The History of Thatching in Norfolk


You might have seen in the news that a flock of Jackdaws in Wiltshire has caused a lot of damage to a Grade 1 listed building owned by the National Trust – £100,000 worth of damage, to be exact. The birds are using the thatched roof of Tithe Barn at Avebury as a ready source of nesting materials, and every solution the National Trust tries has failed as the clever birds find a way around it. With thatched roofs in the news, we thought we’d take a look at it in this week’s blog. Thatching is an ancient roofing solution with a long history in Britain, and Norfolk takes a unique approach to the art.

The History of Thatching

Long before Glass Reinforced Plastic and concrete came along, there were essentially three options for roofing materials: baked clay tiles (here in the East we favoured pantiles), slate or thatching. Traditional thatching uses bundles of straw or grass to provide all the properties of insulation and protection from the elements that we expect from a roof. Thatched roofs were the norm in Britain for thousands of years, chiefly because it was lighter than the alternatives, meaning it didn’t need strong walls to support the weight of a heavy slate or tiled roof. If your walls are constructed from wattle and daub, they could collapse under the weight of the heavier options.

Thatching in Norfolk

In the south, wheat and straw stalks were popular for thatching. In Scotland and Northumbria, heather was in abundance and was used as a roofing material. In Wales they had access to the local slate mines. Here in Norfolk, the locals harvested the reeds that grew on the Broads and thatched their houses with them. Reeds have an advantage over straw: the harsh windswept environment they reeds grow in make for a hardy plant. A roof thatched from Norfolk reed could last up to 70 years, whereas an expose straw roof will only last 10-12 years.

At RG Leverett, we are pleased to be working in an industry that boasts such a proud local history – even if we’ve never thatched a roof ourselves! If you have any roofing needs, contact us on 01603 418818 or and we will be happy to chat with you about the various options we can offer you.