A Very Brief History of Roofing

non-traditional home with metrotile roofing

In the past, it was necessary to use the best of whatever roofing materials were naturally available in the local area. Slate, clay and thatch are the most popular and recognisable of these historic materials. Take a quick look at this brief history of British roofing choices to see why we chose and eventually scrapped each of these materials, leading us to the modern lightweight roof tiles we have available to us today.



Thatch roofing is the definitive feature we associate with a rustic, old-fashioned building. Whereas some harder alternatives were limited to geographical location before modern transport, thatch could be constructed out of materials that grew almost anywhere. This roofing has its share of problems as it is degradable, flammable, and easy to get wrong. The fireproofing problems were particularly demonstrated following the Great Fire of London in 1666. Thatch certainly helped the spread of the flames between the closely built housing, leading to it being banned in the city in favour of clay. Modern thatch roofs are used to enhance a rural aesthetic, but are expensive to maintain.


In the past, we made use of hand-split slate only where it was commonly available, such as in Wales or the North West. Slate is very hard and splits naturally into the flat shape required for tiles, making it less labour intensive to produce. Because it can only be found in certain places, some towns and cities still have strong historical associations with their local type of slate, which adds to their identities. However these materials are heavy and required strong supporting structures to hold them up. They weren’t quite uniformly shaped either, so even though the material itself is very waterproof there is potential for gaps and faults in the roofing.


Clay tiles were commonly used by the Romans in Britain. The art of making these tiles disappeared for a while when the Romans did, but appears to have grown in popularity after the 12th or 13th century. Similarly to slate, clay tiles were only a viable option where access to the raw materials was possible, such as by a river – the Thames allowed London to rebuild with clay roofs after 1666. Clay was susceptible to warp during the old-fashioned firing process, leading to uneven and leaky results. Although modern methods create a far more uniform result, clay is still a little more vulnerable than slate to frost damage.


Advances in engineering not directly associated with roofing had an effect on our tiling choices during the last century or so. The rise of railways meant that heavy materials such as slate and clay could be viably moved around the country, so buildings nationwide could benefit from these materials.


Nationwide, in recent years many have chosen to build roofs using concrete tiles as they always give uniform results. Concrete is however very heavy, and the uniform effects are considered boring and unfashionable.



Modern Technology 

Aesthetically, there has been a recent trend for returning to natural roofing. However as we’ve just seen these materials are not always the best choices as they can be heavy, un-uniform, high maintenance, or vulnerable to bad weather conditions.

Metrotile have combined the design of traditional roofing materials with advances in technology to produce a high performance tile that doesn’t compromise on aesthetics. We offer slate, shingle and Roman styles of pressed steel roofing that are proven to be weather resistant up to cyclone conditions. The lightweight properties of these tiles ensures that, unlike their heavier predecessors, there is minimum weight bearing down on the walls and therefore the structural integrity of the building is preserved. Resistant to frost and with virtually no maintenance required, these tiles combine modern technology with the beauty of old world roofing to ensure you don’t have to compromise either way.

To talk about our lightweight roof tiles, call Metrotile on 01249 658514.