A History of Shepherds Huts
An English Heritage
Shepherds Huts originated on the English down-lands in the 19th Century, serving as the shepherd’s home during lambing time. As in biblical times, the shepherd “watched his flock by night”, regularly checking on the enfolded flock throughout the night. His dress was a characteristic smock and leggings and he was never without his “ecclesiastical” shepherds crook. It was a solitary 24 hour a day job, with the hut remotely sited, often two miles or more from the farmhouse.
Shepherd’s huts invariably had a curved corrugated iron roof and wooden walls, with steps leading up to a door at one end. A small stove provided heating and the means to revive poorly lambs, whilst at the far end a bunk allowed the shepherd to take a snooze between rounds. A storm lantern, a veterinary cabinet, bags of feedstuff and basic kitchenware completed the contents. The sheepdog slept in the dry under the hut.
In Thomas Hardy’s novel, “Far from the Madding Crowd”, Gabriel Oak had his shepherd hut located on “Norcombe Hill”, now identified as Toller Down in Dorset.
Enfolding the sheep with woven hurdles had a secondary important purpose. Concentrating the sheep increased the fertility of the land and got it ready for a spring sown fodder crop. For more information visit http://shepherdhuts.co.uk
Some Traditional English Shepherds Huts
New Zealand Huts
In New Zealand, wheeled shepherds huts were not used at lambing. Rather, shepherd’s huts were permanent structures on high country runs, serving as a base for the shepherds whose job was to confine the sheep within the unfenced boundaries of high country runs. However, wheeled huts with their characteristic curved roofs and chimneys played an important role in our country’s development.
Before the invention of combine harvesters, grain was stored in haystacks awaiting the arrival of the traction engine and threshing mill some months later. The traction engine would haul a long “road train” of equipment from farm to farm. A typical “road train” would comprise the traction engine, a trailer with sacks of coal and wood to fire the engines boiler, the large threshing mill, possibly a chaff cutter, a cookhouse, and the “stink” - the men’s sleeping quarters. These latter two huts had many of the characteristics of a shepherds hut. The “Water Joey”, a separate horse and water cart completed the set up, ferrying water to the thirsty engine.
In the early development of farmland in Canterbury and North Otago, contract horse ploughmen worked from large camps, their accommodation being portable wooden huts on wheels with a curved roof, a small stove and a door at one end and a window at the other. On the historic Longbeach Estate near Ashburton, the larger ploughing camps had up to fourteen of these huts.
The railways used a similar hut design for single working men's accommodation. Once again a curved corrugated iron roof and small stove and chimney were a feature, with the huts painted in typical railways cream and red colours. Railway huts were each mounted on their own small flat rail wagon. Several of these huts have been “rescued” and faithfully restored at the Ormondville Railway Station Precinct in Hawkes Bay. Visitors can spend the night in an authentic rail workers hut and be woken in the night by the sound of passing trains!
In a number of places In New Zealand, the characteristic form of the Shepherds Hut was seen in roadmen’s huts. A good example can be seen at the Waipawa museum in Hawkes Bay.
The last ten years have seen a revival in interest in Shepherds Huts in the United Kingdom. Their appeal as a unique space or retreat has seen many companies established, restoring and building huts for private enjoyment and for special “on farm” visitor accommodation. Search for shepherds hut or shepherds huts on Google and YouTube, it’s a really interesting search.