Stride up over the ridge at Landport Bottom, under a sky trilling with larks, and you see them. There, under the downward sweep of the sheep field they nestle in gardens on the fringes of the town. Pastel-painted, green-roofed, plain timber or tumbledown, they are unobtrusive outposts of industry, cabins of contemplation, little huts of happiness. The Sheds of the Nev.
Whether it’s for the scent of sun-warmed shiplap, the furtive creak of roofing felt as it stretches to greet the Spring, or the quiet crunch of last year’s desiccated insect life underfoot, a shed is a special place, a sanctuary, a place to create, to build, to dream. A shed is a fortress for the soul.
“I don’t really have rules in my shed,” says Jonathan Smith, who paints in his. “Cups of tea are permissible, and gallery curators are allowed in. But it’s definitely not a party shed, it’s a working space. It’s somewhere I can go to travel to the places I’m working on.” Jonathan is currently transported to the Hebrides and the shed is full of blue-violet seas and granite-grey island skies. The canvases themselves are soon to be transported to the Kellie Miller Gallery in Brighton.
A few doors along, saxophonist Lisa Guile says, “I don’t mind about the dead woodlice and the general scuzziness and oh, excuse the nail-bar, that was for a children’s party a while ago. The shed is definitely not a pretty space, it’s just somewhere I can come and get on with things. I can get some practice done up here in the evenings without distraction.” What about the cup of tea question? “Being up here means I’m concentrating so I have to think twice. Shall I have a cup of tea? No. Because I’d have to go back through the garden and inside the house. So it makes me keep going.”
The appeal of putting some fresh air between oneself and one’s nearest and dearest – not to mention a few feet of lawn, shrubs, or raised beds – cannot be overestimated.
“Every woman should have a shed,” says herbalist and storyteller Kym Murden, channelling Virginia Woolf, whose room-of-one’s-own is the most famous example locally. (Look, she called it a ‘writing lodge’ but we all know. It’s a shed. ) Kym’s little cabin is actually rather posh – she’s got heating. Dark glass bottles line the shelves, in the corner there’s a herb press, and there’s a neat desk and a couple of chairs. It’s a warm, convivial space, with spring sunlight pouring in over the Downs above. And like other little wooden boxes, it turns out to be something of a confessional as well. “People tell me all sorts of things about their lives in here,” she explains. “A shed is an elemental space. It’s made of wood and you walk through the garden to get to it, so it makes people relax.”
Philip Larkin once wrote that he saw life as ‘an affair of solitude diversified by company.’ Should’ve had a shed.