Heritage Crafts


The creation of a roof covering using plant matter such as brushwood, turf, heather, broom, water reeds or straw.

For thatch ornaments please see Straw Working
Currently viable
Craft category
Historic area of significance
Area practiced currently
Origin in the UK
Bronze Age


Thatch, which goes back as far as the Bronze Age, was the most commonly used roofing material in Britain until the seventeenth century, and continued to be so in many areas until much later. Historically, all sorts of buildings were thatched, not just inhabited dwellings: castles (Pevensey Castle), inns, churches (especially in Norfolk and Suffolk), barns, corn-stores, ricks, hay stacks, milk-stands and platforms, village notice-boards, walls (because they were often made of porous material) etc. Later on in the nineteenth century, the picturesque movement led to a surge in thatched follies and summerhouses etc.

Thatch began to decline in popularity from the seventeenth century as other roofing materials, such as slate and clay tiles, became more widely available. Industrialization of threshing began in 1786 with the invention of the threshing machine by Scotsman Andrew Meikle. Production of straw became more efficient and supplies of thatching straw more abundant. Thatch remained the cheapest roof covering in some parts of England until the 1920s. Furthermore, as villages grew into towns, the rationale of thatch was last. The twentieth century saw a rapid decline in thatching for numerous reasons:

  • two world wars which split thatching families apart
  • the disbanding of large estates which removed the day to day workload thatches relied on
  • the younger generation leaving rural communities
  • farmers no longer thatching barns, sheds buildings and ricks, which had been a reliable source of income for thatchers
  • the widespread use of combine harvesters, which chopped straw into lengths too short of thatching
  • the shortage of thatching spars because estates were no longer managed on traditional lines and there was a shortage of woodsmen making spars.

Before 1940 the training of thatchers involved an experienced thatcher teaching a novice on an actual thatching job. The length of time the training took varied, but probably averaged at about six or seven years before they could work independently. Today, it is generally agreed that it requires about four years training plus another two years thatching before a thatcher is competent.


Firstly, a layer of thatch is stitched to the roof timbers. Then the thatcher takes a handful of straw, twists the ear end into a knot and thrusts it tightly into the straw layer already on the roof, until the roof is completed. The ridge may be finished with bobbins or a decorated ridge-board.


Support organisations


  • Jenkins, J Geraint, (1978) Traditional Country Craftsmen (Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd)
  • Cox, Jo, (2000) Thatch: Thatching in England 1940–1994 (James & James)
  • Fearn, Jacqueline, (1978) Thatch (Shire)
  • Nash, Judy, (1991) Thatchers and Thatching (Batsford)
  • Billett, Robert, (1979) Thatching and thatched buildings (Robert Hale)
  • Mowbray, John H, (1975) Thatching: in a historical context
  • Collins, E J T, (2004) Crafts in the English Countryside: Towards a Future (Countryside Agency)
  • The Thatcher’s Craft – Rural Development Commision (Battley Bros Ltd 1988)
  • Thatch by Robert West ISBN 07153 8849 5 (1998)
  • Thatches and Thatching – Mrjorie Sanders and Roger Angold 2012 Crowood Press ISBN 978 1 84797 321 4
  • Thatch Advice Centre: https://www.thatchadvicecentre.co.uk/thatch-information/care-thatch/thatching-organisations
National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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