When we think of a thatched roof, pleasant things come to mind. Our heads fill with the rolling hills of the British countryside, quaint villages away from the hustle and bustle of the city or old buildings full of history.
The construction of thatched roofing dates back to ancient times, and continued to be a popular type of roofing throughout history. Thatch itself is a combination of dry vegetation, such as straw and rushes, which has always been affordable and commonly available, especially in the time before brick and mortar.
While ceramic tiles have taken over traditional thatched roofing, the thatched roof is still reasonably popular due to its aesthetic appeal. In this article, we’ll explore what it takes to construct the typical British thatched roof.
The Right Materials
As we referred to above, thatch is a mixture of dry vegetation, including straw, rushes, water reeds and combed wheat reed. There are other types of thatching, such as palm branches, but they won’t produce the traditional British look. Our favourite is water reed; it’s extremely durable and has a beautiful, rustic aesthetic. Longstraw and combed wheat reed are also popular choices for roof construction, offering a wilder yet no less gorgeous appeal.
Before laying the thatch, the roof’s skeleton must be suitable before having the thatch laid upon it. The construction of this skeleton begins with a ridge pole. The ridge pole is a vertical pole pointing upwards through the centre of the unroofed building.
Starting from the perimeter of the building, pieces of timber are placed at the correct angle towards the ridge pole. The timber is nailed together as the roof grows, almost creating a bridge between the side of the building and the ridge pole. This process is repeated from each side of the building until the roof is complete.
Generally, the thatched roof should be between 45 and 55 degrees to allow the proper shedding of perspiration.
When thatching a new house, bundles of thatch are tied at the bottom and laid on top of the rafters. Steel rods are nailed to the roof, running horizontally across the thatch. When the thatch is in place, these rods are tightened, fixing the thatch to the roof.
If the thatched roof is being restored, the new material is laid on a layer the old old thatch (ideally around one foot, commonly referred to as the ‘under’). A spar is used – a branch of dried wood that can be twisted in the middle and used to clamp the new thatch into the underbed.
To neaten up the thatching, thatchers use a leggett; a sort of spade with grooves on the head. Thatchers whack the thatch with the legget in order to straighten it out and keep it consistent. In some cases, when the thatch has been laid, it will be wrapped in a meche to hold it in place and protect it from weathering.