The traditional British craft of thatching is the use of straw or grasses as a building material. Using thatch for roofing goes back as far as the Bronze Age in Britain. At Shearplace Hall in Dorset there are remains of a round hut that shows signs of thatching. Thatched cottages and farm buildings were the norm in rural Britain for a millennium or more.
Building practices of ancient Britain ran to lightweight, irregular materials, such as wattle and daub walls, and cruck beams. These walls were not capable of taking very much weight, and thatch was by far the lightest weight material available.
buildings appear in almost every county in the United Kingdom although the West Country -
Cornwall, Devon and Dorset have probably the highest number of buildings which still
retain a thatched roof.
With the large reed beds in East Anglia and it's longer life, reed has become the more common material for thatch, though long-straw thatching is still done. Rye, Straw or sedge grass is used for capping the ridges of all thatched buildings as it is more flexible than reed.
Although thatch was
primarily used by the poor, occasionally great houses used this most common of materials.
In 1300 the great Norman castle at Pevensey in Sussex bought up 6 acres of rushes to roof
the hall and chambers. Much later, in the late 18th century thatched cottages became an
extremely popular theme with painters, who tried to portray a romantic view of Britain.
First the thatch
is tied in bundles, then laid in an underlayer on the roof beams and pegged in place with
rods made of hazel or withy.
It is at the ridgeline that the individual thatcher leaves his personal
"signature", a decorative feature, a 'corn dolly' is constructed which marks the
job as his alone. The corn dolly was believed to ward off evil spirits and to ensure a
good harvest. The final layer is held in place with a decorative pattern of split hazel,
then the edge is trimmed to a traditional pattern with an eaves knife or shears.
Many inns in the UK retain a thatched roof and nothing is much more picturesque than a
hairy hostelry !