The workman’s van is part of Worcestershire County Museum’s Transport Collection and is on permanent display at Hartlebury Castle. It is classed as a ‘Living Van’ and much like the Gypsy Caravans in our collection it was designed to act as mobile accommodation.
Similar to the Shepherd’s hut which was transported out onto the Downs so that the Shepherd could remain with his flock in lambing season, the road mender’s van allowed some temporary shelter for those repairing the county’s highways.
Steamrollers or steam powered road rollers, were first used in the county in 1897 and made the process of flattening out road surfaces far more efficient. It took time for workers to transport these large and slow moving engines out from the depot and it was often more practical to leave them near the worksite until the job was complete. Road menders would then use the van as a temporary accommodation until returning the steamroller to base.
A van could be expected to house up to three workers and usually included a cast iron stove used for cooking and providing heat. The van would have contained cooking utensils and bedding as well as washbowls to provide the workers with a home away from home.
As steam engines were replaced with faster diesel ones, road rollers became more efficient and easier to move and the use of workers vans began to decline.