Meet the Team – Jane, Plankbridge co-founder

As co-founder of Plankbridge, Jane Dennison knows a thing or two about shepherd’s huts. In fact, her fascination with these beautiful handcrafted structures can be traced back to her childhood and a love of times gone by…      

Have you always had a strong affinity towards shepherd’s huts? 

Since I was very young, I have always been fascinated by old-fashioned things. The Dorset branch of my mother’s family used to be involved in the Great Dorset Steam Fair back in its early days at Stourpaine Bushes and there I revelled in the mix of cart horses, original local hay wagons, traction engines, living vans and the steam-powered fairground. I loved back then, and still do, the line-ups of vintage caravans and original shepherd’s huts. Their doors would be open so you could peep inside and see the untouched or gently preserved, restored interiors and often realise that the owners were staying there during the event, boiling an old kettle on the stove and heating up their stew, sheltering from the often-relentless traditional Steam Fair rain and deep mud. My dad would usually be captivated by the tiny tin hand-made toy steam-powered boats and would end up going home to the farm with one in his pocket; we still have one or two of these. Nostalgia for bygone eras that I still really enjoy.

Living Van seen at the Great Dorset steam Fair

There were also some old shepherd’s huts in a wood near my aunt and uncle’s farm and occasionally we would drive a different way home from visiting them and I would be intrigued as to what the huts were. Many years later in the early days of Plankbridge we were asked to restore one of these. We had to get a fourth wheel cast at a local foundry as one had been lost and I insisted that it was just the design we needed for all our new hut wheels and that is how Plankbridge has the flower wheel. 

An old Victorian shepherd’s hut that Jane and Richard rescued and restored

What do you think is the appeal of the shepherd’s hut?

It’s a small tranquil space that you can make your own and get some peace, watch the clouds, the birds and the wind on the water, read a good book or play the fiddle without disturbance from, or to, anyone else!

Plankbridge is very much a family business with your daughter Hannah in the role of Social Media Manager and Marketing Co-ordinator. How important is that to you? 

So very special to have her still involved and playing such an important role in this world where top-notch, up-to the-minute photos and content are vital for our business. She knows it better than most as she has been there right from the start of Plankbridge back at the beginning of this Millennium. She would be asleep upstairs while I was out in the barn painting the window frames and walls of the huts until the early hours. If she was ill off school, she would be disturbed by the awful racket from the machine workshop below her bedroom during the working day. Things are a lot more peaceful at home now, just three old dogs snoring under the table these days, as the huts are built a couple of miles up the road in a much larger barn. In the holidays and after school she would often bake cakes for the team and much of her early artwork was experimenting getting the perspectives right on her drawings of huts. She really does know our huts inside out so of course this shines through in her writing, her posts and when welcoming people to our stand at the annual Chelsea Flower Show.

Hannah watching Richard build one of the very first Plankbridge shepherd’s huts
Hannah and childhood dog Sedge were always keen to explore the huts that were being built at home
Hannah is now the Social Media Manager and Marketing Coordinator for Plankbridge

What is it do you think that sets Plankbridge apart from other hut makers? 

The total all-round love and knowledge of the original historic Victorian huts. We restored so many of these back in the early days of Plankbridge. We were determined to treat these old gems in the manner they deserved and in doing so learnt a great deal from the hutmakers of the past and this has been passed forward to our 21st-century team. Next year Plankbridge will have its Silver Jubilee – 25 years of making beautiful handcrafted huts. That’s a lot of huts and a lot of experience.

Jane working on one of the very first shepherd’s hut restorations

Do you have a favourite hut? 

To me, small is beautiful, so the Gardener’s Hut at Hampton Court Palace is a special one – and the fun we had working on that miniature museum hut design and on delivery day. Also, the Writer’s Hut which was at Chelsea 2012 with the associated memories of that incredible week (Silver medal, seeing as you ask!). My mum, Rose, was a keen plantswoman and always went to Chelsea with her best friend Clare, so she was so very happy to visit us there and have a little look at what went on behind the scenes at the best flower show in the world. I used that hut as my office for a few years after, so I know it very well.

The old hut we restored for Chawton House in Hampshire has to be up there too, as do quite a few of those we restored, showing us how things used to be made. The hut under the tree at Tincleton in Dorset and the little hut with the old shepherd’s writing inside – for example, ‘Cold enough to kill the devil’, and the date, followed by ‘New boots’.

What advice would you give to somebody who is looking to invest in a Plankbridge hut but isn’t sure where to start? 

Get in touch, come and see the talented Plankbridge team at work. We are so pleased to have such talented craftspeople building such exceptional huts and singing while they do so! Our hearts are truly in it as we have been there since the start.  Ours are heirloom-quality huts that will last many, many years.

Richard and Jane in the Plankbridge workshop

Do you have a customer story that sticks in your memory? 

The one that moved me to tears is the hut known as The Caravan which is used as a free drop-in counselling space, run by the Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy Education, in the garden of St James’s Church in Piccadilly. Much time and effort went into getting the design of this very special hut just right for the clients and counsellors over many months. It was a great day when Richard and I went to the inauguration ceremony and the stories we heard from those that had been helped and the trainee counsellors and psychotherapists who helped them in the previous actual old caravan were so real and intense – I ended up in tears and hugged many people as I left. We’ll pop by the garden to see the hut whenever we’re in that part of London and it really is moving to think that the work of our great team is helping people to find comfort and hope in a Plankbridge hut and will do so for many more years to come.

The Counselling Hut in Piccadilly
Artist's Studio

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