In the past, thatched roofs were thatched by professional craftsmen as well as experienced farm workers. Professional thatchers learned their craft by working as apprentices for several years, thatching houses, barns and other structures year round and hay ricks and corn stacks at harvest time.

Professional thatchers worked in localised ‘patches’ that varied in area, and number of roofs, depending on how many properties they were physically able to maintain to a good standard. Many villages contained enough properties to support two or three thatchers, and most thatchers in an area used similar techniques and materials – although thatchers themselves were able to identify the minor variations in fixing methods and ornamentation that gave each roof its ‘signature’. Slight adaptations of basic techniques used throughout the country that were preferred, or worked well in a region or locality, were passed down through generations, so that distinctive regional ‘styles’ of thatch evolved over many centuries. Thatchers were not ‘regulated’ by standards or government decree, but by the market for their skills. As long as there were many trained thatchers in the area, consumers were theoretically free to pick and choose the best thatcher they could afford who would use the best materials he could find for the price.

The thatching industry collapsed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the geographical size of ‘patches’ grew as the number of thatched roofs and thatchers declined. Amateur rick thatchers stepped forward to fill the gap, but by the 1930s the industry appeared to be in terminal decline, and thatched roofs were rapidly being replaced with tiles and slates. The Ministry of Agriculture’s Rural Industries Bureau (RIB) turned their attention to thatching in the late 1930s. A 1938 survey identified only c. 500 thatchers in England, and revealed that most were elderly, poorly paid and not being replaced by apprentices. The craft was clearly dying, and the shortage of house thatchers intensified during WWII.

The RIB appointed a thatching officer/instructor in 1946 to assist thatchers and encourage them to take on apprentices. They also set up an ‘on site’ training scheme for thatchers in the late 1940s, and initiated the formation of regional and county-based Master Thatcher Associations (MTAs) in 1947-8 to help maintain and improve standards.

Traditionally, a thatcher learned his craft by working as an apprentice to a professional ‘master’ for 4-7 years. Many masters provided high quality training and personal and financial support for their apprentices well after they had embarked on independent careers. Other less scrupulous ‘masters’ provided only rudimentary training in return for long hours and low pay. Both extremes have survived into the present day.

At present there are no certified training courses in the U.K.


Short courses

    • Weekend courses are run by retired master thatcher and home inspector, Charles Chalcroft.
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    • The RICS run half day thatch awareness days.
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    • Weald & Downland Museum:
    • Historic Roof coverings
      This one day course includes Thatch: types; techniques of application; causes of decay; new research into fire safety and dealing with the aftermath of a thatch fire.
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    • Practical Thatching
      This one day course gives participants the chance to thatch on a practice roof, indoors at ground level, using all the tools, materials and techniques of the craft.
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    • A one day introduction to Thatch, Tywi Centre, Llandeilo, Camarthenshire.
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