Image of a house with a thatched roof

What is thatching?

Thatch is a traditional roof covering made from straw or reeds. Thatching is a skilled craft and thatchers are people who repair and replace thatched roofs on houses and occasionally other buildings.

Image of a thatcher on top of a roof

Thatched buildings

Thatched buildings are usually protected by law, so thatchers have to follow strict rules about the materials and methods they use. Many thatched houses are hundreds of years old and there are more of them in the south of England than in the north.

Image of the thatcher preparing the reeds for thatching

Learning the trade

People learn how to do the job by working alongside an experienced thatcher. A person who learns on the job like this is called an apprentice. Like roofers, thatchers need to be strong, brave and tough: they spend both summers and winters standing on roofs in all weathers!

Click on the facts

 Thatch facts

  • 1. Long straw is used for many thatched roofs – this lasts for 15 to 25 years
  • 2. Combed wheat reed is also used for thatched roofs – this lasts for up to 40 years
  • 3. The longest lasting thatching material is water reed which can last for 50 years
  • 4. Water reed grows in river estuaries (where rivers meet the sea)
  • 5. Thatch is an environmentally friendly material – it is renewable (new straw and reed is grown to replace what is used) and it is excellent at insulating heat
  • 6. Heather and even grass have been used to cover roofs in the past!

 Thatching facts

  • 1. It takes, on average, about six weeks to thatch a small house
  • 2. Only one college in the UK runs a thatching course
  • 3. There were one million thatched buildings in Britain in 1800, but there are only about 24,000 today
  • 4. About 1500 people currently work as thatchers in the UK
  • 5. The roofs on the Hebridean Blackhouses found in Scotland, are made by overlapping layers of heather and then layering thatch on top. The thatch is secured using old fishing rope and large rocks are attached to it to weigh everything down for windy weather.

 A thatcher needs to be…

  • 1. Not afraid of heights!
  • 2. Happy to work outdoors in all kinds of weather
  • 3. Very practical
  • 4. Able to work out the price of jobs and do accounts
  • 5. Able to understand rules about building, safety and conservation
  • 6. Able to solve problems where roofs are complicated
  • 7. Fit and strong
  • 8. Willing to travel a lot and work flexible hours

 Thatching jobs

  • 1. Putting up scaffolding
  • 2. Stripping old thatch off roofs
  • 3. Checking roof timbers for damage or signs of rot
  • 4. Repairing roof timbers if needed
  • 5. Gathering straw or reed into bundles
  • 6. Fixing bundles of straw to timbers using cords or metal hooks
  • 7. Adding thatch to the roof starting at the bottom and working up