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Thatched House, Cambridgeshire

There are more thatched roofs in the United Kingdom and Ireland than in any other European country. Good quality thatching straw can last for more than 45–50 years when applied by a skilled thatcher. Traditionally, a new layer of straw was simply applied over the weathered surface, and this ‘spar coating’ tradition has created accumulations of thatch over 7’ (2.1m) thick on very old buildings. Over 250 roofs in Southern England have base coats of thatch that were applied over 500 years ago, providing direct evidence of the types of materials that were used for thatching in the medieval period. [5] Almost all of these roofs are thatched with wheat, rye, or a 'maslin' mixture of both. Medieval wheat grew to almost 6' (1.5 m) tall in very poor soils and produced durable straw for the roof and grain for baking bread. Information on UK thatching materials, methods and traditions, and the work that is being done to preserve them, is available on the Conservation of Historic Thatch (COHT) Committee website www.historicthatch.org.
Technology in the farming industry has had a significant impact on the popularity of thatching. The availability of good quality thatching straw declined in England after the introduction of the combine harvester in the late 1930s and 1940s, and the release of short-stemmed wheat varieties. The increasing use of nitrogen fertiliser in the 1960s-70s also weakened straw and reduced its longevity. Since the 1980s, however, there has been a big increase in straw quality as specialist growers have returned to growing older, tall-stemmed, 'heritage' varieties of wheat in low input/organic conditions.
All of the evidence indicates that water reed was rarely used for thatching outside of East Anglia. It has traditionally been a 'one coat' material applied in a similar way to how it is used in continental Europe - weathered reed is usually stripped and replaced by a new layer. It takes 4-5 acres of well-managed reed bed to produce enough reed to thatch an average house, and large reed beds have been uncommon in most of England since the Anglo-Saxon period.

Over 80% of the water reed used in the UK is now imported from Turkey, Eastern Europe and China.
Although water reed might last for 50 years or more on a steep roof in a dry climate, modern imported water reed on an average roof in England will not last any longer than good quality wheat straw.
The lifespan of a thatched roof is also dependent on the skill of the thatcher, but other factors need to be taken into account, such as climate, quality of the materials used, and the pitch of the roof.

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Viewed: 2003
Points: 2
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Additional Photos by Alex Fan Moniz (LondonBoy) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 97 W: 0 N: 660] (2608)
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