Andrew is a member of the Institute of Field Archaeologists and a Geophysics specialist, who has published a book, Iron Age in Berkshire and has another to be published soon called The Romans in Berkshire.
Andrew explained that BARG (Berkshire Archaeology Research Group) had carried out a project, of which he was the project leader, surveying pigeon and dovecotes of Old Berkshire and his talk was based on this project. The survey had established there were no dovecotes before the Normans and there were three phases of pigeon/dove keeping:
Medieval – up to the dissolution of the monasteries
Post dissolution period to 1619
Around 1793 they became uneconomic and went out of fashion
Andrew explained that Esme Few in the 1960s went out looking at Dovecotes and her research was handed over to BARG whose members would then go out in a car recording these buildings, this was happening from 2002 to 2005. Andrew explained that BARG managed to save the medieval dovecote in Marcham, which is now a listed building. As for the surveying methods, they used Rodwell’s Church Architecture and Brunskill’s illustrated book of Vernacular Architecture as guides.
With regard to the doves, there are 6 species of wild birds and 350 species of domesticated birds. They mate for life and have two chicks, called squabs, 8 – 10 times a year.
Pigeons have been used through the ages, the Egyptians used to trap them; there are images of this happening at Saqqara where caged pigeons are depicted on tomb walls. The Romans are recorded by Varro in Rerum Rusticarum as keeping doves for food, birds to sell and for manure; there is a pigeon on a mosaic at Chedworth. Pliny the Elder describes pigeons carrying messages in war.
The earliest example of a Dovecote is Great Coxwell Barn, built in the 13th century; the Dovecote is in the roof of this barn. The Dovecote at Hurley Tithe Barn dates from 1308. Andrew also showed us slides of Dovecotes at Bisham, Marcham (late medieval) and of alighting ledges at Peasemore Manor, also the Dovecote at Coley Park, (1553) which is now in the middle of a housing estate. Then Andrew showed a picture of the Carswell square dovecote, the dovecote in Cookham is also square and there is a 4 storey dovecote at Coleshill. Swallowfield boasts an octagonal dovecote from the mid-18th century.
Now there are only fancier’s dovecotes, a modern example was built in 2000 in Remenham
To sum up, Andrew said the project found 90 dovecotes during their search 31 were still in a good state, 10 were lived in, 4 have had the pigeon holes removed, and 1 is in ruin. Twelve have been demolished since 1966, 1 is scaffolded, 3 are undergoing repair. Only one is on the SMR/HER record.
Our thanks to Andrew for coming to Marlow and for his interesting talk. I had not realised we had so many dovecotes of such an age in the area which were providing food and a living for people for several hundred years.