The last two surviving Nissen Huts


Between April 16 and April 18, 1916, Major Peter Norman Nissen of the 29th Company Royal Engineers of the British Army began to experiment with hut designs. Nissen, a mining engineer and inventor, constructed three prototype semi-cylindrical huts. The semi-cylindrical shape was derived from the drill-shed roof at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Nissen's design was subject to intensive review by his fellow officers, Lieutenant Colonels Shelly, Sewell and McDonald, and General Clive Gerard Liddell, which helped Nissen develop the design. After the third prototype was completed, the design was formalized and the Nissen hut was put into production in August 1916. At least 100,000 were produced in World War I

Nissen patented his invention in the UK in 1916 and patents were taken out later in the United States, Canada, South Africa and Australia. Nissen received royalties from the British government, not for huts made during the war, but only for their sale after the conflict. Nissen got some £13,000 and the DSO (Distinguished Service Order).

Two factors influenced the design of the hut. First, the building had to be economical in its use of materials, especially considering wartime shortages of building material. Second, the building had to be portable. This was particularly important in view of the wartime shortages of shipping space. This led to a simple form that was prefabricated for ease of erection and removal. The Nissen hut could be packed in a standard Army wagon and erected by six men in four hours. The world record for erection was 1 hour 27 minutes.

Production of Nissen huts waned between the wars, but was revived in 1939. Nissen Buildings Ltd. waived their patent rights for wartime production during World War 2 (1939-45). Similar-shaped hut types were developed as well, notably the Romney hut in the UK and the Quonset hut in the United States. All types were mass-produced in the thousands. The Nissen hut was used for a wide range of functions; apart from accommodation, they were used as churches and bomb stores, etc. Accounts of life in the hut generally were not positive. Huts in the United Kingdom were frequently seen as cold and draughty, while those in the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific were seen as stuffy and humid.

A Nissen hut is made from a sheet of metal bent into half a cylinder and planted in the ground with its axis horizontal. The cross-section was not precisely semi-circular, as the bottom of the hut curved in slightly. The exterior was formed from curved corrugated steel sheets 10 feet 6 inches by 2 feet 2 inches (3.2 × 0.7 m), laid with a two-corrugation lap at the side and a 6 inch (15 cm) overlap at the ends. Three sheets covered the arc of the hut (about 54 sheets in all were required). These were attached to five 3 × 2 inch (7.5 x 5 cm) wooden purlins and 3 × 2 inch wooden spiking plates at the ends of the floor joists.

The purlins were attached to eight T-shaped ribs (1¾ × 1¾ × ? inch; 4.5 × 4.5 × 0.5 cm) set at 6 feet 0.5 inch (1.8 m) centres. Each rib consisted of three sections bolted together using splice plates, and each end was bolted to the floor at the bearers. With each rib were two straining wires, one on each side and a straining ratchet (or in some cases a simple fencing wire strainer). The wires were strained during construction. The straining wires do not appear in the original Nissen patent.

The purlins were attached to the ribs using a "hook" bolt, which hooked through a pre-drilled hole in the rib and was secured into the purlin. The hook bolt was a unique feature of the Nissen design.

Windows and doors could be added to the sides by creating a dormer form by adding a frame to take the upper piece of corrugated iron and replacing the lower piece with a suitable frame for a door or window.

Nissen huts come in three internal spans - 16 ft (4.9 m), 24 ft (7.3 m) or 30 ft (9.2 m). The longitudinal bays come in multiples of 6 ft (1.83 m). The corrugated steel half-circles used to build Nissen huts can be stored efficiently, because the curved sheets can be cupped one inside another.

However, there was no standard model of Nissen huts, as the design was never static but changed according to demand.

Upwood's Nissen Huts played a big part in Turbine Motor Works obtaining the Four "C" type hangars at Upwood. TMW purchased the 24 acre site which included the four hangars and two Nissen huts for industrial use back in March 2004. The Nissen huts were turned into classrooms to teach apprentice engineers, and a canteen for all the workers.


The Nissen huts are shown here in red. 1946

ATC at Upwood 1953

Upwood's Nissen Huts 2004 with restoration underway 2005

Nissen huts in 2002 Before Turbine Motor Works owned them

The Nissen huts were used as a chapel at some stage of its life, this picture shows the Chapel doors shown here in 2002
Note ATC on the door, The local ATC used these huts for some time before the site closed.

New windows fitted



Burning off the old paint 2005

New windows fitted and spray foam for insulation.
Being made of metal, nissen huts were always known to be hot in the summer and cold in the winter.

New Floor layed, white plastic sheet put over the top to protect it.

One end of the Nissen hut was made into two classrooms to teach the engineers at TMW.
This picture shows the wall is about to be plastered. 2006

Just finished plastering 2006

One classroom almost finished 2006.

Staff Canteen finished with the classrooms being at the other end of the hut.

Repainted and Finished.
(I do miss the Chapel doors, white modern plastic doors just don't look right on 1940s Nissen huts.)

Rainbow over the Nissen Hut. 2007


This hut is still being used as a canteen for TMW to this day.

Sean Edwards