A. O. Cooke The Pigeoncote

Chapter 10 Yorkshisre

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On entering Yorkshire it is natural for our thoughts to turn to Waterton, that eminent naturalist who wrote with equal charm and vigour on so many subjects - vultures, miracles, and Hanoverian rats! We think of him today with mingled feelings; for, although he built a dovecote, which is so much to his credit, he pulled down an old one, and who knows what treasure of antiquity he thus destroyed? That of his own erection occupies the centre of the stable yard at his old home of Walton Hall; a tall square structure built of stone, with a hipped roof, two dormer windows, and a cupola. The number of the L-shaped nest-holes is three hundred and sixty-five; was this intentional? There is a socket hole in the floor, which seems to show that he considered a potence of some use in a square house.

Waterton thoroughly understood the business of pigeon rearing. It may be noted in passing that he derives the term "glover, some times applied to the lantern or cupola, from the French ouvert, and is very probably correct. He contradicts the theory of a living Yorkshire-man, who attributes the falling off in the number of birds frequenting his dovecote to the presence of an owl; quite to the contrary, says Waterton, the owl is there, not for the birds, but for the rats, and is regarded by the rightful inmates as a welcome friend. This view, which we sincerely hope may be correct, was greatly valued by that lover of the owl and raven, Bosworth Smith, with whom the reader will come into closer touch before this volume ends.

Before dealing with Yorkshire dovecotes generally, allusion may be made to one or two special features of our subject to be found in that extensive county. No visitor to Darrington, a village in the neighbourhood of Ponte-fract, which has been described and chronicled by that staunch Yorkshireman, Mr. J. S. Fletcher in his fascinating volume, Memorials of a Yorkshire Parish, should leave it without a glance at the old Vicar's Dovecote, one of two the village owns. It is, indeed, no longer either applied to its original purpose, nor in its original form, having been converted into vestries and a caretaker's dwelling. Nests formerly existed in the upper portion, and a potence was in use. It is a building of large size, and must once have furnished the vicar of Darrington with a food-supply of no small value.

In certain parts of Yorkshire, as in the neighbourhood of Halifax, pigeon-houses proper are less common than what are locally called "pigeon-hoils," usually found forming an upper story to hen or pig "hoils" - the word being a north of England term for a hole or shelter. A similar arrangement is frequently found in the gables of barns, and, more curiously, in the gables, and especially the porches, of many houses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Little brless An example of this occurs at Little Burlees, Wadsworth; another at Kirk Cliff, Soyland, a house dated 1630, where three entrance holes appear above the low projecting porch; while Eastwood Lee, Stansfield, and Upper Cockroft, Rishworth, exhibit a like provision. The pigeon-holes lead in each case to a low but fairly spacious room, entrance to which is provided inside the dwelling by a trap door in the chamber floor.

Turning now to dovecotes in the stricter application of the term, where can one come upon a dovecote more agreeably situated than within the bounds of an old garden? Such a pleasantly placed example offers for inspection in the garden of Fulford Hall, near York. The manor is a very old one, and the present owner is no doubt correct in his surmise that the dovecote now standing, built towards the middle of the eighteenth century, is the successor of an older one.

It is a square substantial structure of red brick, well weathered by a century and half of sun and storm. The length of wall is about twenty feet, the height eighteen. Upon the old red roof is placed a cupola. Inside are about seven hundred and fifty L-shaped nests, still to some extent occupied by pigeons. They are arranged upon each wall in fourteen tiers, from twelve to fourteen nests in every tier. Alighting-ledges are provided; but, though these project sufficiently to serve as hand- and foot-holds to a person climbing to explore the nests, a potence was formerly present, a portion of the upright beam still remaining. In the centre is a small stone slab or table, raised two feet above the ground. This may have been provided as a place on which to de-posit a basket of young birds, although it seems rather in the nature of a needless luxury.

Another dovecote in a Yorkshire garden will be found at Rogerthorpe Manor, near Pontefract. It has been modernized to some extent, the nest-holes having been removed, and a floor inserted, dividing the building into an upper fruit store and a potting shed. But happily the roof of old stone slabs remains in place, its beauty little lessened by the changes carried out below. The dovecote is an oblong one, some twenty feet in height, and twenty- three feet long by thirteen feet six inches broad.

Few Yorkshire dovecotes enjoy a finer situation than the one we shall find at Barforth Old Hall, close to the Durham border of the county. It stands on the hill slope, looks down on Bar-forth Hall, the park, the rippling Tees, and the picturesque village of Gainford in the back ground; a worthy picture set in an ideal frame. It is a circular building of stone, thirty feet high to the eaves, and about forty-five in internal circumference. The vaulted roof has a small round central opening. There are two string courses upon the outer surface of the walls, which are over three feet thick. Inside are some three hundred oblong nest holes, now untenanted. This dovecote is a very early example, dating probably from the time when the abbey of St. Mary stood upon the ground now occupied by a large farm.

Gainford, had we but time to cross the Tees and enter Durham, would display not a few dovecotes in the neighbourhood; but we must ignore them here, and pass to Snape Castle, near Bedale, where, in the stackyard, stands a stone built dovecote twenty-six feet square and twenty-two feet high, with walls some three feet thick. The roof of grey slates is broken by a single dormer window, and surmounted by a lantern. The door is two feet six inches wide. Inside are fifteen hundred nest holes, furnished with alighting ledges, and to some extent still occupied.

The age of this building is probably very considerable, the date 1414, cut with a joiner's chisel, having been discovered on the wood work of the roof a few years back.

There is a ridge roofed dovecote at Leathley Manor, a few miles from Otley. The middle of the ridge was formerly crowned by a very elegant little ball topped stone cap, raised on pillars; but recently the effect has been some what marred by the removal of the pillars and the lowering of the cap.

Near Wakefield are three dovecotes, two of which are of special interest as standing close to each other. The third, at Huntwick Grange, is about twenty feet square, and nearly eighteen feet high to the eaves. Pigeons - wild "rocks" - frequented it until some years ago, but have forsaken it of late.

The two others stand, one at Sharleston Hall Farm, a house which dates from 1574, and the second little more than one hundred yards away, although on land belonging to another farm. The walls of both, are fully three feet thick, and inside each are nests which have alighting ledges furnished to each tier. Both stand in open fields and both are frequented by wild pigeons.

Remembering the part played by pigeons in bringing about the French Revolution; remembering, too the modern pigeon shooting "days," arranged, as we are told, to rid the country of a farmers' pest, it may surprise us to observe how often pigeons are still tolerated, perhaps encouraged, in their former dwellings, even when the dovecote is upon a farm. Pigeons, we see, are kept at Fulford Hall and at Snape Castle; while at Sharleston and the neighbouring farm the dovecotes shelter some two hundred birds. Is, then, the pigeon such a foe to farming as has been believed?

In answer to a question on this point a Yorkshire farmer writes as follows and the agriculturists of Yorkshire are not usually regarded as being either fools or failures:

"The ravages on crops by pigeons, crows, etc., are no doubt very serious at times. On more than one occasion I have had large pieces of wheat practically ruined by crows. At times in midwinter I have shot a few pigeons, and their crops are always gorged by what are probably weed seeds. In my opinion the harm done for short periods in the year is more than made up for during the longer period when they are doing good in many ways. A good old motto is "Live and Let Live."

No doubt all pigeons feed to a large extent on grain, but the diet of some kinds at least comprises the seeds of many weeds. No one would suggest a return to the six-and-twenty thousand well stocked dovecotes of four centuries ago; but there is no saying what revenge the whirligig of time may not bring round. A day may come when dovecotes falling into ruin will be repaired, when architectural journals will give plans and elevations of "desirable" dovecotes, and the village carpenter add potence-making to the numerous branches of his trade.

At Marske-by-the-Sea, on the estate of the Marquis of Zetland, is an interesting octagonal brick dovecote, with a slated roof of the same shape; in one side of the roof is a small dormer window with nine entrance holes, arranged in rows of three. It is a large building, each wall measuring eleven feet, while to the eaves the height is twenty-four feet. There is a string course half-way up the walls.

Inside, about one thousand nests are arranged in twenty-two tiers, the lowest row being four feet six inches from the floor. From a pillar three feet high, placed in the centre, rises the beam of the potence, which still retains its ladder. The wails are nearly three feet thick; and, as in certain dovecotes we shall later see, though not to such a marked extent as in some cases, the surface of the floor is well below the level of the ground outside.
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