At the Yorkshire Museum of Farming, there are many things I love, but one of the best is the Shepherd’s Hut.
This past month there’s been lambing (there are some beautiful Badger-Faced lambs at the museum right now, as well as two Zwartbles (Betty and Donna), Zwartble lambs, some pretty Shetlands and our old friend, Billy the Shetland mule.
Lambing was the time of year the Shepherd’s Hut would have been in use, so this seemed as good a time as any to take a closer look at my favourite corner of the Yorkshire Museum of Farming.
The Badger-Faced sheep come from prize-winning stock. I will be spinning a bit of their fleece, soon – it’s one of the few breeds I haven’t spun, in over 30 years’ hand-spinning – so look out for that in a future post!
The hut at the Museum was built by the Quarton family, at Kexby on the banks of the River Derwent. My dad’s ancestors farmed elsewhere on the banks of the Derwent; so this exhibit maybe resonates with me.
This hut was mounted on wheels taken from a reaper.
Shepherds stayed in these huts in Spring, so they were constantly on hand for lambing. The huts contained the bare essentials for living – usually a bed and a stove.
The wheels would be mounted on (often recycled) wheels, so as the sheep grazed on different fields, the shepherds could go with them. A quick Google shows there is a resurgence of interest in the humble shepherds’ hut – and a number of companies are manufacturing reproductions and old huts being rescued.
Rooves were often made from corrugated iron. There seemed to be no shortage of this lying about in the past: I vividly remember various weird lean-tos and structures down our orchard – some of which may well have housed poultry. I remember my dad saying it was all lying about after the War. Possibly some of our impromptu hen houses were made from bits of recycled Anderson shelter? I have no idea. As one structure fell out of use, the materials would often be plundered to make another.
Unlike the similarly romantic structures, romany vardoes (caravans), shepherds’ huts appear to have been more utilitarian in appearance. The one at the museum is unpainted, but the wood may have been treated on the exterior, as it looks to be in fairly good condition on the inside.
A search through the Farming Museum’s archives hasn’t yet yielded a photo of a shepherd’s hut in situ, but we did find an image of a “van” which looked structurally identical.
For Terry Pratchett fans, the shepherd’s hut has become a poignant symbol of the place from which we see Discworld, for the very last time:
… There were three steps up to its wooden door, a horse-shoe and a tuft of sheep’s wool – the sign of a shepherd – already nailed in place there, and the roof arched over a small living space into which she had built a bed, a little cupboard, a few shelves and a space of the wash basin….
[The Shepherd’s Crown, Terry Pratchett, 330]
I’d live in it tomorrow. If they’d let me.