Roof Coverings - Topic Home

 

Introduction

In the Middle Ages the roofs of most houses would have been covered with earth, heather, thatch, stone slates, and occasionally, clay tiles.  As towns grew, and as the risk of fire increased, the use of thatch and other organic materials declined and their future use was confined to rural areas. In most cases people made 'do' with local materials, not through choice, but because transport costs dictated it. So, for example, it would be rare to find slating in the south east, or clay tiles in the far west.   
However, these rules did not apply to the tiny section of the population who controlled most of the wealth. Abbeys and other grand churches, for example, were sometimes covered in sheets of lead. The dissolution of Tintern Abbey, in about 1536 or so, provided much needed funds for Henry VIII. Accounts from 1536 valued the lead on the Abbey roof at 124; 10 years later it was still being melted down by the king's plumbers.    
During the 17th and 18th centuries most urban houses would have been covered with plain clay tiles, natural slate from Wales, Cornwall, Cumbria and Scotland, or thick slabs of stone from the limestone belt running up through England from Dorset to Yorkshire. With the coming of the railways in the early 19th century goods could be carried throughout the country at fairly low cost. For the first time the builders of modest houses had some choice over the type of roof coverings. Natural slate and clay tiles both enjoyed spells of popularity.
Towards the end of the Victorian period (late 19th century) developments in industrial production produced cheaper and better clay tiles. Tiling slowly eclipsed slating as the preferred material in several parts of the UK. By the 1950s concrete offered another option. Early concrete tiles were dull in colour and had a rough surface which quickly attracted lichen and moss. Nowadays, concrete tiles, in a variety of colours and shapes, account for most of the tile market. However, there has never been so much choice. Slate and clay tiles (including hand-made ones) are still available and there are a variety of imitation slates made from, concrete, fibre cement, and even crushed natural slate itself. 
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