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Shepherd’s Hut

We have a new addition for the displays this year, and it’s on four wheels rather than four legs. I built the Borough Farm shepherd’s hut over last winter, and it is now in weekly use providing teas, coffees and home made cakes for the displays.

The Shepherd’s hut was once a common sight on the hills and downs across south eastern England. These wooden or tin clad huts were of  simple design,  with an ark roof and mounted on cast iron wheels and heated with a small wood burning stove. They were  towed to the lambing field by horse (or in later years by steam engine) and conveniently sited close to the flock. Here the shepherd would live for a month, keeping a close eye on his flock, but with a warm shelter against the worst of the Spring weather.

In Thomas Hardy’s classic ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ Gabriel Oak is asleep in his shepherd’s hut and is overcome by smoke when he is rescued by Bathsheba. His hut was equipped with a wood burning stove but he had blocked the vents before falling asleep, causing the hut to fill with smoke.

I’ve never spent a lambing season living in one of these huts, but looking back there were many years when it would have made life a lot easier. The thought of the hut is very appealing, it has a sweet wooden smell, and an atmosphere all of it’s own. The walls and roof are sturdy and insulated, so it’s not at all the same feeling as being in a caravan.

The wheels that I have used were from the remains of an old chicken shed here at Borough Farm in North Devon. It seemed strange that a chicken shed should be built with wheels that contained high quality bearings and a rubber rim, and the mystery heightened when four more identical sets of wheels turned up on other chicken sheds locally. Th mystery was solved by a neighbor, who told me that he had had the same wheels on a trailer and that they had been from a second world war ‘Bren Gun carrier’. These small tracked vehicles were used to carry heavy machine guns and on studying the inside of the tracks, our wheels can be seen as the free wheeling tensioner wheels. Presumably surplus stock was put to good use after the war and used on chicken sheds.

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