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Last edited 26 Aug 2020
In construction, traditional materials are those which have been used to construct shelters and buildings for a long time in a locality, region or nation. However, a traditional material in one locality, flint in Kent for example, may not be deemed to be traditional in Yorkshire due to the lack of flint for building in that county. In addition, some building materials used for thousands of years may be deemed traditional in one area but may not even exist or be regarded as building materials in another area. As an example, blocks of ice have been used for millennia to build igloos in the Arctic, however, ice is not used – or regarded – as a building material at all in more temperate zones.
Despite regional variations, traditional materials often continue to be used up to the present day whether for functional, planning or aesthetic reasons, often in conjunction with more modern materials. However, some building types are usually seen as being visually incompatible with traditional materials: for example, a thatched roof on a modern office building.
Timber is one of the earliest materials used to build shelters. Initially, this would have started with tree branches used to form frameworks that would be covered with leaves or skins and smaller branches. This progressed to the creation of cruck-framed houses which led to the creation of timber-framed construction with wattle and daub or brick infill panels. Timber is still used in a wide range of traditional and modern constructions.
Straw could be used to make thatch, one of the earliest roof coverings. Today, it is used mostly to re-roof country farmhouses and cottages built before the 20th century, but also as an insulation material in walls.
Stone has been a valued building material since it was used for domestic huts in areas where it was plentiful and timber scarce. Traditionally used mostly as a loadbearing material, today stone is more used as a facing for building facades, paving and high-status interiors.
Bricks are distinguished from mud bricks by being fired rather than simply left to dry in the sun. Fired bricks were produced in the Near East as far back as 3000 BC but it was the Romans who introduced the technique into the UK in the first century AD. Brick was later to flourish in the Middle Ages for use in houses and churches, and its use extended through Georgian and Victorian periods. It is still widely used in the UK, both for traditional and modern buildings. Quarry tiles (fired brick) are also regarded as traditional and still used, mostly for kitchen floors and worktops.
Due to the way it is cleaved, slate has been used for centuries for roofing, paving and to form the wearing surface on steps and stairs. It is still highly valued as a roof covering but also as a cladding for contemporary steel and concrete buildings. In recent years, natural slate has faced competition (particularly in terms of price) from man-made slates.
Mined by the Romans 2,000 years ago, lead has been in continuous use in the UK right up to the present day, used mainly in sheet form as a roof covering, but also for gutters and downpipes, and for the cames in stained-glass windows.
Historically, iron has played a part in most British buildings whether as cramps, nails, cornices, finials and pinnacles, the tops of spires and chimney stacks, for door straps, and for decorative applications.
Used originally by the Greeks and Romans, stucco appears in the UK around 1500 AD as an inexpensive way to simulate stone; it became popular in Regency and Georgian England as an external render. A special form of stucco – ‘marmorino’ – was used internally to simulate stone and marble effects (also called polished plaster).
 Materials used for centuries but not regarded as traditional
Since its use by the Romans, cement as a constituent in concrete has only really seen significant use since the end of the 19th century. However, even given this more than century-old heritage, it is not usually regarded as ‘traditional’.
Wealthy Romans in England had glass in their windows but its use developed substantially in 12th century France. Despite this long history, glass is sometimes not regarded as a traditional material although some types, such as stained glass, are.
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