Methods of Thatching

There are many different types of thatch, but two basic methods of thatching.

One method is to remove all the remaining old thatch and fix a new coat of thatch directly to the roof structure, a method which is used throughout the world.

The other method which exists only in the British Isles, is to secure the existing thatch to the roof structure and fix a new coat of thatch to the existing old thatch underneath.

Both methods have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years and are used throughout the British Isles today.

Types of Thatch

Water Reed is derived from reeds cut from reed beds, rivers and lakes. ‘Norfolk Reed’ is Water Reed cut from the Norfolk Broads, but the majority of reed available for thatching in the UK is imported from all over Europe, as well as from China and Africa. If you have a preference for a particular type of reed, we can source this for you as requested.

Every year I carry out tests on all types of reed available, to ensure I find the best quality for thatching in the UK. A good Water Reed roof can last fifty years or more, and will only require occasional maintenance such as a new ridge and repairs to the existing slopes.

Combed Wheat Reed

Combed Wheat Reed is a type of straw thatch where the straw has been cut and then fed through a Reed Comber to remove the grain from the ear. This produces a bundle of straw, where the stems are unbroken with the ears at one end and the butts at the other.

The thatcher can use Combed Wheat Reed straight from the bundle to produce a roof which should last twenty five years. However, after about fifteen to twenty years it may still require a new ridge and repairs to the existing slopes.

Not all Combed Wheat Reed is actually Wheat straw: quite often it is Triticale (a Wheat Rye cross) and occasionally it may be Rye straw from Europe.

Cottages thatched in Combed Wheat
Cottages thatched in Long Straw

Long Straw

Long Straw is another type of straw thatch – but to produce this material, the straw has to be threshed by putting the cut straw through the drum of a threshing machine to remove the grain from the ear. This may crush, bruise or even break the stem. So Long Straw needs to be prepared by the thatcher before it can be used.

This involves making a bed to pull the straw into yealms. Long Straw Thatch usually has a shaggy appearance when finished, but produces a roof that may last up to twenty-five years but will require a new ridge after fifteen to twenty years as well as repairs to the existing slopes.

Other Types of Thatch

We sometimes source other materials available to us at the time, such as Heather, Gorse, Sedge, Rushes, Marum Grass, Veldt Grass, Wood shavings, even Sea Weed and Bamboo. However in the UK today the thatch will usually be one of the three main types already mentioned.

Types of Ridge used in Thatching

Types of Ridge

Ridges are usually made from straw, sometimes straw and sedge, and occasionally all sedge.

These are usually made in two ways: a Wrapover Ridge or a Butt Up and they may be shaved flush with the slope of the roof or feature shapes cut out of the ridge. Make sure you know what style and design is included with your quotation. For something original and different you could finish your ridge with Copper, Lead, Heather, Turfs, Cement, Ridge Tiles, Water Reed or even plants.

Which Thatch should I have?

All things being equal a Water Reed Roof should out last a straw roof. Combed Wheat Reed and Long Straw roofs should last about the same time, but the Long Straw roof is the most labour intensive. So although Long Straw usually costs less than Combed Wheat Reed, the extra labour could make the Long Straw roof more expensive.

As with most things in thatching, each type will vary from year to year depending on the quality, availability and cost of these materials. For example, if you are hoping to have your roof thatched in straw but there is not enough available before next harvest, you may have to consider a different material.

Listed Building Consent

If you have a listed building, you will need listed building consent before you change your type of thatch. This applies if the nature of the new thatch may alter the character of the listed building.

Some areas might class changing the type of thatch as changing the character (even if it does not alter the appearance of your house). So it is wise to discuss the change with your local conservation officer, stating your reasons and providing supporting evidence so an agreement can be reached. We are also able to supply documentation to assist home owners in obtaining this consent.

Chris Tomkins Master Thatcher – For all your thatching needs, please contact me.

Telephone: 01243 863943
Mobile: 07967 587368
Email: tomkinsthatcher@aol.com