Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Dovecotes

The previous post of Les Très Riches Heures showed a medieval dovecote, and following a query from Patricia at Red Cardinal I thought it might be of interest to show a small selection of the many that are still standing today. 
Colombier at Manoir d'Ango, Dieppe, France
Dovecotes are considered to have been introduced to Western Europe by the Romans, however, it is thought that the Normans brought the idea to Britain. They are also known as columbarias, pigeonniers, or doocots in Scotland. 
Many ancient manors in France and Britain have a dovecote still standing which often date back to the middle ages or earlier. 
There is no definitive architectural style for dovecotes, some are square, others are round, or even polygonal, but all contain pidgeon-holes where the birds could nest. 
This is the oldest known English dovecote in Garway, Herefordshire. The Knights Templars were gifted the land in Garway by King Henry ll in 1180. The Templars rebuilt the existing Saxon/Celtic church imitating the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and constructed this large Dovecote. The Dovecote fell into disrepair and was subsequently rebuilt by the Knights Hospitallers in 1326. 
Inside a doocot at Newark Castle, Scotland
Dovecotes were mainly open at the top with a secure entry door for the owner to use, and to prevent vermin getting in.
Doocot at Corstorphine Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland 
Sometimes they had small entrance and exit holes for the birds in the sides.
Dovecote in Doorn, Netherlands - probably standing on stilts to prevent vermin 
Pigeons and doves were a very important source of fresh food they were kept for their eggs, and flesh. Most birds lay eggs twice a year. Pigeons and Doves can lay eggs all year round. Their dung was used as fertiliser and also collected by government agents because it was a source of saltpetre for making gunpowder. By law, in Britain, only manorial lords could keep birds so most dovecotes are to be found at manor houses, castles, or former monastic sites.
This Tudor dovecote nestles alongside Willington church in Bedfordshire
The law was relaxed after 1600 so they then became a more common feature. They can often be seen in the gable ends of stable blocks, barns or farmhouses, and can even be found in some churches.
Doocot at Eglinton Castle stables, Scotland
The dovecote in St.Johns Church, Elkstone, Gloucestershire is situated directly above the altar. A small spiral stair directly behind the pulpit leads to it
Interior of 14th century dovecote at Kinwarton, Warwickshire
Inside a dovecote there was a pivoting central post called a potence, and attached to it was a ladder making the job of collecting eggs easier. The interior below shows Dunster Dovecote, Somerset with its potence and ladder intact. 
The interior of Dunster Dovecote, Somerset
A diagram showing Dunster Dovecote
As I was coming to the end of this post I remembered that we have a small handmade pigeonnier purchased many years ago whilst travelling in Southern France. It shows a design and style typical of the area in and around the Aveyron department. 
I also recalled a time when we were invaded by Doves, but that is a tale for another day!!!

68 comments:

  1. Thank you Rosemary, this is fascinating indeed. What beautiful structures are these dovecots, especially the first one in Dieppe. Even more incredible is the idea that they would be found up in the roof in a church. I can understand now how they could be kept for food given the number of birds which could be housed in these towers. Something of a variation on keeping chickens as is done in Australia. You own little pidgeonnier is very cute and attractive, like a little house for the fairies.

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    1. Dear Patricia - many of these dovecotes held about 600 nesting holes so at a time when there was no way of keeping food fresh this was a great solution.
      There are lots of these buildings all across the country - I suppose that they were very well made, usually out of stone, and don't seem to have fallen in to disrepair.

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  2. What a great post Rosemary, I had no idea of the age of some of these structures.....so glad Patricia asked about them. J.

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    1. Hello Janice - it is kind of you to comment from your far flung adventure - hope that all is well - may be you are in NZ now?
      Writing about these dovecotes lead to me into thinking about the many Ice Houses too on the great country estates, the lakes and moats that were full of fish - another source of fresh, ready to hand food. Our ancestors were very innovative.

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  3. Beautiful selection of dovecotes Rosemary! I've only once seen one in Britanny, France, didn't know they were spread so widely. That first one in Dieppe is a true jewel!
    Marian

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    1. The ornamental brickwork on the Dieppe dovecote is exquisite and although different from the brickwork on the Manoir d'Ango blends in and compliments it beautifully.

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  4. Hello Rosemary, These dovecotes are absolutely fascinating, although I confess that even looking at your pictures gives me feeling of vertigo. Dovecotes were also popular in early America, but of course these don't approach the size or antiquity of the ones you illustrate.

    About the spam problem--Blogger has an option to use verification only on older posts--I set mine to 14 days, because I found that most of the spam came as the posts stayed around and spam engines could search them out. You might want to try this as a compromise solution.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - probably many people associate dovecotes with the small ornamental ones seen in gardens today, but as I mentioned they were a very important source of fresh food in the past.
      I have done what you suggest and set the modification to 14 days - thank you - fingers crossed.

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  5. Dear Rosemary,very interesting post!I have seen in a Greek island Tinos,many pigeon houses!But i can see in your pictures,a lovely selection of them.I really enjoyed your informations!
    Dimi...

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    1. Dear Dimi - thank you for telling me about the dovecote on Tinos. I have just googled it, and it looks a lovely building with very interesting architecture.

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  6. Thank you for such an interesting post, rosemary. I’ve never seen dovecotes in person. The structure of dovecote is beautiful. The first one look like wearing a knitted cap, and the fifth a rocket. Japanese people traditionally rarely eat dove or pigeon egg but mostly chicken egg. I think that’s why there are no things like dovecotes in Japan.

    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko - pigeons, doves and their eggs stopped being eaten here during the 19th century, but it is interesting how many old dovecotes remain. I suppose that they are aesthetically pleasing structures to have in the grounds of large manor houses, and castles etc.

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  7. I saw a dovecotes when I visited Cork last autumn and didn't fully understand its usefullness until I read your post. While I can understand the use of its dung as fertilisers, I can't understand the collection of the eggs as they are generally very small. Besides, the poor birds will lose their progeny.

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    1. Over a thousand years ago they were a valuable source of food in the castles and manor houses - food was scarce then. Even though the eggs were small they produced such a great quantity in the dovecotes which contained about 600 nesting boxes. There eggs have not been used since the 19th century.

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  8. Such an interesting post again. Beautiful different dovecotes. I have seen various ones in England but also in our country and I have pictures of them, but I did not realize they also served for fresh dove flesh, besides the eggs. Yes, I understand we had dove before as a starter in restaurants.

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    1. Yes, I have never eaten it myself - I think that they call pigeon or dove when served in restaurants squab.

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  9. Very special towers, reminds me a bit of Tallin.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. You are right there is a similarity.

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  10. Dear Rosemary, These are wonderful examples of Dovecotes. And another great history lesson to accompany your photographs. Had no idea that the building and owning of dovecots was reserved for only a few.
    Several of Palladio's country houses in the Veneto have dovecotes incorporated into their buildings. I copied the idea for my guest cottage but have not provided an entry for them...they must be content with the stork towers.

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    1. Dear Gina - you are right not to leave entry holes for them as they make a terrible mess,
      not only from their droppings, but also the ground end up covered in feathers too.

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  11. Hi Rosemary, very interesting post about dovecotes with lots of information that was new to me! I love seeing the photos of the different architectural types. Your handmade pigeonnier from Southern France is a piece of art. So beautiful. Wishing you a nice rest of the week!
    Christina

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it Christina - our own little pigeonnier was made by a local man using the same stones and roofing that they use in the area on their properties today.

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  12. Dear Rosemary,
    Reading about the Knights Templar reminded me of a huge old dovecote we saw on a visit to the commanderie de Coulommiers which at one time was a major headquarters of that Order in northern France.
    Thank you for this interesting post. I always learn new things when I visit!
    Kirk

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    1. Dear Kirk - I wish I knew more about the Knights Templar and also the Knights Hospitallers who followed after them, but I don't. I really should try and read up more about them so that I am better informed.

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  13. What an interesting collection of dovecotes, just enjoyed a catch up of your always informative posts.

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    1. Thanks Linda - it was lovely to hear from you.

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  14. How interesting a dovecote in the Netherlands...shame on my, I didn't know this.
    There are a lot off beautiful dovecotes.
    Have a nice evening.

    Greetings,
    Inge, my choice

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    1. The dovecotes often seem to have very individual and striking architecture. The one in the Netherlands is very attractive.

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  15. Amazing structures to house pigeons or other small birds in ancient times but it was certainly a kind of luxurious food for household.That's way they were so close or incorporated to the house. Modern Dovecotes can also be very beautiful but if you talk to me about birds, I love when they fly and I hate cages. But it seems that a dovecote is a good idea for keeping them satisfied and nearby!

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    1. I agree with you Olympia, birds should be free to fly. Modern dovecotes tend to be very small and are mainly just an ornamental feature in peoples gardens.
      Hundreds of years ago it was a good way of keeping fresh food available for the large estates.

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  16. Another fabulous post, Rosemary. Thanks for all the lovely photos. Dovecotes besides being functional (at least in Medieval times) are also beautiful structures. It's amazing how so many have survived. I can just imagine the cacophony of cooing doves as they went about their business. Though having their eggs 'stolen' must not have gone down well with them, not to mention being turned into Sunday dinner. But needs must as they say.

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    1. Dear Yvette - I suppose it could be called medieval food farming and not dissimilar to us keeping chickens for their eggs and meat today.

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  17. It's incredible how big they built these Dovecotes, it really shows how important they were in the old times as a food subject .

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    1. Dear Jane - you are right - it almost compares with factory farming in todays terms.

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  18. The dove cotes you've featured are interesting to me for the wide range of architectural style. I find it interesting that only manors were allowed to have dovecotes. My guess is that guarding the fertilizer used for saltpetre, and in turn used for gunpowder, was not unlike being concerned about who has access to plutonium!

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    1. You could be right Mark. In the February Les Très Riches Heures showing a dovecote, the same situation applied in France too. The meat and eggs would not have been for the poor peasants in the illustration, but for the table of the Duc de Berry and his household.

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  19. Very informative......as always, Rosemary....
    Beautiful photos...
    Cheers!
    Linda :o)

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    1. Thanks Linda - You asked about my brother and his trip to Florida. He hasn't left yet, I believe he goes at the beginning of March to Anna Maria Island.

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  20. Those dovecotes are huge structures. It is nice to learn more about them. Valentino renovated the dovecote on his Chateau in Versailles, France as one of his living spaces. He decorated it with chinoiserie.

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    1. Thanks for that information Pamela - I have just found his amazing Chinese inspired Pigeonnier in the Architectural Digest which I enjoyed looking at.

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  21. Very interesting post, Rosemary.
    We have lots of Doves down here at the moment, next door neighbour has two chooks so they come for the feed, not sure where they live but think they are rather wild.

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    1. Be very careful about encouraging them into your garden - they multiply at a rapid rate. Two are rather beautiful, but 80 make a mess!!!

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    2. We don't encourage them, and you only have to look of the roofs of the houses to know that a mess they make. They are actually making a nuisance of themselves at times. We grin and bear it!

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    3. At some stage I will write about a Dove problem we had.

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  22. So much to know about dovecotes! I've never seen one except in movies. Thank you for an interesting post.

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    1. I am pleased you found it interesting Sanda - our medieval ancestors were very resourceful.

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  23. Thank you for featuring these fascinating structures as I've often thought of dovecotes in terms of those small ornamental ones. Our Italian neighbour keeps what I suspect are wood pigeons although they have white plumage and I think of them as 'doves'. There are about six or seven and they fly around, land on the roof of our house sometimes and then back to the neighbour's hut. I do like to see them flying around, but I've never wanted to find out why he keeps them.

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    1. Dear Linda - if your neighbours birds have white plumage they are most likely to be Doves. I suspect that he must 'harvest' them for their eggs and meat otherwise you would be inundated with them - they breed all the time!!! That is a problem we had with a neighbour - he started with two and by the following year there were about 80.

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    2. Over the years there have always been a few flying around - they do look pretty - so you're probably correct about our neighbour keeping them for the table. Thankfully there's no way they can get into our roof.

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  24. What a lovely selection of dovecotes - some of them look very grand. It's interesting that churches incorporated them, obviously they were considered useful and important (and symbolic too, perhaps). I love the little pigeonnier!

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    1. It is curious how many of these ancient dovecotes we have in our country - may be we see, but 'don't see' rather taking our heritage for granted. You could be right about the symbolism - the dove is the Christian symbol of the Holy Spirit.

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  25. A very interesting post Rosemary,
    I did not know , that they were built in order that the doves would be a source of food + their eggs.
    I could never imagine eating a dove or pidgeon.!
    I always thought they were used for communication purposes. Once again, I have learnt something.
    As you know, I have a family of doves in my garden. They come and go and have had a few offspring. I really love seeing them when they are around.
    The images you have shown are amazing. Something to look up and learn more about.
    Thank you Rosemary.
    x val

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    1. Dear Val - I would not eat pigeon or dove, but I have seen it on the menu in many countries - usually it is called squab.
      You are right about them being used for communication purposes - they were used a lot during the last two wars by flying with messages sealed in rings and attached to their legs.
      Glad you found the post interesting Val - thank you.

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  26. It was wonderful to see these old dovecotes,,they are all fantastic buildings. Sarah x

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    1. Hello Sarah - it is wonderful that we still have so many of these medieval buildings all around the country. They appear to have been really well built and remain in good condition.

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  27. Bardzo ciekawy post. Jeszcze nie widziałam takich budowli gołębników. Świetne.
    Ja już próbowałam kilka Tłumaczy zainstalować u siebie. Niestety nie działają u mnie. Nie jest to tylko mój problem, inne blogi też to mają. To chyba Google coś robi. Pozdrawiam.
    Very interesting post. I've never seen such buildings loft. Great.
    I have tried several Translator install at home. Unfortunately does not work for me. This is not just my problem, other blogs also have it. I guess Google is doing something. Yours.

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    1. I have just noticed that the translator on my blog is not working properly - perhaps blogger is having a problem with them.

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    2. Zajrzyj do mnie, dzisiaj zainstalowałam Tłumacz, który chyba działa. Sprawdzisz i może Tobie też się przyda. Pozdrawiam.
      Look for me, today I installed Translator, which I think works. Check and you can also come in handy. Yours.

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  28. The dovecotes are fabulous. I did not know only the lord of the manor could keep doves! I thought anybody could. Your one at the end is especially cute!

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    1. Yes, that is right until 1600 and then anyone could keep them.

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  29. These are wonderful!!! I especially love the first one, the Colombier at Manoir d'Ango…
    The colors are so beautiful. The roundness too!

    Hope your February is going well :)

    Marica

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    1. Thanks for your visit Marica - the one in France is an exquisite building with beautiful brickwork - why don't they do brickwork like that today?

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  30. You always find such interesting photographs, Rosemary. I hadn't somehow realised there was such a variety of dovecotes in Britain. I usually think of them as round and pointy, but the Willington dovecote is so beautiful that I must make a special detour to see it next time I am in Bedfordshire. Quite a lot of people do keep doves in dovecotes, don't they? I suppose they're almost always ornamental now.

    I don't know about in France. I get the impression there is a wider selection of old buildings surviving over there - not just dovecotes and barns, but shepherds huts, etc.

    Anyway all very interesting.

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    1. Dear Jenny - if you are interested in visiting the Willington dovecote it belongs to the National Trust.
      There are so many little old buildings around that we tend not to think about their use but take for granted. I did a post on the small stone village lockups last year, and then there are the icehouses that so many of the great houses had in their grounds.

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  31. Thank you for sharing those beautiful, old dovecotes, Rosemary. Amazing structures! Happy weekend!

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    1. Thanks Satu - enjoy your snow walks with Mickey.

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  32. A super post, Rosemary, with fascinating detail and lovely images. There's a magnificent mediaeval dovecote at the restored abbey of La Lucerne d'Outremer in southern Normandy, which we visited with our daughter's family during one of their holidays.

    PS I get away without word verification by having all posts older than 7 days set for approval. It's rare for the spammers to find very new posts.

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    1. We are very fortunate in Europe that we do have so many medieval and historic buildings to visit and admire.
      Someone else mentioned that I should do that Perpetua, and I have subsequently set my comment moderation to 7 days.
      I have had only one slightly dubious post which I notified as a spammer so from now on if they return they will go straight to spam.
      Fingers crossed.

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