Dovecote At Penmon

by Sue Beesley

The Dovecote: the third in a series on Penmon researched and written by Max Pemberton.

When the monastery was dissolved in 1537, the buildings were passed into the hands of the Bulkeley’s of Beaumaris, a local landowning family still owns much of the area today.

They enclosed much of the land as a deer park and built this fine Dovecote in about 1600. With its massive domed roof and octagonal cupola, it has room for nearly 1000 birds.

The central 12 foot stone pillar, with spiralling corbelled steps is believed to have supported a wheel and ladder to gain access to the higher nests.

How this would have worked in reality is still open to question. The openings on the north, south and west walls would originally have been glazed, and one window on the ground floor of the west Wall, has long been filled in.

With the door firmly bolted, and with it high step, to keep rats and any floodwater out, the only access to the interior would be through the cupola, and down the short chimney.

Easy for a dove or pigeon, but impossible for any potential birds of prey, thus making it is a safe haven for those nesting inside.

The attached barn and adjacent pigsties, a short distance to the south, are also assumed to be built this time, possibly on the foundations, or from the remains of early structures.

In the barn a stone plate was reportedly once in evidence bearing the dates 1637 in Jacobean figures, suggesting this was the exact date of construction or restoration.

The pigeon cote, Dovecote, columbarium culvery and doocot are all in simple terms a home for pigeons.

The terms columbarium, culvery, and doocot are of Roman, Cornish, and Scottish heritage respectively, while the term Dovecote is of English extraction.

These structures some quite elegant, were found all over Europe.

While far, far fewer in number today, England boasted over twenty six thousand Dovecotes during the 17th century on the grounds of monasteries and manor houses, because they were an incredibly profitable and worthwhile food source.

The rest of us naturally were prohibited by law from interfering with the activities of our” betters” pidgeons or to erect pigeon houses for ourselves.

This condition remained rather static from about the 13th through to the 18th century, when a couple of rather dramatic events took place.

The first being the French Revolution; when such class privileges or abuses, depending on your view, were eradicated forever and set the tone for the rest of Europe to follow.

But the second and perhaps more important was the introduction of root crops into the agricultural practices of the day.

Until then, pigeons were the only reliable fresh meat sauce during the winter and early spring months, and thousands upon thousands were reared for and by the aristocracy in these grand Dovecotes scattered about the land.

Until the introduction of root crops, there simply was not enough feed to carry livestock through the winter months and nearly all had to be slaughtered and salted for preservation.

Now it is said that squab, Pigeon, can hold its own in the taste department at any time, but compared to old salty dried meat there is no comparison.

Most of these the cotes were designed to hold between 200 and 500 pairs, and sometimes there were more than one Dovecote on the premises.

The residents would do what pigeons really do best, fly, feed and breed.

These birds were foragers, each day they would leave their coats, scouring the countryside for seeds weeds, as well as crop.

And as mentioned earlier, interference was prohibited.

So about every six weeks for nearly the entire year, each pair would offer their young to the cause of gastronomic delight.

But pigeons were useful, even beyond that of the table.

The manure is of very high quality and would fetch a nice price and was also used as a tanning agent for certain leathers.

Small wonder then that these structures were well built, and many to our delight still stand today. Dovecotes are now protected by law and must be maintained.

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