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Thatch

- originally the term applied to any kind of roofing but now it applies exclusively to the use of vegetation, mainly reed, straw, and rushes. Historically, there was considerable regional variation, with almost anything locally available being used, bracken, seaweed, bark, even potato shaws; heather was very common. Some of these materials were short lasting, but a good reed thatch can last up to a hundred years. The only sure way to identify the material used, is to examine an individual piece. Thatch is light and has the advantage over slate and tile, of not requiring a particularly solid or even roof structure, and it has tremendous aesthetic qualities, both in terms of the manner in which it blends with other indigenous materials, and the way in which the details which need to be employed at ridges, dormers etc offer scope for individual expression. Thatch also provides very good acoustic and thermal insulation, but presents a maintenance commitment and can be vulnerable to damp and vermin and under certain circumstances, can present a fire risk.

Lower grade materials such as long straw or bracken tend to be more randomly applied, and long lengths of the material are visible. Higher grade material such as reed are fastened in bunches and only the butt ends are visible. However, the technique of thatching is basically the same for all materials. They have to be bundled together and then the thatcher works from the wallhead to the ridge usually going from right to left, and usually laying two courses at a time which are secured to laths or battens. While traditional materials such as hazel spars were commonly used to secure thatch, now, crooks or long steel nails and steel rods are more common. The skill of the thatcher becomes evident in the weight of thatch used and the texture and patterns he achieves. The considerable variation across areas, means that there are many alternative terms.

Glossary
Bottle - a tied bundle of thatching material. More specifically, it refers to tightly tied smaller bundles used to form the eaves.
Legget - a wooden tool in its simplest form a flat board with a handle which can be angled or straight which is used for dressing the ends of reed or combed wheat straw into place.
Liggers or sways - long thin saplings which are used for securing the thatch. Held in place by spars, they can be concealed or they can lie on the surface of the thatch, where they are often used to decorative effect.
Ridge roll - a tightly tied bundle of thatching material, laid along the ridge, to give an edge to the final course of thatch and to provide a base for a ridge cap.
Spar - giant staples of split hazel or willow thrust either straight into the thatch to secure it, or alternatively, used to secure liggers.