There is something fascinating about the sight of white doves sitting on the roof of their home, cooing gently and occasionally flitting from ridge to tile. Today they are mainly a decorative feature of a country house but until the middle of the 19th century they were a source of food. Young pigeons, called ‘squabs’, were a delicacy and a favoured meat, the eggs were similarly headed for the kitchen, while their feathers filled pillows and mattresses, and their guano was a convenient fertiliser.
Dovecotes were usually circular or rectangular-shaped buildings, although some pigeon lofts were created in the gable ends of attics in rural properties. Inside the dovecote, pairs of bricks were omitted from the construction to form nooks where the doves could roost and nest. Rotating ladders called ‘potences’ swung around a central pivot inside the dovecote enabling the owner to extract eggs and young birds for the table.
Improvements in farming practices increased grain production in the early 19th century and provided easy meals for pigeons and doves. This ‘free’ supply of food and their voracious appetites led to the birds being perceived as vermin, and dovecotes began to fall from favour as other sources of meat became more widely available. The dovecotes that survive today are one reminder of self-sufficiency in earlier times.