Reed to Roof: A Thatcher's Tale by Tom Allan
(Profile, 2022)

Reed to Roof: A Thatcher's Tale

by Tom Allan

Reed to Roof will celebrate the world’s thatching cultures. Thatch may seem quintessentially British, but in fact it’s universal, the oldest and most basic form of roof humanity has devised.

Thatcher, Tom Allan, learned his craft in Devon and in this book – part history, part memoir, part travelogue - he will travel east through Europe to the heart of Eurasia, before finishing his journey high in the mountains of Japan. He will visit Europe’s largest reed beds in the Danube Delta where the thatch for some of the continent’s most sought-after homes is cut. He will work with a thatcher in the Scottish Highlands who only uses materials that grow within 500 yards of where he is thatching. He will see ancient roofs on the Danish Island of Læsø made of nothing but seaweed scraped off the sea shore and he will visit the cradle of Eurasian civilization, Mesopotamia, to work on the world’s most extraordinary reed structures - the mudhif buildings made by the Marsh Arabs of Iraq.

Thatching now stands at a crucial moment in its history. In spite of its popular image as the most changeless of country crafts, new techniques and power tools are revolutionising the way we thatch. The ancient connection between thatching and the land is changing too. Once, what you put on a roof was determined by which materials grew close by. Now, over 80% of Britain’s reed is no longer grown locally, but imported from abroad. Pollution in the marshes of China or a drought in southern Russia affect the quality of reed laid on a pretty cottage in Oxfordshire. The way we treat the land does - for as long as we continue to use thatch - help shape the roof over our heads.