A. O. Cooke The Pigeoncote

Chapter 12
Dovecotes Near London

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Should the Londoner feel himself aggrieved at the comparatively small number of dovecotes mentioned as being easily accessible from town, he is offered as consolation the following assurance - that one of the very finest examples to be seen in England stands awaiting him within a railway run of half an hour. In describing one or two dovecotes to be seen in Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire , and Kent, right of priority is justly due to the splendid old building standing at Ladye Place, a house in the parish of Hurley, near Marlow.
Bershire image
Dovecote in current situation

Its situation well becomes it, Hurley being a place of great antiquity. When the ninth century was on the point of ending it was traversed by the Danes upon their way from Essex into Gloucestershire. Its manor, once possessed by Edward the Confessor's master of the horse, was later bestowed on a De Mandeville as a reward for distinguished conduct at the Battle of Hastings; and in 1086 De Mandeville and his wife founded the priory of St. Mary as a cell to the great Benedictine house at Westminster. Never a large house, Hurley, at the moment of the Dissolution, had but eight monks, in addition to its prior.

The Lovelace family, connections of the poet and cavalier, then came into its ownership, and were succeeded by the sister of a bishop, who purchased it with the proceeds of a prize gained in a lottery. Still later came the brother of that Kempenfeldt who perished in the Royal George, and who himself had helped to plant a laurel alley at the place. Finally, early in the present century, Ladye Place came into the hands of the present owner, who built the house now seen, and to whose interesting pamphlet concerning it, as also to his kindly help in other ways, this account is largely indebted.

Everything at Ladye Place is of interest; the very charming house itself, the subterranean chamber, the old fish-ponds, and the stately cedars on the lawns. But we must turn our back on all except the dovecote, standing in its field beside a splendid tithe-barn and another building scarcely less in size.

It is a circular stone structure, eighty-eight feet in circumference, and twenty-three feet high to the eaves. The walls, three feet eight inches thick, are buttressed in four places. The four buttresses are on the north, south, east, and west respectively, and are carried up the full height of the walls.The door, five feet in height by two feet six inches broad, has jambs and lintel of a later period than the walls; indeed upon the lintel is the date 1642, with C. R. - standing, almost certainly, for Carolus Rex. Immediately above the doorway is a blocked-up pointed arch. The roof is cone-shaped, with a small square cupola upon the top.

Inside we find six hundred L-shaped nests of chalk, arranged in fifteen tiers; the eighth row is the only one with an alighting-ledge, though there are other ledges quite irregularly placed. A potence is still in position. The date usually assigned to this most interesting building is 1307, though the grounds for such precision are not clear. But there is little doubt that it is hardly, if at all inferior in antiquity to the Herefordshire example at Garway, or to the lost treasure at Bosbury. A vaulted roof, as seen at Garway and elsewhere, may quite well have existed formerly and been replaced by that now seen. The dovecote-lover may congratulate himself, not only on the Hurley dovecote, but upon the knowledge that it is in careful hands.
As we look at this lovely dovecote today, we see that it has indeed been in the care of a knowledgeable and careful hand,as Cooke informed us nearly 90 years ago. If anything, the dovecote is even more beautifully situated now than it was then. It sits on the southern side of the house, now named Tithecote Manor, and is listed as a Grade I building. It is on private property and can't be seen from the public right-of-way, but a recent picture has been most graciously provided to us all by the curent managers of the property. January 16, 2008

Willington: Click for larger image

Willington Side: Click for larger image

another view

Willington Scaffolding: Click for larger image


This dovecote is one of my top ten favorites.  This excellent dovecote, north of London and near Bedford, lies in Willington, Bedfordshire.  Cooke did not provide any information about dovecotes in Bedforshire, but it is certainly close enough to London to warrant placing it in this chapter. Besides being of such a tremendous size and wonderful condition, this structure is owned and maintained by the National Trust.  Mrs. J. Endersby, 21 Chapel Lane, Willington MK44 3QG (tel 01234 838278) lives near the cote and is a wonderful guide.  If you have the time, it is certainly worth contacting her ahead of your visit to ensure you can visit the interior of the dovecote and also the excellent stable on the grounds as well.  Nothing remains of the manor house, but the small church on the grounds that is still in use by the residents of Willington is also worth a visit.  Mrs. Endersby is a great guide to all three.  She is full of information and is also very charming.  Originally, the manor was all part of the Barony of Bedford and included the entire parish of Willington.  It passed to the  Mowbray family in 1265 and was acquired by John Gostwick in 1529.  This was right in the period when men of status had dovecote, and status symbols they certainly were.  John Gostwick, Sir John Gostwick, after 1540, was the comptroller for Cardinal Wolsey and later the Treasurer General for Henry VIII.  From timber dating it appears that he constructed the stables around 1540 and the dovecote somewhate later, shortly after 1543.  Through the centuries, the property changed hands a few more times, but by 1850, a mere 300 years later, the Bedforshire Architectural and Archaeological socety had to step in to save the remaining buildings from utter destruction.  The dovecote was turned over the the National Trust in 1914, well in advance of the stables, which were given to the Trust in 1947.  This detailed historical information about the dovecote was lovingly cribbed from the National Trust's pamphlet of the site.

Willington roof: click for larger imageThe dovecote is approximately 20'x40', and 20' again to the bottom of the eaves, with the rest of the gable extending another 20', making for a total of nearly 40' tall. There is an inside wall dividing the cote into two halves, providing even more nesting spaces.  Each chamber has a single entry door on the "front" side and there is a single square glazed window for one chamber and another single, large but narrow glazed window in the gable end for the other chamber. Neither window provides access, but does provide the only direct source of light for each chamber.  The louvered section shown on both sides is how the birds gained initial entrance into the cote.  These provide access to an upper chamber, which is the ceiling of the cote proper, and therefore provides no light for the cote chambers below.  From this chamber the birds dropped through a chute into the cote, making it virtually impossible for any bird or animal of prey to gain access to the interior of the cote. The walls are covered with nearly 1,000 nest boxes, and the only break is the entry door.  They extend to, but not into, the gables.  They are arranged in the standard checkerboard style, alternating their internal direction, and have a landing ledge for each row.  A scaffolding and ladder are attached to the walls to allow easy access to each individual nest box. September 30, 2006.


image Streatley exterior view


Standing on the lawn at Place Manor, Streatley, is a fine circular stone dovecote nearly eighty feet in circumference. The roof, of tiles, is topped by a square cupola, and has a single dormer window. The walls are three feet eight inches thick, and the arched doorway five feet high by rather more than two feet wide. The oaken door appears to be original. Inside there is a potence, also three hundred and fifty nest holes. MAPThis was our first dovecote, found on our very first afternoon of our dovecote quest in England. We couldn't see it from the road, and finally asked in Goring, the village just across the Thames from Streatley. We picked out an older man waiting in line at the post office, and he directed us right to it. Going from Goring into Streatley, the road crosses the Thames, passes a church, and comes to a crossroad with a light. Proceed straight through this, and just beyond some houses is a drive to the right that leads to some open land owned by the National Trust and an access to the Ridgeway path. There is space to park a car. The dovecote is downhill, to the east where you can get this rather nice view. It is however, on private property and closer inspection is not possible. We do have some additional photographs provided by the owner that show that the dovecote remains in very good condition, complete with its potence. September 10, 1998. We thank the current owners for providing us with these more recent photos and laud their efforts in preserving the structure.

Streatley interior roof view

Streatley dovecot door   Streatley interior view  


Turning now to Hertfordshire, we find an octagonal brick dovecote of unusual size at Walkern Manor Farm, near Stevenage. The height to eaves is twenty feet, while each of the eight faces is twelve feet in length. The walls, however, are but fourteen inches thick. The tiled roof is crowned by a small open cupola of rather elegant form, which covers a central opening. More than five hundred plain oblong nest holes are contained in the upper story of the building, the lower chamber being a granary.

At Cottered, in the same county, is a square brick dovecote standing in an orchard, with tiled roof, its dormer windows now filled in. It is debased into a store for apples, and few details are to be obtained. Another Hertfordshire dovecote will be found at the Hall Farm, Little Wymondley - a brick building, with a half hipped gabled roof; while a fourth, a small seventeenth-century structure of brick and timber, is at Norcott Court, near Northchurch.

On the other side of London a particularly charming dovecote, not only delightful in itself, but attractive from its situation and associations, offers itself for notice at the house known as East Court, Detling, near Maidstone.  East Court is built upon the site of an old pilgrims' "rest-house," demolished about eighty years ago.
Detling The pilgrims' way to Canterbury from Southampton passed close by the charming old walled garden, and it is upon this long deserted path the dovecote now looks down.

It never looked upon the pilgrims who went by, weary yet eager for the shrine they sought, for it is hardly earlier in date than Jacobean times; a square brick building, roofed with old flat tiles. The pyramidal roof is broken by three dormer windows, and a zinc-topped cupola surmounts the whole. The dovecote's form is nearly cubical; the walls eleven feet high, eleven feet four inches square. Inside there are about two hundred L-shaped nests. The tiers commence four feet above the earthen floor, which is upon a lower level than the ground outside.

We found this dovecote on our fall 2006 trip, looking exactly as Cooke had described nearly a century ago.  It is however, no longer in quite as romantic a situation, being in a group of rather modern homes.   The dovecote itself remains attractive and in rather splendid condition, with the flat tiles and odd zinc cupola cover firmly in place. This photograph was taken September 28th, 2006, from the public residential road road that served the homes on both sides.


Another pleasant Kentish dovecote is found at East Farleigh, also near the county town. It is circular, built of stone rubble, with tiled roof. The walls, twenty-six feet high to the eaves, are four feet thick at the ground level, gradually diminishing to three feet at the top - a plan not very common. The diameter is fourteen feet. The building has a string-course halfway up.

The deep-eaved roof contains four dormer windows, and is crowned by a square cupola. The weather-vane this carries is pierced with "J. A. 1674," but the building itself is certainly of greater age. Inside there are eight tiers of L-shaped nest-holes, twenty-nine nests to a tier.
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