A graveside shelter is a rare piece of church furniture with few examples existing in England today. Otherwise known as huds, hudds or hudes, these wooden hutches are one of those archaic pieces of church furniture that were once necessary and functional, but are now obsolete and regarded as relics of the past, if they are ever regarded at all.
Hudds came to prominence in the 18thand early 19thcenturies as a means of protecting the clergy when conducting an outdoor burial. The structure appears as a small, one-person shelter with three sides and a small roof and would be easy to overlook in any historic church.
Shelters may seem to have been a rather excessive addition to the world of ecclesiastical furniture, after all; what’s a little rain between a vicar and a coffin?
However, the services preceding the interment of a coffin could be long, drawn-out affairs, conducted in all weathers. If there had been an outbreak of disease or a particularly harsh winter, deaths would increase and the poor reverend’s feet would barely touch the floor.
Clergy lashed by rain may offer a dramatic element to a churchyard burial, but not all vicars enjoy the risk of pneumonia, no matter how much they love their congregation.
Hudds are curios from a time and a society long gone, when churches were at the centre of every community. They were as necessary and as dull as an anorak and were certainly not seen as things of beauty or cultural importance.
Few graveside shelters were preserved through the centuries. The reasons for this are inevitably varied, yet the two universal arguments are that:
- They were never seen as structures of historical or sociological importance; they were instruments of work and were destroyed, removed and replaced as and when necessary.
- These structures were exclusively wooden and, despite undergoing any treatments, wood’s structural integrity is compromised when repeatedly exposed to the elements.
Considering that shelters were created for exclusive use during burials in inclement weather, the weathering of the structure would indeed be accelerated without due care and monitoring.
The most well-known shelter in England is at the priory church of St James in Deeping, Lincolnshire. Their shelter gives the appearance of a very slim confessional with a pointed roof, no floor and carrying handles to the side. It is in remarkable condition.
An earlier, 18thcentury shelter can be found in Wingfield, Suffolk. This version has bowed sides, a little like a pagoda, and a small enclosed top, barely covering the clergyman’s head.
While hudds are consigned to the history books thanks to the invention of the umbrella, they remain a fascinating link to our past and a welcome treat for travelling historians, churchgoers and tourists alike.
English Parish Churches and Chapels: Art, Architecture and People Hardcover – 13 Jul 2017 – Dr Matthew Byrne