OneHutFull: Friday night Vi-EWE-ing!


Sam the Ram, Whitefaced Dartmoor sheep from Paula Wolton’s flock

In contrast to the historic films presented last week which reveal the story of how wool suffered with the advent of artificial textiles in the 1950s, this evening WOVEMBER shares the trailer for a very different sort of film: one that celebrates the lives past, present and future of wool production in Dartmoor.

Whitefaced Dartmoor farmer Paula Wolton tells WOVEMBER about her unique project which seeks to make an archive about the heritage and history of farming this ‘at risk’ breed. OneHutFull also seeks to encourage farmers in the area to seek new innovations for the sheep, their products and inspire interest in the future and history of the moors, the communities and the sheep.

At one point there were 72,000 Whitefaced ewes on Dartmoor. Being in the 'At Risk' category means there are 900-1500 left
At one point there were 72,000 Whitefaced ewes on Dartmoor. Being in the ‘At Risk’ category means there are 900-1500 left

I have been a farmer and run farm-related businesses for almost four decades. Not a planned career choice but serendipity. Many years ago I went out to buy a table and came back with a goat.
What started from a desire to feed my family and a compelling interest in animals grew into a life-long vocation.
From the beginning I believed farming was a test, a challenge to me the farmer to produce the best food possible with as little disruption as possible to life, the land and the animals in my care.

Courting. Two of Paula's Whitefaced Dartmoor sheep
Courting. Two of Paula’s Whitefaced Dartmoor sheep

Wool is wondrous. It keeps us warm, it keeps us cool, it keeps us dry. Wool comforts and protects us. We wear it, simple or sumptuous.
The original fabric of society, it creates our dwellings, insulates our roofs, walls and floors. We use it for our furniture, our furnishings, our fixtures and fittings.
In manufacturing and industry we find wool fibre to strengthen, to waterproof, to last.
Sometimes we are unaware, sometimes we forget, sometimes we don’t see [that] wool and landscape are locked, enmeshed, intertwined. Wool creates landscape and landscape creates wool. Everywhere there are sheep – from mountain to desert – landscape needs wool and wool needs landscape. Warp and weft weave the very fabric of our countryside.

OneHutFull grew out of an idea to collate an oral history and archive to mark the Whiteface Dartmoor Sheep Breeders Association’s 60th anniversary. I was vice-chair of the WFDSBA at the time.
Many memories, farming history, culture and dialect were being lost as the older members of our association died. I strongly believed we should capture this while we could before it was gone forever in a rapidly changing world where hill farming especially is at grave risk.
As my ideas developed, I became more ambitious. Should we not be looking forward as much as backwards? Recording and celebrating the past is not enough – we need to find ways of carrying it all forward into the future, to ensure continuity, healthy evolution that combines the best of the past with the needs of a future world.

The hut that has been restored for OneHutFull to be a multi sensory experience
The hut that has been restored for OneHutFull to be a multi sensory experience

With whiteface Dartmooor sheep as a focal point – a breed itself endangered and which epitomises the moor and its heritage – OneHutFull opens a window on this story. We record an oral history, create an archive – butOneHutFull will also do much, much more. Think Tardis, Trojan horse!

OneHutFull, a Heritage Lottery Fund supported mobile exhibition, will celebrate the rich tradition of hill farming on Dartmoor and promote its future through art, film, sound and education.

We hope to influence entrepreneurs to explore new hill management systems and to find innovative and sustainable uses for products from sheep (the wool, meat, skins, horns and bones), to help retain the best from the past, and economic and cultural survival of traditional farming families.

Our aim is to involve, inspire and enthuse everyone about life on the moor, past, present and future, from local resident to visitor, school child to graduate, rural community to urban community.

OneHutFull launches in February 2015 from Exeter Cathedral, built on the riches of the wool trade.

Thanks to Paula for sharing insight into her fascinating project. If you are interested in learning more about OneHutFull and the process involved with creating the project then please watch the video for OneHutFull: it’s your recommended Friday night vi-EWE-ing!

[vimeo 89262048 w=615 h=346]