Alison Boulton digs beneath the city's dreaming spires

Visiting an agricultural show in the middle of summer, the clouds suddenly darkened and torrential rain fell. To escape a soaking, I took refuge with my children in a wendy house exhibit.

It was then I realised the imaginative potential of a wooden structure, sometimes known as a shed.

The rain beat down.

Outside, visitors pulled on compost bags and black sacs; they searched their pockets for dormant wallets, now feverishly extracted to buy waterproofs from overwhelmed sellers.

Brows furrowed – they already had a row of them hanging impotently at home.

Meanwhile, we were snug under our chimney and shale roof, the windows water-tight and curtained, the bed soft and comfortable, the table and chairs ready for a tea party. Forty minutes later, it was only the threat of a bear-like exhibitor who flushed us from our ease. Then the sun came out.

I’ve never forgotten the magic of that playhouse. Until then, I’d only wanted one thing: to be like Speckledy Hen in Alison Uttley’s Little Grey Rabbit series, and live inside a hollow tree.

I’d imagined so many times, drawing back the curtain to collect my apron and miniature dustpan and brush.

I don’t know quite how it happened, but my love of the playhouse has remained, while my commitment to the apron and dustpan and brush has evaporated. Pouf!

Arriving in Oxford, I was surprised and thrilled to see a large wooden structure spanning the bottom of the garden, with gothic windows, stable doors, and two compartments which my husband and I quickly colonised.

Never mind the playhouse – this was for us. Desks, filing cabinets and shelves filled my husband’s side; books, posters, pictures and photographs quickly filled mine.

I liked the split door. I liked the wooden tiled roof. I liked the smell of the wood, and the way the floor bent underfoot, and the birdsong coming from the trees around as I worked.

Walking around Oxford, I now realise that such structures are commonplace – but rarely the same. What might once have constituted a shed, has now become a personalised garden room. There are suntrap conservatory sheds with large picture windows.

There are home offices, book-lined and workmanlike, with large desks and whiteboards. There are loungers and softly draped rugs with dog baskets and a pile of good books.

Roald Dahl might have started it; Phillip Pullman made it famous locally; but Oxford has adopted the creative love affair with their sheds.

Walk along the tow path by the Oxford Canal to see a bevy of beauties.