The great shepherd’s hut renaissance

Dave and Julie Morris who have spent 10 years photographing shepherd huts, here pictured at the Weald and Downland Museum''Picture by Louise Adams C131501-1 Chi Shepherd Huts SUS-140704-072721003
Dave and Julie Morris who have spent 10 years photographing shepherd huts, here pictured at the Weald and Downland Museum''Picture by Louise Adams C131501-1 Chi Shepherd Huts SUS-140704-072721003

A new event at Singleton’s Weald and Downland Museum this weekend will celebrate the renaissance of the once-humble shepherd’s hut.

Shepherd’s huts have become enormously popular as must-have accessories in recent years, and this weekend’s event will mark their resurgence, a revival from the days when they were simply dwindling away and disappearing from the rural landscape.

All aspects of the shepherd’s craft will be represented together with the museum’s collection of shepherd’s huts and other living vans plus manufacturers of new vans from across the south of England.

One of the organisers is David Morris.

“It’s a slightly toe-in-the-water idea that we had,” David explained. “I nudged the idea to see if it would work.

“Shepherd’s huts are generating a lot of modern appeal at the moment. For some reason they have suddenly made a comeback. The humble shepherd’s hut which used to be used at lambing and various other times of the year had been dwindling away. But now you see them for glamping, glamorous camping and things like that.

“Some of them are really done up to the nines with every mod con you can think of. Some are done up as alternative bed and breakfast places, artist’s studios and even as jacuzzis. Basically if you can come up with an idea that will fit inside it, people will do it.”

David added: “I had a couple of shepherd’s huts ten years or so ago before they became so popular. My background is in restoration engineering in aircraft but I grew up in the heart of rural Somerset. I knew about shepherd’s huts and had met people that had used them.

“When they became so popular, I heard people talking about them and claiming various things, and I was thinking that was not right. Everything that had a curved tin roof and wheels was being claimed as a shepherd’s hut, but that was not correct. My wife said ‘Why don’t you write a book about it?’ and fellow curators were saying the same. Maybe they were just saying that to shut me up!

“But I thought more and more about it and so I wrote a book which came out in November with Amberley publishing. We wanted it in time for Christmas but we always intended to give it another launch in the spring time, and that’s what we are doing at the Museum.”

David admits he doesn’t know why shepherd’s huts became so popular: “I don’t know what flipped the coin. They started turning up in lifestyle and gardening magazines, not necessarily glamorously restored, but people started to take an interest. And then suddenly it was the accessory that everyone was thinking that they must have. The snowball just rolled. There are now 15 to 20 manufacturers making new shepherd’s huts to just about any specification that anyone could want.”

Part of the attraction is that they can give some people an additional room. The fact that they are on wheels means that it is possible sometimes to get around planning permission, David said.

The Weald and Downland Museum seemed the perfect place to celebrate their resurgence: “The museum has got quite a collection. Of all the open-air museums and rural museums that I know, the Weald and Downland Museum has probably got the largest on-site collection of shepherd’s huts.”

David, who lives in Somerset, is hoping that success this weekend will lead to future shepherd’s hut events at the Museum.

Shepherding and Shepherd’s Huts is at the Weald and Downland Museum on Saturday and Sunday, April 12 and 13 from 11am-4pm. Museum open as usual 10.30am-6pm.