The Iconic Shepherd’s Hut, What Are They?

In the 1800s, a shepherd’s hut would have been a common and an unremarkable sight on the downlands on England. By the mid 1960s, the shepherds parked them up and walked away from them.

The abandoned shepherds huts that littered the countryside only 20 years ago have long gone. Not many survive. Shepherds’ huts have made the fascinating journey from portable rural ‘sheds on wheels’ to glamorous and uber-expensive outdoor accommodation – a far cry from the size and discomfort of the original huts.

Many rural historians question why these new ‘shepherd’s huts’ are labeled as such, as they are now the size of a railway carriage rather than a 12’x 6′ hut on cast iron wheels.

However, in the last few years, a thriving industry has developed, creating a range of shepherd’s huts for occasional use in the garden. An outside office for homeworkers, or as holiday lets for farm diversification schemes. The AirBnB website is full of them for weekend retreats – you are spoilt for choice.

Shepherds huts
A good example of a shepherd’s hut from the 1800s that is in need of restoration

From humble beginnings, this largely forgotten rural antiquity has now made a huge comeback, and you’ll need a deep pocket to buy one. Five-star in their luxury, the price tag is commonly five figures.


What is a Shepherd’s Hut

The answer to this depends upon who you ask. Most people nowadays think a shepherd’s hut is a form of charming holiday home, bijou, moveable and a step up from glamping.

Shepherds hut
The shepherd and his hut doing what it was supposed to do. Note the hazel hurdle between the wheels

Shepherd’s huts are big business in the holiday market as they offer the perfect fusion of historic rural tradition with 21st-century living plus, they can be placed in the most amazing locations where it wouldn’t commonly be possible to build a standard home and at a fraction of the price.

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A shepherd’s hut is usually on wheels, although there are now fixed foundation versions which still carry the same name. A wheeled shepherd’s hut looks something like a cross between a caravan and a railway carriage and is constructed of either timber or metal or a mixture of the two.

What is the Origin of the Shepherd’s Hut?

Historically, a shepherd’s hut was a mobile structure on four iron wheels that could be moved around the field so that the shepherd could stay with his flock during lambing season.

Shepherds hut
Most traditional shepherd’s huts were built by small local agricultural engineering businesses. An iron plate with a company’s name was fixed above the door. This very original shepherd’s hut has the name plate of Farris of the Coombe Bissett Steam Plough Works and John Farris of Shaftesbury, Dorset.

He was also on hand to lamb the ewes and protect the flock from predators like foxes and poachers. The shepherd hut offered shelter, warmth, and a base to care for poor or orphaned lambs.

Unlike their rather swish modern counterparts, which are the height of luxury, a shepherd’s hut was in sense, a wooden shed on wheels.

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They were a temporary, seasonal mobile shelter, so the shepherd was available around the clock – luxurious they most certainly were not! Many were only an average of twelve feet by six feet to fit through a standard field gate. In contrast, the modern equivalent is significantly larger, lending more to caravan-style accommodation.

Shepherds huts
A fine example of the interior of a shepherd’s hut. Nothing fancy, just the basic, bunk, stove, bench and the tools of the trade. A far cry from ‘Shepherd’s huts’ today that look more like railway wagons then something from our rural past.


Around since the 16th century, shepherd’s huts, or wagons, as they are sometimes referred to, were a common feature of English and French agriculture and a reflection of the importance of wool to both economies.

One of the earliest references to shepherd’s huts is in a text from 1596 called ‘Government of Cattel’ by Leonard Mascal. This work describes the shepherd’s hut as a “cabbin going upon a wheel for to remove here and there at his pleasure”.  

Shepherds hut
Most people think shepherd’s huts were painted in nice pretty colours. The truth is there were often coated in bitumen, cheap and functional.

Shepherd’s huts were at the height of their popularity during the 18th century, but as farming practices changed and became more mechanised, the need for the shepherd to remain outside with his flock began to change.

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They persisted in remote areas of the north of England like Cumbria, where the terrain and late arrival of electricity to the farm meant they still served a useful function.

Wood or Tin

Whilst an increasing number of shepherd’s huts are made of wood, to be completely authentic, tin is a much more traditional look. Usually, the original huts were constructed from a wooden frame with corrugated tin covering the outside and forming the roof.

shepherds hut
This particular shepherd’s hut spent its life on the Kingston Lacy Estate, Wimborne, Dorset. In its day, the estate owned 10,000 acres reaching down to the Purbeck coast.

The original huts had smaller wheels on the front to aid manoeuvrability, often a turntable chassis and a drawbar or towbar to physically drag the hut to a different location.

A rolling chassis is the standard type on a modern shepherd’s hut designed to be stationary.

When it does need to be moved, the front two wheels are raised off the ground with a trolley jack, and then the bar is fixed to a ball and towing hitch arrangement just like a livestock trailer or caravan.

shepherds hut
The same hut as above recovered from Walnut Farm, Cowgrove Rd, Pamphill, Wimborne in the early 1990s and restored. Owned by the farmer Mr Galpin since the war, he used it as pigeon loft.

Originally Horse Drawn

A turntable chassis is essential for huts that need to be fully mobile. This sits below the standard frame and allows both front wheels to be manoeuvred in the direction of travel with steering akin to an average car.

The new huts are usually quite heavy, so they must be pulled by a 4×4 or equivalent vehicle.

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The curved design of the corrugated iron roof of the original huts was specifically crafted to allow the rainwater to run off.

Sometimes, the roof would be made from felt and insulated with lambswool to help keep the interior warm for the shepherd and any lambs who were not thriving or orphaned, which would be taken into the hut with him.

Wheels were cast iron and originally the hut came with shafts as they were horse drawn. You will find many original huts with iron drawbars as they were towed with tractors.

What was Inside an Original Shepherd’s Hut?

The interior of a shepherd’s hut from the 19th or early 20th century would be almost unrecognisable to today’s discerning holidaymaker, rather like a modern 21st-century shepherd’s hut would be entirely unidentifiable from its original incarnation.

Shepherds hut
Another good example of how basic and functional the huts were. Hanging up on the back wall is a great piece of history and a very important tool for the shepherd – a horn lantern. Glass was expensive and only for the wealthy so the panes were made from horn.

There would be a bed down one side or at the rear with a straw mattress, a fold-out table and a stove for cooking and warmth.

The stove usually sat on a metal plate to protect the wooden floor from accidentally catching fire, while most huts had a window on either side to afford the best visibility of the flock.

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Moreover, the hut contained a storage box with many useful tools and items such as the trusted knife to trim the sheep’s feet, sheers, drenching horns, a horn lantern, and medicines.

Depending on the available space, there would also be one or more cages or crates for sick or orphan lambs.

horn lantern
A horn lantern from the 1700s. RuralHistoria Collection
Drenching horns
Drenching horns used to administer oral medicine. It was placed in the horn and tipped into the mouth of the sheep. RuralHistoria Collection

Mass production appeared during the Victorian era, and a catalogue from Boulton and Paul in 1894 shows a lambing hut, a keeper’s shed, and a game larder all designed on similar lines.

The wheeled huts available from this supplier illustrate versions in timber and corrugated iron cladding which were sold dismantled, and ready for the purchaser to assemble.


The Modern Version

The modern shepherd’s hut is like a mini timber-framed house on wheels, and the interior is almost unrecognisable from the original hut or shed.

Shepherd’s huts are lodged very firmly within the ‘tiny homes’ category that is growing exponentially in popularity.

shepherds hut
Looks more like a railway carriage

To be defined as a shepherd’s hut, the structure should be rectangular cuboid in shape with a corrugated metal roof and set up off the ground on wheels.

Often, modern shepherd’s huts have a decked area or veranda outside, similar to seaside mobile homes or chalets.

shepherds hut
Utterly different from an original shepherd’s hut.

Fully insulated, the contemporary shepherd’s hut will have a toilet and an en-suite bathroom. There is commonly a mini kitchen and a wood-burning stove, so these huts are larger than their rustic predecessors.

Barn Finds

It is still possible to find an original shepherd’s hut rotting away in an old barn like other vintage farm machinery and old cars, but almost all you see for sale will be replicas.

Shepherds hut
This beauty as a residential door. Originally it would have had a stable door.

There is a thriving market in second-hand shepherd’s huts, as they have been around long enough to create used stock. These are significantly cheaper than buying a brand new one but need a full restoration.

A Popularity without Limit

Shepherd’s huts are becoming increasingly popular, and there are several reasons for this. More so than many other forms of rural accommodation, shepherd’s huts really do look the part.

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In a traditional style loitering somewhere between an old-fashioned railway carriage left over from the demise of the rural branch lines and a gypsy caravan, shepherd’s huts have a distinct and charming appearance.

With a rustic ambiance which looks far more at home in the English countryside than a pod or a yurt.

This can sometimes be essential to get them over the line regarding planning consent.

shepherds crook
A Shepherd’s crook – an essential tool for all shepherds that would have been made by the local blacksmith. RuralHistoria Collection

Shepherd’s huts are very popular as holiday lets for a farm looking to diversify and wanting to do something more solid and lucrative than simple camping or glamping.

The great thing about the huts is that they are portable, so they can be moved around to take advantage of different views and locations, to get out of the way of vital farm work and for winter storage and renovation.


Shepherds hut
Shepherd’s huts were a common sight on the downlands of southern Britain

Shepherd’s huts are deliberately designed to be small, but they are cosy and can be incredibly luxurious inside with features like underfloor heating, and their compact size is often supplemented with other external features like a hot tub or a fire pit.

Most companies that make them offer different sizes and finished interiors, so they are also an incredibly versatile form of accommodation whether they are being used in a private capacity or as commercial holiday lets.

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The advent of Covid put the squeeze on many families’ living accommodation with the need for more space to work at home.

Some shepherd’s huts are offered as garden offices, and most companies that make them will have a range of interiors that can be used as a social or workspace or as a garden retreat.

You don’t have to spend a fortune either, as companies now offer flatpack huts for self-assembly.

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