Medieval Dovecotes


Dovecote Tower, Barnard Castle

A few months ago I mentioned dovecotes in the Anatomy of a Castle series. At that time I had seen the remains of one dovecote, but didn’t have any photographs. In the space of a couple of weeks in April I photographed two. One was part of a castle and one wasn’t. Both were incorporated into towers.

Dovecote Tower at Barnard Castle in County Durham is shown in the photograph at the top of the post. The holes are nesting boxes.

A similar arrangement is found in the Round Tower in Southampton. The dovecote was partially demolished to make way for a wall a century or so after it was built, so there’ not much of it left. As you can see, the cleaner doesn’t get down there very often.

Round Tower, Southampton

Round Tower, Southampton

I’m not sure who the dovecote in Southampton belonged to. It’s close to the friary, so it might have belonged to the friars.

The dovecote at Barnard Castle was built in the early twelfth century, the one in Southampton dates from a century later.

Pigeons, as well as doves, were housed in the dovecotes. Both were used for food. They were a good source of fresh meat during the winter. Their eggs could also be eaten. Pigeons and doves don’t lay many eggs a year, especially when compared to chickens, but a large flock would produce a few that weren’t used for breeding.

As we’ve seen, bird dung was often used for medicinal purposes. It was also used during the tanning process. I don’t have a date for that, though, so it might have been later than the fourteenth century. Feathers could be used to fill pillows and mattresses.

Collecting live birds, eggs, dung and feathers would have involved the use of ladders or scaffolding within the tower. There wouldn’t have been much light for the person doing the collecting, as I’m assuming this was carried out during the night while the pigeons and doves slept.  I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be in there when they were awake.


Barnard Castle by Katy Kenyon


April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Medieval Buildings, Medieval Food

13 responses to “Medieval Dovecotes

  1. It’s amazing to learn about the ways they worked to survive back then.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I wouldn’t want to do it during the day either – all that flapping!!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Pingback: Anatomy of a Castle – Other Interior Spaces | A Writer's Perspective

  4. Wow, I didn’t know pigeons and doves had so many uses!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Homing pigeons were known back in ancient Egypt. Julius Caesar & Charlemagne used them. But I have no idea if medieval English used them. Nothing in my studies suggests it.

    If homing pigeons were used, would they be cooped with the food birds?

    I wonder if pigeons were expected to feed themselves? Might be handy around gardens. ☺

    Liked by 2 people

  6. The first time I saw a dovecote (probably a reconstructed one) I was surprised to see how large it was. I thought how busy and noisy it would have been with all the birds coming and going.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Always interesting to know the ways they managed to get protein through the winter, We just take it for granted that we can nip to the shop!

    Liked by 2 people

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