Choosing clay plain tiles for traditional and period properties

Choosing clay plain tiles for traditional and period properties

By Paul Lythgoe, Managing Director of Tudor Roof Tile Co Ltd

Choosing clay plain roof tiles for a traditional, period or listed property can present a number of challenges depending on the age, location and type of renovation or building work involved.

Before considering the options available, it is important to be aware of the origins and unique characteristics of the historic plain tiles you may be replacing.

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Origin of Peg Tiles

The oldest plain tiles in the UK date back to as far back as the 12th and 13th centuries. They were named ‘peg tiles’ after the softwood pegs, which were driven through two square holes in the top edge of the tiles, attaching them to the laths or battens.

Their distinctive appearance was characterised by an idiosyncratic variation in texture, camber and colour. Depending on the local clay, where they were produced, the firing temperature and the skill of the local or travelling tile maker, this variation could range from pale orange to a dark red.

Although it was decreed in a Royal Charter of 1477, that peg tiles should be standardised to 10" x 6" across the country, in reality the sizes also varied.

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Restoration of old properties

When restoring the roof a listed building, ‘like for like’ replacement materials are nearly always required. If you are only replacing one or two damaged or missing peg tiles it is usually better to use second hand tiles, which are reclaimed from buildings of the same age and locality in order to stay as close to the originals as possible. These need to be checked carefully for signs of damage and weakness before re-use.

However, when replacing large sections or an entire roof, it is not always practical or possible to salvage sufficient numbers of high quality tiles. Second hand tiles from legitimate sources can also be expensive and sometimes hard to come by, particularly as they have to be sourced from other unlisted, abandoned or derelict buildings.

Modern handmade replacements with a sympathetic ‘time weathered’ appearance can be a reliable and cost effective alternative (and they also have the advantage of being performance guaranteed).

Period buildings usually require sand faced plain tiles with a very gentle camber, often in bespoke sizes and, depending on their age and origin, round or square peg holes to suit the traditional roof construction of the day.

If a property is not Grade II listed or if it dates from the nineteenth century onwards, sizes are more consistent and one can often use handmade tiles with nibs on the underside (instead of peg holes), making them much easier and cost effective to lay using modern roofing methods.

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New build properties

When building a new home in a period style, self builders have more tiling options, however, it is still important to respect the natural regional textures and tones of the local architecture.

In conservation areas, roof tiles should ideally be sand faced to give a traditional rustic look and be made from a local clay but, as many old tileries have closed, this is not always possible, so it is best to simply chose a manufacturer that offers the closest approximation.

Sufficient roof ventilation is a legal requirement. Ventilation tiles are often the preferred specification, but under tile ventilation systems, which are invisible, can sometimes be a preferable alternative.

Hanging tiles also have a traditional aesthetic appeal on period style properties, and they are also worth considering for their insulation values on particularly of north facing walls. Similarly, use of accessories such as decorative and creasing tiles and ridge features can open up the opportunities for the self builder to build creative and impressive rooflines.

When it comes to quality matters, it almost goes without saying that all reputable manufacturers strive to comply with British and European quality and durability standards. However, it is always worth checking. It is also important that the manufacturer is well established, environmentally reputable and able to give a minimum of 30 years guarantee on all products.

After all, high quality clay tiles are an important investment and one that should hopefully last for more than just one lifetime.

Tudor roof tiles are available from leading roofing and builders merchants. For more information, contact Tudor Roof Tile Co. Ltd on 01797 320202 or email

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