The Venison Hut

Restoration of the Venison Hut

The Venison Hut, located in the South meadow of Halswell Park between the house and Robin Hood’s Hut on the crest of the hill, had all but disappeared completely by 2010. All that remained was a broken up flagstone and red brick floor and a pile of rotted eighteenth century timbers, some with paint fleck and old nails. Luckily these few remaining fragments were enough to piece back exactly the dimensions of the original building as well as its wooden structure. Enough remained that our on-site carpenter, Mr Mike Bridgwater who lives in Dormer House within the old Halswell estate, was able to precisely reproduce the building using traditional methods, materials and to the original specifications. Though the building does not appear on the eighteenth-century estate maps this seems likely to be an oversight due to its size and location under the large branches of some very early chestnut and oak trees. The building is due to be completed in the more clement weather of next spring, 2016, when its traditional weatherboarding is attached and the thatched roof is completed. The park may one day again see deer roaming through its fields, however the venison hut’s function as a larder to hang slaughtered deer is unlikely to see such a revival. The hut is in an ideal location as a viewing folly, commanding wonderful views over the Halswell estate and across the countryside out over the Bristol Channel and beyond to Wales. As such it will become a resting place hung with antlers for walkers or riders on their tours of the parkland.

Historic lore from King Alfred’s time in the ninth century has been attached to the old medieval Royal Park which stretched from North Petherton to the Quantock Hills. Though by the thirteenth century most of the Royal Park had been gifted away by successive post-Conquest kings, at Halswell memories of this survived well into the nineteenth with parts of the park ‘still’ being named The Royal Meadow, as one 20 acre field was titled in the 1597 survey of the Halswell estate. Those field boundaries were mostly removed as the eighteenth century parkland swallowed them up, but the importance of a deer park, and the only building associated with it, the Venison Hut, remains as important for local history today as ever. The hut will have appeared as an ideal marker to the historical and pastoral idyll that Sir Charles Kemeys-Tynte was creating when the great travel writer Arthur Young wrote of the park in 1768:

“What chiefly attracts the notice and attention of strangers are the decorated grounds. The riding which leads to the principal point of view crosses the park from the house, commanding a fine view of the rich vale of Bridgwater. It then runs by the side of a woody precipice and up through some new plantations, from a dark part of which you entre through a door into a temple dedicated to Robin Hood; upon which a most noble prospect breaks at once upon the beholder. The ground shelves from it in front and to the right gradually, but to the left in bolder slopes where the dips are beautifully grouped with woods, and the hills above them rise in waving enclosures. As we advance the character of the ground changes most happily. A break through the trees to the right lets in a view of the rotunda. Passing to the Ionic portico, which is excellently placed, the scenery in view is truly enchanting: the lawn is gently waved; the water seems to fall naturally through a falling vale; and a swelling hill crowned by the rotunda forms a complete picture. The whole scene is really elegant; every part is riant, and bears the stamp of pleasure.”

Deer hut

The Halswell Venison Hut, 2015, during re-construction by carpenter Mr. Mike Bridgwater.

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1980s, with the then ruinous Robin Hood’s Hut beyond.

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1960s, languishing amongst the quizzical cattle, it retains its thatch after decades of neglect but has lost its function as working and decorative part of an ancient deer park.

hut 1898

1890s, with the demolished Orangery beyond.

Mr Dorrington, Gamekeeper at Halswell Park by Henry S. Parkman (1814 - 1864)

Mr Dorrington, Gamekeeper at Halswell Park
by Henry S. Parkman (1814 – 1864)

Game Larders in the English Country House

Venison Huts, or Larders, were usually built of stone or brick, though a few were wooden, as at Audley End House in Essex, Sherborne Castle in Dorset and Halswell House in Somerset. Most were functional in appearance, while others – such as at Uppark in Sussex – were quite decorative. The following group of buildings were built for decoration as well as function. The Halswell Venison Hut, like the Halswell Gate Lodge in Goathurst Village, was thatched on top and had cobblestones outside, styled to evoke the rural pastoral idyll so fashionable in the eighteen and early nineteenth centuries.

The Game Larder, Studley Park

The Game Larder, Studley Park

Game Larder Great Barford House

The Game Larder, Great Barford House

two game larders at Sherborne Castel, Dorset

Octagonal and square game larders at Sherborne Castle, Dorset

Game-Larder-1

Combermere Abbey’s delightful gothic game larder

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A smaller, and noticeably more plain hexagonal game larder at Farnborough Hall in Warwickshire

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The curious octagonal game larder at Audley End House in Essex – made of wood (note the brick piers keeping it off the ground, to avoid rot and help keep out rodents).

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The delightful, near-fantasy octagonal game larder at
a now-demolished house at Bromham in Wiltshire.

Game_larder_Haddo_House._-_geograph.org_.uk_-_619040

The petite octagonal game larder at Haddo House in Aberdeenshire

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Another smaller octagonal game larder; this time at Tottenham House in Wiltshire

uppark

Above and below; the very pretty and ornate game larder (with a half-octagonal end) at Uppark in Sussex. Surprisingly the floor of the larder is not raised from the surrounding ground level

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At Dunham Massey is north east Cheshire, deer were slaughtered in the lower of the larder’s two storeys, and then hung to mature above

-RB

3 thoughts on “The Venison Hut

  1. It’s so wonderful that you are restoring the Venison Hut at Halswell. I had no knowledge of the existence of game larders before reading your article here, so thank you for that. I look forward to seeing the completed Venison Hut next year, whether in photographs or “real life”. I wonder now if Halswell has an icehouse.

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  2. Dear Simi, Thank you so much for your kind comments about the deer hut article! As to an ice house, please have a look at the Rotunda article, we will add more about ice-houses at a later stage.
    Roy

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    • Ah, yes, thank you, Roy. I have just spotted the cone icehouse under the Rotunda. Quite fascinating! I am so very pleased that Halswell is being so systematically and sensitively restored. This website is a fantastic resource for informing the interested public of both the progress of restoration and the history behind the various structures, giving a valuable insight into the life of the house.
      Many thanks,
      Simi

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