Shepherds huts were originally conceived a few hundred years ago. In fact, there are publications dating back to as early as the 16th century that mention portable huts being used by shepherds. The huts were made on farms with whatever was to hand, if there was a resident carpenter then it would have involved mainly wood, if you had a blacksmith then it would have been more metal, it wasn’t till the early Victorian era when shepherd’s huts began to be manufactured commercially. They were developed to allow a shepherd to care for, and remain with, his sheep- valuable assets at the time. The Sheep were not allowed to wander freely but were kept enclosed behind wooden hurdles, a process called ‘folding’. Once the area had been grazed, the sheep, Shepherd, his dog and mobile home, his Shepherds Hut, would move to pastures new. The land would then be ploughed, returning the nutrients in the droppings to the land.
Those in more rugged terrain such as Scotland, Wales and Moreland areas of England had to deal with the elements and as a hut on wheels needs a track suitable to take it, boggy ground or hilly areas ruled out the use of shepherds huts. In these cases a more permanent building, sometimes referred to as a ‘lookers hut’ was built to protect the shepherd from his sometimes bleak environment. A shepherd’s hut was a big investment to a farm or Estate, costing the equivalent of up to 6 months of the Shepherd’s salary. However, it seems that ownership in most cases stayed with the Landowners rather than the Shepherd.
Anatomy Of A Shepherds hut
The shepherd hut was a kitchen, dining room, bedroom, sitting room and storeroom all rolled into one. The designs vary but all were constructed to provide the shepherd with practical and durable accommodation.
Although there were many variations to help the shepherd cope with individual needs, or specific conditions of the land, many of the traditional huts shared similar features. The old huts had a stove in one corner for warmth and cooking, and a window on each side so the shepherd could see the flock. A hinged stable door, which was always positioned away from the prevailing wind, enabled him to hear the flock, and strong axles with cast iron wheels were used to withstand the constant movement from field to field. a straw bed (some times a bunk bed when there was more than one shepherd) over a cage where lambs could be kept (known as a Lamb rack) and a simple medicine cupboard containing various potions, (This regularly included a bottle of whiskey to revive a sickly lamb or Shepherd) were also common additions.
20th Century Onwards
The use of shepherds huts began to dwindle in the 20th century with the development new techniques, machinery and the addition of electric power to even the most remote farms. The Large scale production of Ammonium Nitrate (used in the manufacturing of explosives during WW1) also provided for the first time a cost effective solution with regards to a concentrated feedstock for the land. Combined with the advent of the tractor at the same time, the need for large flocks to fold/fertilize the land went into steep decline, the importation of cheap foreign lamb also reduced the need for large flocks, and hence the need for shepherds and their huts.
However, A few huts carried on providing comfort and shelter to their Shepherd especially in some northern counties in the United Kingdom, particularly Westmoreland and Northumberland, where the terrain of the uplands supports little else but sheep farming. However, by around 1950, most were either pushed into a wood to provide somewhere for the gamekeeper to store his Pheasant feed, abandoned on the edge of a field or worse, being broken up and burnt as they had become redundant.
In recent years the humble shepherds hut has seen a revival in the Glamping scene, both wooden and metal huts can be found with a variety of design features. The addition of modern appliances such as toilet, showers, and kitchen hardware has brought this traditional tool of the trade into the modern era. We particularly like the metal designed huts and our hut – Keepers Watch- was hand built by Riverside Shepherd’s Huts, specifically for us. It boasts a full kitchen and shower room, as well as a full sized double bed- no room for lamb racks anymore! Although we have decided to stick with traditional bedding- using British wool duvets, pillows and throws!