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Addleborough looms over Wensleydale


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What is a dovecote?

This term describes any structure or architectural feature built to house pigeons or doves. They occur in a wide variety of sizes and forms throughout the country and have a long history of use.

Why were they built? 

The birds they housed were viewed as a valuable commodity which provided their owners with many resources, including eggs and meat for food, and feathers for bedding. Even their droppings were collected and used as a highly effective fertiliser.  

When were they first built in Britain?

The first recorded examples of dovecotes in Britain date back to the Romans, although the few surviving examples suggest that their use was only a marginal activity. It is not until after the Norman Conquest that they become much more widespread. Indeed, their uptake was so popular that many European nations introduced laws during the medieval period to regulate their construction and possession. This was because of the widespread complaints from peasant farmers tired of having their grain crops eaten by the birds!

Social status

The ownership of a dovecote was considered to be an indicator of high social status, reflecting the wealth of the lord who could afford to pay the ownership tax. In 1761 the rules were relaxed to allow any freeholder to keep the birds.

This led to more dovecotes being built. Indeed, the dovecotes found within the Yorkshire Dales National Park tend to date from around this period. They are mainly found in the roof spaces of village barns and houses, often above porches. One exception is a dovecote at Flasby, built in the mid-seventeenth century as a freestanding tower, and later converted to a folly.

Dovecote design 

High entrance holes and tight internal access doors make it difficult for ground based predators, such as weasels, martens and rats to gain access. The number of entrance holes does not necessarily match the number of nesting boxes within the dovecote. The interiors of surviving dovecotes vary from those housing a considerable number of birds to none, being purely decorative features. Sometimes there are perching ledges designed to make it easier for the birds to enter and leave. Dovecotes were usually constructed away from large trees that could shelter birds of prey. They are often designed so the entrances are shielded from the prevailing wind.

Why is it important to learn more about them?

Dovecotes can be quite vulnerable features of the historic environment. The renovation and conversion of buildings can often overlook the historical importance of these intriguing features. Any information we could learn about the distribution and form of these features, whether through examination of surviving structures, or through documentary references, would be a great help in developing our understanding of their use. It would also help us to better understand their relationship with the buildings they inhabit, particularly where dated examples can be identified. If we can identify more examples, and gain a greater knowledge of their design and distribution, we can greatly aid our ability to conserve and protect them in the future.


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