History of the Shepherd's Huts
The shepherd's hut provided a mobile home from which the shepherd could follow his flock from pasture to pasture The earliest known reference to shepherd’s huts dates back to the 16th Century, with the description “ in some place the Shepheard hath his cabbin going up a wheele for to remove here and there at his pleasure”.
In areas very hilly like that of the Peak District, it was not always easily accessible for a shepherd's hut to be used and moved around. Where the farmland was very rugged, this is when a permanent building made of limestone was used, sometimes referred to as a lookers hut, the remains of which can be seen at the top of the Pinch bank on the walk down to Milldale.
Sheep Farming in the Peak District
The county of Derbyshire is somewhat famous for its sheep farming, even the football team are known as the Rams, and sheep can be seen all over the Peak District, having grazed the area for some 6000 years. It is believed that Neolithic farmers introduced sheep to the area around 3000 BC, with bones and teeth found in excavations of 2000-year-old Roman farmsand villages. Caves located along the River Dove, such as Dove Holes and Reynards Cave which can be reached from New Hanson Grange, are thought to have been used as shelters by Roman shepherds.
Sheep farming became more prominent in the 12th Century. Many abbeys and monasteries in the Peak District grew extremely wealthy as they established extensive sheep farms known as granges. Our neighbouring farm Hanson Grange is built on the former site of a grange, which once belonged to Burton Abbey, with us at New Hanson Grange placed as an outlying sheep station for Hanson Grange. The number of granges in the area including, Newton Grange, Boston Grange and Royston Grange highlight the importance of sheep farming at this time. From these granges wool was exported to the continent, with European demand growing so great that over half of England’s wealth came from wool and cloth trades.
The medieval pack horse bridge at Milldale, now known as Viators bridge after a character in the famous ‘The Complete Angler’ book by Izaak Walton, was part of an important pack horse route carrying cloth and other goods from the surrounding villages. The bridge will have looked different to today with low parapets allowing horses carrying panniers to cross with ease. The hamlet of Milldale has further links to sheep farming in the area, as farmers from many of the surrounding villages including Newton Grange would bring their sheep to be washed in the River Dove 10 days before shearing to remove grease and dirt from the fleeces. The sheepwash pool, last used in 1965 has been recently restored and can be seen near the information barn.
During the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII, the granges were often granted to a single owner who would continue managing the farm as a single large estate. Until this point, the farms were large open ridge and furrow fields with open common grazing land however, in 1500 the enclosure of these fields began. Improved farming practice and further enclosure in the 1700 and 1800’s, created the characteristic dry stone wall landscape we see today and allowed more intensive farming practices to be carried out.
Improvement of the roads and the opening of the railways during the industrial revolution allowed for easier movement of goods and meant that farmers no longer reliant on growing their own crop, leading to a decline in arable farming in favour of sheep farming. Today little arable farming takes place in the Peak District, with the area principally grazed by sheep, beef and dairy cattle with the grass cut to make silage and hay. At New Hanson Grange, we farm 250 Lleyn sheep, with lambing taking place through March and April.