18th Century Living History

“For the Soldiers to hut” – The British Soldier Shelter during winter in the Seven Years War.

In Research on February 13, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Although it was general military practice for regiments to enter ‘winter quarters’ during the colder months of a year, generally between October and March. Sometimes regiments would be required to remain in the field during these periods. As such the men would be forced to continue to use tents. Although the standard British Army tent of the period no doubt did the job of keeping some of the elements off the private men we know from the works of Captain Bennett Cuthbertson that if a regiment was to remain in the field it would often be given the order “For the soldiers to hut”.

Cuthbertson was a Captain in the 5th Regiment of Foot and his military treatise was perhaps written to replace the some what dated manual written by Humphrey Bland. Bland’s treatise which had been originally published in 1727 but was still certainly in use having been through several editions. Certainly officer in the Continental Army during the Revolution were encouraged to ‘study Bland and other treatise’. Although it is worth worth noting that Cuthbertson treatise was published in 1768 and therefore after the end of the Seven Years War, the 5th had indeed fought throughout the war and were indeed at the ‘Raid of Cherbourg’ in 1758, Warburg in 1760, Kirch Denkern in 1761 and Battle of Wilhelmsthal in 1762. For the most part we do not know how for certain how much of Cuthbertsons work relates to current practice in the 5th or indeed if it was practiced across the army. Certainly his recommendations frequently appear in Order Books verbatim, the number of editions and the above fact would imply his recommendations were widely read and available.  

Improvised shelters have a long history in European armies as shown in this 15th/16th century example.

It can be argued with some confidence that Cuthbertons section on hutting is reliable; certainly there is historical provenance of hut building in European armies from the 15th/16th century as shown in the image above. Similarly Cuthbertson states “The hurdled Huts were in general use in the allied Army in Germany last war”. This coupled with the 5th war service would suggest he indeed was speaking from previous experience.

So what exactly are huts? Cuthbertson gives us a clear description of what exactly Huts are and how they are to be constructed.

“in most case, the most expeditious and ready method, is, to provide square hurdles, large enough to cover a Tent, when resting slope ways against the upper edge of each other; they must be a foot on every side longer than the Tent, to leave sufficient Room for stricking: a piece of wicker-work is next to be fitted to the front, by way of a door, to move at pleasure: these hurdles and wickers being properly made and fixed, a thick coat of thatch (ether straw, sedge or rushes) is to be laid on them, we secured and bound”.

Hurdles like those used today for fencing have been used for centuries and it stands to reason that this is what Cuthbertson may have been talking about.

The description provided by Cuthbertsons paints a vivid picture of ‘huts’ and in apparently “nothing can be warmer than one of these habitations”. We can assume that the hurdles that he refers to bear some resemblance to hurdles used over the centuries as simple fencing and pictured above. Certainly soldiers who had come from a labouring background, as so many did in the mid 18th century before the industrial revolution had taken full grip of the country, would have some experience of constructing these. With regards to thatching, again we can assume that the soldiers would have some experience of this and example of thatching of shelter by W.H Pyne and although not military in nature provides us a good basis for what this may have looked like.

A possible example of a basic thatched structure.

Hutting could be adapted to other circumstances and Cuthbertson also describes how the system could be used to create an enclosed Kitchen area, where the soldiers could “enjoy themselves with great comfort and satisfaction, until they chuse, or it is proper, to retire to their huts.

“young trees should be collected, about the size and length of hop-poles, and placed in a circular form round the out-side of the Kitchens, sloping upwards to a point, exactly in the same position, the poles are fixed, after the hop gathering is finished, leaving a sufficient opening on one side, for the men to enter, and weaving small boughs or rushes through the poles”

The image below from a German Manual called “What it is necessary for each officer to know during a campaign.” This lean-to side design is shown being used to shelter a small fire.

Using both Cuthbertsons vivid descriptions and images like those above for inspiration it should be possible with some degree of accuracy to recreate a style of Hut as used by the British Army during winter months inGermanyduring the Seven Years War.

Selected References:

 Cuthbertson, B. (1968) Cuthbertson’s System, For the Complete Interior Management and Oeconomy of a Battalion of Infantry. Boulter Grierson.

 Unknown. (1738) Was ist jedem Officier waehrend eines Feldzugs zu wissen noethig (trans., “What it is necessary for each officer to know during a campaign”) Mit zehen Kupferplatten (trans. “with ten copper plates”), Carlsruhe.

 Najecki, R. (2011) Reproduction Home Page, [Online], Available: http://najecki.com/repro/reproindex.html [13th February 2012].

 Rees, J. (2004) “Soldiers are ingenious animals.” American Civil War Campaign Shelters” [Online], Available: http://www.libertyrifles.org/research/campaignshelters.html [13th February 2012]

 Pyne, W.H. (1806) Microcosm or, A Delineation of the Arts, Agriculture, and Manufactures of Great Britain in a Series of above a Thousand Groups of Small Figures for the Embellishment of Landscape. London

  1. Very nice impression and site. If you haven’t already read Corpl. Todd’s journal I would highly recommend it. He writes about huts in the Germany campaign.

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