Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wingrave, Buckinghamshire


On the hoof

The previous post about Spiegeltents set me thinking about the other kinds of “portable architecture”, from caravans to yurts and gers, that one sometimes sees in the English countryside. I found this example among some pictures I took a while ago in Buckinghamshire. It’s apparently a version of the classic shepherd’s hut,* the movable shelter traditionally used by shepherds on the downs and wolds when they needed to be near far-flung flocks. These wheeled huts, then, are the opposite of the wonderful lookers’ huts of Romney Marsh, about which I’ve posted in the past.

The heyday of the shepherd’s hut was probably the 19th century – one thinks of films of Hardy novels. But their history goes back much further. One website on the huts traces it back at least to the late-16th century, when an agricultural writer described how in some places the shepherd “hath his cabin going upon a wheele for to remove here and there at his pleasure”.

The huts were originally made mainly of timber, with a wooden body, wooden wheels, and a curved canvas roof, waterproofed with tar, on a wooden frame. Later, corrugated iron was often used for the roof, and now versatile corrugated iron sheeting is generally used to clad the walls too, which may be finished with timber tongue-and-grooved panelling inside. Spoked metal wheels on wide axles are common. This variation seems to have a wooden body on some modern wheels. The stable door, curved roof, and chimney are all features that hark back to the traditional hut.

People are still making shepherds’ huts, and finding uses for them as home offices, summerhouses, even shops at visitor attractions. They’re an inspiring example of how a traditional structure can find new roles, its wheels helping it to migrate from the downs to the backyard.

* Or perhaps a road-menders' hut: see the comments on this post

11 comments:

The Vintage Knitter said...

This hut reminds me of the road-menders' huts, which look very similar indeed. The steam festival held at Kemble airfield always includes some noteworthy examples. In fact I blogged about a lovingly restored hut back in 2010, which might interest you.

http://thevintageknitter.blogspot.com/2010/08/full-steam-ahead.html

Philip Wilkinson said...

VK: I see what you mean. This may indeed be a road-mender's hut. a form of transportable shelter about which I'd forgotten. There's not that much difference between the two, although this may account for the different wheels.

Peter Ashley said...

I want one of these. But without sheep falling over a cliff next door being chased by a mad dog. I always thought that Gabriel Oak was a little shortsighted in the positioning of his mobile hut and sheep pen.

George said...

In his memoir In This House of Sky, Ivan Doig writes of going along with a rancher to supply shepherds--or rather, sheepherders or just herders, since this is America--at their wagons in the Montana of the 1950s.

Jon Dudley said...

With those wheels it does look rather more 'road worthy' than is the usual shepherd's hut. More like overnight accommodation for traction engine/road roller operatives than shepherds. This in no way detracts from its essential friendliness and cosy style however...it's lovely. The market for these huts has become so great for use as home offices, spill-over rooms for the house or play places for kids that several people are manufacturing new ones, some more successful than others, but all quite expensive. Old ones, even unrestored fetch a few thousand of our English pounds. What a great thought to include 'mobile buildings' to your blog...more please!

Philip Wilkinson said...

George: I guess the superior national elbow room available in the USA makes some form of movable accommodation for shepherds/sheepherders even more useful.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jon: Yes, you can see pulled along by a traction engine, can't you?

I've seen the websites offering new shepherds' huts - a few years ago I did a trawl of options for building or installing a small office in my garden. In the end I got a local builder and carpenter to make a simple, but insulated, summerhouse type building for about one third of the cost of a shepherd's hut.

More mobile buildings? I have no photographs of any up my sleeve, but I'll certainly be looking out for more.

worm said...

If memory serves there's detailed descriptions of the joys of living in a shepherd's hut in Roger Deakin's books, both in his lower field and at Wittenham Clumps I think

http://caughtbytheriver.net/2008/10/the-place-that-roger-built-photographs-from-walnut-tree-farm/

Philip Wilkinson said...

Worm: Thanks - I'm sure you're right. I'll have to re-read Notes From Walnut Tree Farm, which is full of unparallelled evocations of place.

The site to which Worm links in his comment above has a wonderful photograph of a shepherd's hut, amongst other things.

hirez said...

Oh. Crikey. When I was a small boy, the shepherds kept a hut. I think it spent most of its life up on top of the Cotswolds at Wontley Farm (Google delivers a picture of the place looking sadly decrepit), but I believe it would have been hauled elsewhere on the estate. It was that same green and smelled of hessian sacks and shag tobacco. A couple of months ago, I found a restored example at Lodge Park (but missing the Tortoise stove, which felt wrong). It made me very nostalgic.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hirez: I live a few miles away from Wontley Farm, which is indeed looking quite decrepit. I don't know where the shepherd's hut went, though.