Looking at Buildings

, printed from the Looking at Buildings website on Saturday 16th October 2021

Types of Thatching

eavesGlossary Term [1]. At the roof ridge, thatchers use hazel wood branches known as "spars" to hold the thatch in place. This also provided an opportunity for decorative patterning.

Long Straw Thatch

As its name suggests this is specially cultivated wheat reed of up to 3 feet in length. The stalks are uncombed (retaining the ears)and then laid in thick bundles. These overhang the roof edge and are then trimmed back. Because the ears are retained and the heads and 'butts' laid in alternate directions, the thatched roof often looks shaggier than other forms of thatching. Greater use is made of hazel "spars" or "liggers" to control the thatch and it is even sometimes covered by netting.

See an example of the long straw thatching process on the Weald and Dowland Museum website [2].

Water Reed

Although now commonly used for new or replacement thatching, this type of reed was traditionally associated with marshy and wetland areas, in particular with the Fens and Norfolk Broads in East Anglia. The reeds are longer and harder than wheat reed and water reed thatch survives for longer. The hard stems mean that roofs thatched with water reed often have angular or straight edges, unlike the rounded 'hips' of combed wheat reed or long straw.

Water reed was used to thatch the roof of the Globe Theatre, London - find out more on the Globe Theatre website [3].


Commonly found in moorland areas of England and particularly in Scotland. The heather may be used in a manner similar to other types of thatch. In Scotland, however, it is usual to see it laid over a low, arched roof, netted and held in place by ropes which are weighted with large stones that dangle along the side of the walls of the house.

A fuller guide to thatching materials and techniques can be found on the website of Bardsley and Brown [4], a company of master thatchers.


Last updated: Monday, 26th January 2009