Tag Archives: Medieval dovecote

Medieval Dovecotes

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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.

Sources:

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.

Available now:

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Anatomy of a Castle – Other Interior Spaces

The Church, Ludlow Castle

The Church, Ludlow Castle

We’ve looked at the main spaces within the castle, but there are still a few more, smaller, places worth thinking about.

The buttery and the pantry were located next to the hall. To my great disappointment, I discovered that the buttery didn’t store butter. Instead it was where wine and ale were kept. ‘Buttery’ is derived from ‘bottle’. Water couldn’t be drunk, so people had to make do with wine and ale – at every meal. Ale didn’t travel well and was always drunk close to where it was made. There might even have been a brewster in the castle. Not only did ale not travel, but it also went off quickly. That meant it had to be brewed often.

Unless it was specifically brewed for a celebration of some kind, ale was very weak. Wine, on the other hand, was very potent. Much of it came from Gascony, where the English kings were the dukes from the eleventh to the fifteenth century.

The pantry was the room where the bread was stored. The word is derived from the Anglo-Norman ‘paneterie’, which came from the Latin ‘panis’ – bread. It was a large room. Everyone ate bread every day and slices of bread (trenchers) were usually used as plates.

Outside in the bailey there were some other buildings.

Many castles had their own churches or chapels. Old Sarum had a whole cathedral.

That was a bit unusual, though. One of my favourite castle churches is the round church, built in the Templar style, at Ludlow, which you can see at the top of the post.

One of the main purposes of a castle was to house mounted soldiers. When the lord moved to another location, the garrison would stay behind. The number of soldiers remaining there would depend on the escort needed for the lord’s own personal safety whilst travelling and the type of threat, if any, facing the castle he was leaving.

The soldiers weren’t the only ones who used horses. When the lord travelled, his goods would be carried in carts, pulled by horses. The lord and his family would also have their own horses for hunting or for visiting their local estates.

Where there are horses, there are stables. Sadly, medieval stables must have been made from wood, for there doesn’t seem to be any trace of them at the sites I’ve visited. There is a brick stable block at Kenilworth Castle (now a tea room), but it’s Tudor.  The horses who resided there must have thought they were in heaven.

The mews where the hunting birds were kept would also have been wooden. Men with even a modest amount of wealth kept birds for hunting.  Rich men had many birds and a falconer to train and look after them.

In a similar vein, many castles had dovecotes. These were usually circular and housed pigeons. Many were built from brick or stone and some survive. Pigeons were bred to be eaten.

And what of Hollywood’s favourite part of the castle: the dungeon? Well, as you’ve probably come to realise, there wasn’t a lot of space for keeping prisoners. The photograph below is of the prison at Portchester Castle.  There aren’t any schoolchildren inside to give you an idea of the scale, but the plaque and the stones should be enough to tell you that it’s small. It’s just in front of the keep and, as you can see, above ground level.

Prison

The Prison, Portchester Castle

It’s the only prison I’ve come across.

Sources:

Castle by Marc Morris

 

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

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