September 13 2011
Since 2000, Richard Lee has been restoring and building bespoke shepherds’ huts for the likes of the National Trust and River Cottage. He can reel off a list of eminently good reasons for ownership: a home office, an extra bedroom, a summerhouse, an artist’s studio – all without the need for planning consent. On a wheeled base, the hut itself tall enough for one to stand up in, but usually no larger inside than the traditional 6ft x 12ft.
But the appeal of the shepherd’s hut runs deeper than any practical justification. Maybe it’s the image of romance it conjures – dreams of a nomadic lifestyle far from most people’s urban realities. Originally used during the 19th century to move flocks around the downlands of southern England, the shepherd’s hut was the forerunner to today’s RV, fitted with bed, kitchen and a small woodburning stove for cooking and warmth.
Lee’s decision to use his training and experience in furniture making to build and restore these fine traditional huts came when he fell in love with a decrepit example in a field near his home in Waterston Springs, near Dorchester. He now runs his business from his Dorset workshop. Plankbridge employs five highly skilled locals who all share a deep respect for quality and heritage. Each new hut they make is carefully based, in terms of proportion, structure and detailing, on the Victorian originals.
“I work with my brother for the chassis and ironwork and a Devon forge for the woodburners. That’s how it would have been done in the past and that’s the way we like to do it here,” says Lee.
This adherence to authenticity is one key tenet of his approach, but each of Lee’s huts is also made fully bespoke, with, say solid-oak floors. “I like to work closely with customers and get to know them because buying a shepherd’s hut can be very personal. Some customers have particular requirements. We’re working on a hut with a sauna at the moment.” Others may want double-glazing, insulation and electrics – modern comforts that any 19th-century shepherd would have been glad of.
From about £10,000.