Shepherds' huts were a feature of the rural landscape throughout the 18th 19th and much of the 20th century: movable huts for shepherds to live in whilst they tended sheep on the high pasture in the summertime. Cattle would be used to move the hut from field to field, moor to moor as the flock shifted to get the most of the upland grass. For the shepherds it was a hard and isolated life - albeit with the pleasures of the landscape and sunshine. They literally lived off the land - trapping small animals and gathering wood for cooking and heating - how much washing went on is uncertain!
In the second half of the last century farms became more mechanised, tractors and Land Rovers could get access like never before. Shepherds no longer needed to stay with the flock over the summer. The huts became used as stores, chicken shacks, or simply abandoned in the landscape to rot away. They were objects that had lived past their usefulness - they were heading for dereliction and extinction. As industry grew and farms mechanised, the cities swelled and understanding of rural life became a romanticised notion of old times.
The”rural idyll” has been a strong element of the national psyche for a long time, and it was perhaps this that rescued the shepherd's hut. Decades after they lost their functional purpose, the romance and beauty of the form was gradually rediscovered - but this time for a different type of usefulness, an extra room in the garden, for business, for pleasure - enjoyment of the countryside with sense of rural heritage.
The shepherds' huts of today are very different to their working predecessors. Gone are the thrown-together shacks on wheels, often lived in throughout the year, despite being poorly insulated against the freezing temperatures and cold draughts of winter. The emphasis now is on quality, comfort and presentation. Some of the original huts survived long enough to be renovated, but most perished. There is now a growing market in new huts. They strongly reference their agricultural history, but are used as personal and private spaces by those with land, gardens and the time to enjoy them. Uses that shepherds' huts are now being put to is ever-growing: studios, offices, therapy rooms, garden rooms,extra bedrooms, fishing huts, food and coffee stalls, retreats, glamping, painting/writing studios etc etc.
Two key notions in architecture are ”form follows function”, and ”less is more”, both these concepts are at play in the design of shepherds' huts. They evolved from the need to have low-cost shelter for shepherds as they moved the sheep around in the summer.
What is the most simplified form? A box on wheels with a bed and fire inside.
What was the cheapest sheet material the new industrialised society was producing? Corrugated iron.
How do you make a hut out of a corrugated iron? Make a wooden frame then pin the corrugated to the frame.
Traditional house roofs relied on the A-frame. To make this out of corrugated iron, four elements would have to be created and constructed: the A frame itself; the face of one slope; the face of the second, then a cap over the join in the middle. Too many stages and too expensive - why not just bend one sheet of corrugated over the top and support it with a bent metal member if necessary?
A similar process happened with the wheels: out went the labour intensive wooden cart wheels (developed over hundreds of years to take advantage of the different strengths of elm, ash and oak); in came cast iron, quickly and cheaply made in the new foundries.
So the form was complete, born of necessity and economics. A form that many now see as beautiful and iconic was literally an unintentional bonus. But as we do seem to like them, history or no history- why not enjoy them - and redesign them for the modern world?
Shepherds' huts redesigned
When designer and cabinet maker Jack Roots decided to try his hand at shepherds' huts he was clear about priorities - quality in design, in materials and in construction.
Jack qualified as a joiner, took a degree in design then apprenticed as a cabinet maker. His view is simple "quality will always shine through and be noticed".
The shepherd's hut is a traditional form, but its use has changed. The form takes from the past, but need not be shackled by it. A traditional hut would have few windows, no insulation, and certainly no under-floor heating! Jack's vision is for a beautiful space, flooded with natural light, that meets modern demands
- yes to clean lines and minimal clutter!
- yes to underfloor heating and wifi!
-yes to electricity and cool lighting!
- yes to comfort and enjoyment!
Not a traditional corrugated iron walled hut - why not? Aesthetics really: yes it would be less expensive to produce, but does it have the touch, feel and scent of cedar?
Why vertical board and baton not horizontal slats? Aesthetics again: playing to the vertical window lines- but also practical - the rain runs down and off far more quickly, greatly improving longevity.
Lighting is key to any space but need not intrude. Jack has introduced cornice level lighting diffusing into the curve of the ceiling.
Under-floor heating not a wood burning stove? For environmental, space and safety reasons Jack prefers to fit underfloor heating than a wood burning stove...
Here's the debate. In keeping with the historical heritage of shepherds huts, wood burning stoves are often put in them - they can look fantastic, but there are two problems:
1) Wood burning stoves are now seen as major contributors to global warming as they release damaging small particulates, and burning wet wood is particularly damaging.
2) The height that the flue/chimney would need to be to work correctly is far higher than looks 'cool', and a shortened flue is likely to blow back and fill the hut with fumes - regularly smoking out you and your lungs! not good! Electric underfloor heating is far safer and saves on space. Jack is more than happy to replace the lost focal point with a stunning piece of handmade furniture. If you really still want a wood burning stove, one can be fitted separately.
Jack's solution to no wood burning stove - beautiful handmade furniture and cosy underfloor heating
Jack has used all his skill and experience to design every aspect of the hut from overall visual balance to fine detailing, He hopes you will notice and enjoy all he has created.