A. O. Cooke The Pigeoncote

Chapter 11 Essex and Suffolk

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The late Mr. Harry Quilter, in a rather "quaint and curious" volume which he styled What's What, has left on record his disapprobation of the county of Essex, which he describes as an "undesirable locality" in which to buy or rent a country house. His objections seem to have been founded chiefly on an inconvenient railway service from London, and the presence of a clay soil when the difficulties of transit have been overcome; with, among other unattractive features, a scanty population, out at elbows as regards the upper classes, dull and suspicious in the lower strata of society.

These animadversions strike us as what Mr. Perker would have called "harsh words." The county is less unattractive than the tints on Mr. Quilter's palette would incline one to believe. Objections to it there may be; it is sufficient to the present purpose that Essex yields us a good store of dovecotes.

One of the most interesting is certainly that which stands near the stables at Dynes Hall, a house near Great Maplestead. It is of timber framing, with a lath and plaster filling in; eighteen feet square, and twenty feet high to the eaves. The tiled roof is a truncated pyramid, crowned by a wooden cupola of somewhat unusual form; it has four windows of a pleasing shape, each set in its own gable. This is probably an addition of later date than the dovecote itself, which, from an allusion to it in an old document, appears to have existed in 1575.

The chief attraction is within. On the side facing the door are one hundred and eighty-four nest holes. Of these, those in the upper tiers, numbering about one hundred, are of wood; the eighty-four below are made of clay, and are for the most part in very good condition. Internal measurements give a cube of about one foot, and each is entered by a rounded hole in one corner. Thirty-seven similar nests still survive in the left hand wall, and there appear to have been more.

There is no potence, but its place is taken by a wooden table, five feet high and four feet square. There are also four high posts, each connected to its neighbours by two rails, and furnished with projecting wooden pegs. The rails and pegs were doubtless perching places, though the arrangement is unusual; and it is possible that the table was formerly the scene of such operations as killing, plucking, and general pre-paration of birds for the table - or perhaps more probably of packing them for market.

A somewhat similar platform, which the owner of the dovecote thinks was perhaps intended as a means by which to reach the upper nests, occurs at Chelmshoe House, Castle Hedingham. The dovecote is a square brick building standing in an orchard. It is no longer occupied, and nests, to the number of two hundred and fifty, remain on one wall only.

Hedingham, click for larger image We had a surprisingly difficult time finding even one of the three dovecotes supposed to be in this area.  Partly this was because the landscape was quite hilly and wooded, which meant that we could not see very far. map At one point we came upon two men digging a big hole and asked them if they knew of a dovecote nearby, but alas, they were not from the local area, so had no idea.  We circled and circled, keeping our eyes peeled, but nothing, although we did see two people about our age kissing enthusiastically in a car, so we decided we'd witnessed a romantic tryst.  Finally, almost by accident, we spotted a dovecote across a field, yes, the one at Chelmshoe House!

Another example is to be seen in the yard of a house in the main street of Newport. This is a square brick structure, with tiled roof. The L-shaped nest-holes still remain, but other wise there is no very striking point of interest save that which makes it worthy of brief mention here - the occurrence of a dovecote of considerable size in the centre of a town.

At Great Bardfield, near Braintree, in a field called Dovecote Meadow, is another dovecote of that timber framing and lath and plaster filling in, of which Essex offers several specimens. It forms a cube of about eighteen feet each way, with a tiled roof and a small cupola. Inside are over seven hundred L-shaped nests, with potence and ladder. The house - Great Bardfield Hall - to which the field and dovecote now belong, has a long history, culminating in its ownership by the trustees of Guy's Hospital. The dovecote is most likely of Elizabethan date.

The Deanery at Bocking, also near Braintree, has a dovecote of which the lower story seems to have been long in use as a coach house. Now standing in a garden, it at one time formed part of other farmyard buildings. It is of unusually large size, being a cube of thirty feet; is. built of brick and timber, and may with safety be attributed to Tudor days. The roof is tiled, with a small dormer entrance at the top. The inside of the walls is lined with clay, in which the L-shaped nests are formed.

In the farmyard at Wendon Lofts Hall, near Saffron Walden, is an octagonal brick dovecote of large size, the total height being nearly forty feet, and the diameter more than twenty. It contains nearly eight hundred L-shaped nests, with potence and ladder complete.

Another typical Essex example in timber and lath and plaster is found in the garden of a house called The Moat, Gestingthorpe. It is nearly square, about sixteen by fifteen feet; contains neither nest-holes nor pigeons; and is probably of rather later date than the fifteenth century house to which it belongs.

At Tiptofts, Saffron Walden, a farm which, just three centuries and a half ago, was presented by Lord Mordaunt to Brazenose College, Oxford, in support of scholarships, there is a brick dovecote fourteen feet square. The roof is of a curious form, its slope being broken at one end by a gable. Many of the nests have disappeared, but those remaining are L-shaped.

At Little Braxted Hall, near Witham, is a square wooden dovecote, largely constructed of oak and placed on a brick foundation. The tiles on the roof are of a very old type, but it is hardly safe to dogmatise upon the question of its age.

Other Essex examples include the one at Farnham Rectory, near Bishops Stortford, built chiefly of wood, and of sufficient antiquity to have bestowed the name of Dovecote Pond upon a neighbouring piece of water.

Suffolk must be passed over with the bare mention of the so called "dovecote," the remains of which will be seen among the abbey ruins at Bury St. Edmunds. It would be an interesting example had we any proof that it was ever applied to the purpose suggested by its common local name; for it is of that unusual shape, a hexagon. But no such evidence exists. About twenty feet of the tower remain, the length of each wall of the hexagon being nine feet six inches. The walls are two feet six inches thick; at a height of about ten feet are the remains of a perpendicular window. Of any sign that it was formerly a dovecote there is none.
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