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Slating & Tiling

Slating & Tiling

History dictates that the inception of the inaugural clay tile utilised within a roofing capacity dates back as far as 10,000 BC in China. Historians state that not long after, their popularity and usage spread to the Middle East. Following on from these two regions, the clay tile made its way in common form to Asia and then Europe, respectively.

Fast forward thousands of years; and many would assume the historical values of the humble roof are synonymous throughout the modern world, this is simply not the case. The British roofing landscape, as a perfectly relevant example, differs from the rest of Europe with its deep, rich, and often engrossing heritage.

Statistically, the concrete roofing tile within Britain currently holds the lion’s share of prominence, accounting for around 60% of overall coverage for the pitched elevations of our homes. Slate tiles, both of the natural and artificial variety, make up near 30%, with clay tiles responsible for the remaining 10%. These figures, by and large do mask the large regional and local variations. Britain’s most exclusive and historically decorated regions for their sublime architectural heritage, do show a marked significant preference for slate or clay tiles, as opposed to concrete.

In stark contrast, mainland Europe demonstrates almost a complete role-reversal of pitched roof surface coverings, with the predominant material of choice being that of the clay variety.

It wasn’t uncommon within the early days, for houses to be roofed with whatever materials were closest to hand. Primarily, the most common, and certainly by far the most durable roofing preference to be used was natural hand-split slate which was quarried from within the local areas. It’s purity, density and subsequent lifetime longevity, is a consequential testament to why we see this particular roofing material still massively evident today within Scotland, the North West, the South West and Wales in particular.

It was the Romans that were responsible for the introduction of the clay tiles to Great Britain, and their unique Tegula and Imbrex design still holds similarities within their concept to today’s modern tiles. The “Tegula” was a flat tray with sides that curved up, and were laid upon the roofs timber structure, and joint between two trays were made watertight by means of the inverted cylindrical “Imbrex” tile covering them. The most popular and commonly used concrete tile in Britain today, the Double Roman, inherits a very similar and distinctive design to the Romans original, hence its namesake.

In the 16th century, Holland re-introduced the ‘over-lapping’ tile to Great Britain, and it is suggested by historians that the Dutch were responsible for creating this new system of linking the tiles together by way of an S-shape or ogee to prevent water ingress by using vertical overlaps. This concept was essentially the Romans “Tequla and Imbrex” design linked into one tile. This particular tile saw the birth of what would become to be known in England as pantiles, believed to be from the Dutch word panne (German pfanne).

By the 1950’s the clay pantile became almost redundant within Great Britain due to the vast demand and lack of both quality and availability during housing boom of that particular era. The product quality of the clay tile was also brought into question due to its lack of resistance to colder temperatures and frost damage. This common issue today is known within the roofing industry as ‘shaling’ or ‘delaminating’. This is caused via the clay tile becoming porous, freezing, then ‘popping off’ its outer casing, thus leaving the tile no longer watertight.

During the 1960’s, it was the concrete tile that became the architects most preferred method of choice, although during the 1920’s when the tile was first introduced, it was initially largely ignored. It was after World War II and the consequential huge rehousing programme garnered speed, that Great Britain and its roofing story began to run a different path to the rest of Europe. As the British roofing industry looked extensively to produce concrete tiles as its primary directive, Europe, in equal measure, went down the clay route with similar assertion.

The concrete tile by this time had grown in physical size, and therefore made it quicker and easier for contractors to lay, ensuring a much more productive and cost effective system from a labour perspective.

From the 1970’s onwards, there has been a slow but significant renaissance in clay tiles and slates, but it’s only in recent times that the concrete tile monopoly has become seriously challenged. This is mainly due to the new innovative array of new clay products on the market, and also its reduction in costs.

As a consequence, the clay tile and natural slate tile has seen a remarkable resurgence, as cheaper imports have become available from countries such as Spain and China, to name but a few.


Beaumont Bespoke Roofing & Building have direct accounts with all the major suppliers of all concrete, clay and slate variants, including Marley, Sandtoft and Monier Redland. This ensures our clients receive the most competitive prices and wide and varied selection to suit your own individual requirements.

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