.
Thatched roofs are generally constructed of either straw or water reed, in layers, packed densely so that water transfer away from the inner roof is maximised. Thatch is highly weather resistant and is a natural insulator too, ensuring that the building is cool in Summer and warm in Winter.
The ridge plays a very important role in the construction of the roof because it protects it and prevents water from damaging the top courses of thatch. The ridge will need replacing during the lifetime of a thatched roof and is therefore worth following through, for if not carried out as advised, this may result in a more major roof repair being necessary at a later date.
When the roof itself has reached sufficient deterioration to warrant attention it is traditional for the thatcher to strip off only as much thatch necessary to reach a sound base into which the new thatch can be fixed. This is known as ‘spar coating’ or ‘overcoating’ and preserves old layers of thatch underneath. It is only in exceptional cases, where thatch has been badly neglected, that stripping back to roof timbers may be unavoidable.
The performance of a good thatched roof depends on the roof shape and design, the pitch of the roof, the position of the building- geography and topography, the quality of the thatching material used and the expertise of the thatcher.
A vast majority of thatched roofs are listed, protecting and helping them remain a feature of our British countryside.