George Clarke’s amazing spaces

A culmination of many months works on my restoration of a 1880,s J Farris shepherds hut was revealed on channel 4 last night. When I was approached initially to undertake this restoration, little did I realise what an interesting project it would turn out to be. Rollin (the owner) and I went to great lengths to ensure the shepherds hut was restored as accurately as possible with all my tools of the period and to ensure this fine example would be restored accurately for posterity. As the project evolved we thought wouldn’t it be nice to see the old hut towed down the road with a horse as it would have been in 1880. I was very fortunate to have the support of my good friends Tony Munt & Sue Wiles who are known internationally for their carriage driving skills, without which this would not have been possible. I am also indebted to the team at plum pictures for their patience and professionalism in recording and editing the proceedings.

And of course George Clarke who had a genuine enthusiasm for the project and presented it all exceptionally well.

Giving back something to the community

Giving Something BackI was privileged to be asked to get involved with a project called (Hut Living Here and There), basically it is a project to teach youngsters about their rural environment. Nancy Clements from Burr Projects is the driving force behind the project, and rang me to ask if I had a shepherd’s hut I would be prepared to take on a tour of four schools around west Dorset, beginning with an opening appearance at the launch at Bridport arts centre.

As I am always stacked out with things to do I actually didn’t have one at the time, but decided it was such a worthwhile project with a wide range of educational benefit to the community, I must make an effort to make one in time. I only had a few short weeks to fulfil this task, but a few late evenings later I was all set to go.

Bridport arts centre was the venue for the start of the exhibition and early Sunday morning I dutifully craned off the hut onto the foyer in readiness for the launch. The exhibition in the art centre was a great success, there were examples of art from Fran Crowe a renowned artist, Jenny Hill photographer who had been in attendance at the forge taking pictures of me in action , had a fine display of her work. Artists from around Dorset and fellow hut enthusiasts were there , as were the ukulele group giving us all a tune. I was introduced to a range of interesting people from all walks of life and came away thinking what a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The following week was a bit hectic craning the hut in and out of one school and then another, but from the feedback I had the children enjoyed the experience. As indeed many local residence that approached me to have a chat, thought it was a good thing too.

As part of the oral history side of the project , various participants myself included were recorded for posterity and if you follow the link to Bridport museum, you can have a listen to it all.
This is just a snippet and an insight into my part in the project, there were many professional and ordinary people involved, too many to mention them all here. But it was a privilege to work with them, and what a worthwhile project to get involved in.
Well done Nancy.

The Environment

On my web site you will have learned about how I cut and prepare timber using a 1890′ saw Steam engine that will be used to power my saw millbench, I have for a long time been searching for a steam engine of the period to run it, particularly with one that can use the off cuts of wood to fire the boiler. The point of all this is so I can reduce my carbon footprint, timber being carbon neutral .

I have recently acquired a english 1912 portable steam engine that was used in a saw mill in France, and has undergone boiler tests recently to meet with regulations. Now she is all up together, she should be running the bench by the end of the month.

I hope to cut the majority of timber for my shepherds huts on her, coupled with the fact I source my timber as locally as possible this really has has got to be a good for the environment particularly as we are all trying to reduce our emissions. Once installed I hope to harvest the rain water off the barn for the boiler, I will put some pictures on the web site once it is all set up.In the meantime you can view a small selection of images here 

I have made progress with the steam engine and I am now cutting out timber for the shepherds hut’s with her . I have used a late 1950’s rack saw bench to try her out on ,it is a wonderful set up , using up all the off cuts of timber in the fire box, and to think that it is carbon neutral makes me very happy .

As an added bonus I have discovered you can do really nice jacket potatoes in the fire box, pop them in for about an hour and a half, perfect.

It takes about two hours to gently raise enough steam to start cutting, but by the time I have oiled all the bearings on the engine and sharpened the teeth on the saw, it is all ready to use.

Now I have familiarized my self with the running of the steam engine, I have set about getting her coupled up with my old wooden Stenna 1890’s rack saw bench that used to be run by a Burrell steam engine years ago.

Shitterton in the news again.

Having decided to have a couple of days away with the family for our annual break in Devon, I made the mistake of picking up my mobile one evening at dinner only to be asked by a journalist ( what is my reaction to the news about Shitterton).  I carefully enquired as to the nature if this breaking news, to discover by all accounts Shitterton has been voted the most embarrassing place in England to live. Delighted by this news I felt a considered response was required and stated amongst other things that Shitterton is a very nice place to live and if it brings more visitors to Shitterton that would be a good thing.

Probably not the most inspiring thing to say with the worlds media at one’s fingertips, but best to err on the safe side I thought. Having a look at the news that evening I was amazed by the interest and it made me smile as on the BBC news home page next to some Olympic news it said (Quote of the day by Eddie Butterfield local blacksmith).

Studying the tabloids the following day there were some very nice pictures of me and My dog taken a while ago at the Shitterton sign by Phill lomans a professional photographer (see image below). I am amazed how this news goes international in a second and actually I was heartened by the good humoured way it was reported across the country.

The Sunday Times Feature

I was recently mentioned in an article in the Sunday Times Home supplement. This is what they had to say…

While the majority of huts are built from scratch, original examples are increasingly being rediscovered an restored. Rebecca Hill, 42, who runs a farm near Blandford in Dorset. acquired two picturesquely decaying ones four years ago: ” One was in quite good condition and was about 100 years old. the other , apart from the original wheels needed a complete rebuild.” She and her husband, James, 42, who owns a fencing company, have positioned their restored huts in a field with stunning views of the Purbeck Hills, and, along with their daughter, Flora, 6, and son JJ, 5, use them as a retreat from the demands of running their businesses.

“We enjoy having somewhere to get away from the hubbub of the mobile phones and have some quality family time” Hill says. “There’s a little range inside, big enough for a kettle or a saucepan. There’s a bench along the back and I’ve put a gate-leg table in there. There’s nothing like a fried breakfast in a shepherds hut.”

The Hills century-old example is a gem of traditional agricultural engineering, originally constructed by George Farris in Coombe Bissett, near Shaftesbury. It was nursed back into life by Eddie Butterfield, a Dorset blacksmith who is receiving an increasing number of calls to resuscitate crumbling cabins. He has stripped back and renovated so many old huts, he can now identify several local foundries’ work at a hundred paces., among them Farris (“look for wood axles and round spoke wheels”) and Lott & Walne of Dorchester (“plain cast-iron wheels, a wood chassis, but wrought-iron axles, good for resisting corrosion”). Butterfield remakes iron components and replaces worn out woodwork with new, seasoned timber, using tools from the 1800’s handed down from his great-grandfather Thomas Butterfield, who was a wagon builder.

* From spring 2011, Rebecca Hill’s shepherd’s huts will be available fro B&B, call 07974 425547 for details