Traditional Roofing Trends in the UK
As a country, we are well-known for our beautiful thatched roofs, but since our ancestors first settled in this country, our roofing techniques have changed dramatically. With different materials and techniques being used, how have our roofs changed and what did they use to look like?
Roofs look different around the world and each country has different weather conditions to deal with. In this blog, we’ll talk about the history of our roofing techniques, how these have changed over the years and what our ancestors used to build their roofs with.
Thatched roofs have been around for hundreds of years, with the first recorded thatched roof being built in 735 AD. There is evidence of this method being the earliest recorded roofing technique in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This was because the materials needed for a thatch roof were relatively easy to get a hold of and were therefore accessible by everyone.
The materials used would have been grass, reeds and leaves, which were twined together and fixed on top of houses to keep water out and heat in. In some parts of the UK, until the 1800s, this was the only material available for roofs because the commercial production of materials such as slate had not yet begun.
Different styles of the thatched roof were popular across the world because of its accessibility and affordability. You would find thatch common among indigenous peoples such as the Maya, Inca and Aztecs. The most common type of material you would find in UK thatched roofs were straw, long straw or combed wheat reed.
A diversity of styles around the UK could be found due to the different types of materials available. For example, you would commonly find a water reed thatched roof in wetland areas such as counties in East Anglia.
Thatched roofs were fairly successful and remained in existence for around 300 years. It wasn’t until fires began within towns and cities that thatched roofs were discouraged. Building regulations dating back to 1189 banned thatch within the city of London and the rules were reinforced after a big fire in 1212, which killed an estimated 3000 people. After this, all new roofs had to be made with tiles, shingles or boards. It’s actually a common myth that The Great Fire of London spread because of the large number of thatched roofs in the city. By 1666, most houses in London would have been roofed with tile.
Wood shingles appeared much later than thatch but would have existed around the same time. It’s thought that the first evidence of shingle roofs was in 1035. After thatch became less popular, a new method was required in order to create a solution that was more waterproof and durable. Wood shingles became popular because they were an alternative that offered greater weather resistance.
Traditionally, shingles were sawn from wooden blocks and installed in overlapping layers. They could have also been laid flat, but both techniques provided better thermal protection to homes. Similarly, you may have found a type of wooden roof made from shakes. Wooden shakes were split by hand with a mallet and froe and were therefore thicker. This meant that they had a more rustic feel, so wooden shingles were a much more popular choice.
While wooden materials were deemed durable and weather resistant, they were also more expensive and still susceptible to fire. They also required a lot of maintenance to ensure their durability which meant that some houses were left in disrepair after a certain amount of time.
Slate roofing tiles were originally used by the Romans until the 5th century when they were forgotten until the 11th century when the Normans brought with them a new architectural style. Slate roofs began being used on private homes in the UK in around 1300. Particularly in North Wales and England. This was because slate was considered particularly expensive and difficult to transport so was only used on houses that were near slate quarries.
Large Scale slate quarrying began predominantly in North Wales in 1782 where they were able to produce a large amount of slate. North Wales were responsible for 92% of slate production at this time. The introduction of railway lines and the removal of slate-duty meant that it was finally able to be commercialised and transported across Britain.
By the 1900s, slate production had slowed down because the demand was no longer there. Many of the slate quarry workers had gone to fight in World War 1 and a lot of the slate produced by the UK was being shipped to France.
Slate is still considered one of the best traditional materials for roofs because it has remarkable advantages. Slate is fairly easy to find due to it being close to the surface of the ground and can be easily cut and shaped to make the perfect shape. It’s an extremely durable material and is longer lasting than most roofs.
Similarly to slate, clay tiles were first introduced to the UK by the Romans around 100 BC. Natives would pull the clay out of lakes and rivers and mould it into the shape of a tile and bake it in a kiln to be used on their shelters. They were also only available in the region they were produced because of their difficulty to transport.
It wasn’t as popular until the 1600s when rebuilding began after The Great Fire Of London. Clay was taken from the Thames to rebuild after massive devastation ripped across the city. However, it was quickly realised that clay was susceptible to warping, frost damage and leaking and while clay co-existed with slate, slate roofs were much more desirable.
Many other foreign countries were able to create tiles that were much more impressive, but it took the UK much longer to develop a clay production method that was able to meet these foreign standards. However, clay is still widely used today because of the improvement in production and the ability to mass-produce identical clay tiles. It now offers durability against the wet weather conditions in the UK as well as durability and fire resistance.
Along with slate, there were lots of other types of stone used as roofing materials in the UK. This included sandstone and limestone and the stone would have been fashioned into thin, rectangular tiles and overlapped on top of each other to form a roof. This was to prevent moisture and water from entering the roof space and to keep the roof resistant to the wet weather.
Commonly used for stone tile was limestone where the tiles would have been cut from a large block of stone. The limestone from which tile-stones are made is a sandy, fissile or laminated rock and is found at the base of the Great Oolite. The stone would be left out in the winter, allowing moisture inside to freeze and expand which would split the stone along the laminations, creating a tile that was of a suitable thickness. The stone could also be split along the laminations or bedding planes using a hammer and chisel.
Are you looking for roofing services? James Dunn Roofing is a team of skilled professionals providing a wide range of services. We have years of experience in the industry so we are able to tackle any project with skill and knowledge. If you’re looking for replacement roofs, pitched roofs, chimney repairs or eco-roofs, give us a call on 01865 373 614. We’ll be on hand to help you out. For more information, visit our website.