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13 November 2014
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Shepherds' huts

In Thomas Hardy's novel Far From the Madding Crowd, one of the crucial first scenes takes place in the farmer Gabriel Oak's shepherd's hut. With their barrel roofs, often with a small chimney sticking out, such huts were once a common sight.

Finn's Country

Hardy describes Oak's hut as a small Noah's Ark fitted with little wheels so that it could be dragged into fields at lambing time when the shepherd had to be near his flock day and night.

Sometime last century the art of building them died out - but now it's being revived by a handful of small businesses.

One of those businesses is Plankridge and it's based in a beautiful nature reserve in the hamlet of Druce near Puddletown in Dorset - right beside the fields and farms that were the setting for Far From the Madding Crowd.

Plankridge was set up by the couple Richard Lee and Jane Dennison.

Jane Dennison and Richard Lee

Jane Dennison and Richard Lee

For fifteen years Richard was a freelance furniture maker. Jane grew up on a dairy farm near Puddletown and met Richard while she was doing a course in wildlife and conservation at Kingston Maurward.

They moved onto the site of an old watercress farm ten years ago and set up a workshop.
Richard was getting bored of making kitchens and noticed an old shepherd's hut in a field nearby.

Shepherd's huts

Shepherd's huts

When he saw it being towed away, something clicked and he and Jane seized an opportunity.
They began by restoring an old hut which sold easily.

They then decided there may be a market for new-made shepherd's huts, based on traditional designs but with
a modern twist.

The new huts are made with corrugated iron, local timber and insulated with wool from Herdwick sheep. They may look traditional but at a sale price of just under ten thousand pounds, they're not being bought by shepherds.

Interior of a traditional shepherd's hut

Interior of a finished hut

Some are fitted with internet access and underfloor heating and are used as garden offices.
Others become children's play rooms or have been bought by bed and breakfast enterprises to provide extra bedrooms in idyllic surroundings.

Last year Richard and Jane built and sold about one a month. This year, despite the recession, orders have been coming in fast and the couple have taken on a full time employee and an apprentice with the aim of stepping production up to three huts a month.

Roger Finn, August 2009

last updated: 13/08/2009 at 18:47
created: 06/08/2009

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