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The most usual material for thatching is grass—either one of the
cultivated species, such as wheat, barley, oats, and rye, or grass of
natural growth, such as true reed, which is largely used in East
Anglia and North Wales. The use of the uncultivated grasses is
probably the earlier, and in the Lincolnshire sea-marsh the word
‘thack’ is used for grasses growing in the dikes, though they are now
never used for thatching. Rye straw was esteemed the best of
the cultivated grasses because it was the longest and strongest.
It Was grown by some farmers solely for thatching, as it with-
stood wind, sun, rain, frost, and snow, ‘ and hardly suffered decay.’
Sometimes the top layer only was of rye.

The next best was wheat straw, although Henry Best considered
that the one was as good as the other, and wrote: ‘Yow neede
make no reckoninge which of those two it bee, for there is noe
difference, but onely that rye strawe is the more usuall, if it bee
to bee had 1.’ However, in another part of the instructions he said,
‘After that an howse is latted, the first thatch that is layd on
would bee of rye strawe, well wroten amongst and well watered.’
For the straw to be ‘well wroten amongst’ it should have been
allowed to lie in some place for a time where pigs could rummage
amongst it: this prevented it from growing on the houses. Best
considered that ‘haver,’ that is oat, straw was good for thatch,
but the birds would ‘not let it alone.’ If used it was to be
‘anointed’~with mingled water and lime like pthty, with a trowel
as the thatcher came down the roof. Best said that ‘ barley strawe
is good alsoe, if it bee without weedes and not over shorte.’

The straw used in thatching should not have been threshed,
as that destroys the continuity of the fibres, and in the past there
seem to have been two methods by which unthreshed straw was
obtained. In the older method the ears only of the corn were
reaped, generally with a sickle, and tall stubble was left standing
which was afterwards mowed for thatching. In the‘ Middle Ages
such stubble was called ‘haulm,’ with the usual medizeval varieties
of spelling. Tusser2 says:

The hawme is the straw of the wheat or the rie,
Which once being reaped they mowe by and bie.

He also says that:

1 Farming Book, p. 60.
2 Fine Hundred Painter of Good Hmbana’ric, chap. LVII, stanzas l4 and I5.

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