In the nineteenth century, farming customs on the light chalky soils of southern England were far different to modern day practices. Labour was cheap and plentiful and sprays and artificial fertilisers were unheard of.
In order to get any kind of production from these thin and often impoverished soils, fertiliser in the form of farmyard manure had to be applied. However, the physical problems and cost of hauling vast quantities of manure from the farmyard to the distant fields were too great.
To overcome these problems, farmers employed animals to do the work for them - sheep. The era of 'The Golden Hoof' had arrived.
The sheep that were used to perform the task of fertilising the uplands were very different from those you see on the hills and downs of southern England today. Almost every farm with downland or chalky soil would have had a flock of downland sheep - Hampshire Down, Dorset Down, Oxford Down, or South Down.
These sheep were not allowed to roam free but were kept tightly enclosed behind hurdles. Once the forage crop or grassland had been grazed, the hurdles and flock would be moved on to new pasture, leaving behind manure that would be ploughed in ready for a crop of wheat, barley or oats. Without this organic fertiliser, it would not have been possible to grow these crops in such light soils.
If you owned a downland farm in the 19th century, a well managed flock of sheep and a hard working shepherd were essential, so much so that your shepherd was the most important worker on your farm. As most downland villages were set in valleys and downland fields were the farthest away, the shepherd had to have somewhere to store his tools and medicines.
It was hard, physical work with flocks having to be moved daily and the shepherd also had to have somewhere to eat, rest and sleep, especially during the lambing season.
Thus, the Shepherd's Hut was borne.The shepherd's hut was a kitchen, dining room, bedroom, sitting room and storeroom all rolled into one. The designs vary but all were constructed to provide the shepherd with practical and durable accommodation. The old huts had a stove in one corner for warmth and cooking, and a window on each side so the shepherd could see the flock. A hinged stable door, which was always positioned away from the prevailing wind, enabled him to hear the flock, and strong axles with cast iron wheels were used to withstand the constant movement from field to field.