Sunday, October 23, 2011
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The huts were originally made mainly of timber, with a wooden body, wooden wheels, and a curved canvas roof, waterproofed with tar, on a wooden frame.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