My Pa: 'So what did he cook for you, then?'
Me: 'I suppose you'd call it a shepherd's cottage pie — lamb and beef mixed — with wasabi mashed potatoes. Good, but not as good as Mamma's.'
My Pa: 'Shepherd's hut pie. You know, we've got a shepherd's hut at work.'
Me: 'A shepherd's hut?'
All writeups have to start somewhere, don't they?
The nineteenth century image of the shepherd and his flock grazing on lush, sunkissed pasture beneath vivid blue skies dotted with cotton-wool clouds is wonderfully romantic, but hardly an accurate depiction of agrarian life, either now or then. In reality, it was a demanding, precarious, and isolated existence. Shepherds and their flocks were alone and exposed, half way up a mountain, or down a valley, or way over yonder. No 4x4 for easy access, no electric fence to protect the sheep, and no mobile phone in case of emergency. When the flock went out to pasture the shepherd went with it. And stayed with it.
Flocks that were used to fertilize chalkier upland had to be moved everyday. For flocks pastured closer to the farm, during the cold, dark months of the lambing season, a shepherd would be right there, on demand, should one of his flock need him.
A shepherd needed somewhere to shelter — his hut.
Shepherd's huts were wooden constructions, roughly 12 feet by six feet (which is 3.6m by 1.8m for anachronistic metric folk), with curved corrugated iron roofs, high windows, and a stable door. On wheels. Great, hulking cast iron wheels that would've elevated them about two feet (60cm) off of the ground. The huts were heated by cast iron stoves, and in addition to a bed, probably would've have had a small pen inside, for orphaned lambs; every nineteenth century convenience.
The ironwork would likely have come from the local forge, with some huts being built by agricultural engineering companies but others constructed on the farms themselves. According to one current manufacturer of shepherd's huts, the cast iron manufacturers' nameplates from original huts are now collectors' pieces.
Yes, you read that right: 'current manufacturer'. These sheds on wheels are still made today, but not exactly for shepherds anylonger. Apparently, they are quite popular as offices for people who work from home, or as teenagers' hangouts. But, they can be put to all manner of uses, from spare bedrooms to fishing huts. They are, however, not cheap. A reclaimed hut will cost approximately £8,000, whilst something built to specification could be as much as £15,000. Still, I'm yet to find somewhere to live in London, maybe I'll get myself a shepherd's hut and move it from park to park.
'Move along the hut, please!'
- My darling Pa
- The Shepherd's Hut Company: http://www.shepherd-hut.co.uk/history.htm
- Butterfield Ironwork: http://www.shepherdhuts.com/history_heritage.htm