15 August 1997

Saving dovecotes from destruction

Do you have an old dovecote in your farmyard? If you do and live in Yorkshire then the Yorkshire Dovecote Society would like to hear from you.

The society was founded 10 years ago by architectural historian Alan Whitworth to promote the preservation of dovecotes and pigeon lofts throughout Yorkshire. It has recently been given a grant by the Council for British Archaeology to locate and record these often quirky old buildings in that county.

They are usually located on farms and because they may be inconveniently sited and sized for modern-day use, they tend to be neglected or derelict. Yet once they were considered a valuable necessity.

The Egyptians really cultivated pigeons and while they were certainly eaten, it was their droppings that were prized. These were a valuable fertiliser and recognised as such from as early as 2000BC.

"In England dovecotes were not allowed to be floored and dung was used for making gunpowder in the days before guano was shipped here from the West Indies," says Mr Whitworth, who finds it is sad that these fascinating buildings are often demolished when they could be preserved and put to good use.

"Architecturally there are some extraordinary buildings and some of them are quite large – big enough to be turned into two or three-storey dwellings.

They can also be done up into workshops or holiday accommodation and we can point people in the right direction for grants towards this, but the first step is to get the dovecote listed."TG

The Yorkshire Dovecote Society, Linden, 10 The Carrs, Sleights, Whitby YO21 1RR. (01947-810819).

This 18th century octagonal red brick dovecote in Letwell, South Yorkshire is complete with terracotta nest boxes and potence – revolving gallows with ladder for collecting eggs. The listed grade II building was restored by the village with financial support from the Council for the Protection of Rural England and serves simply as a decorative village centrepiece. The key is available from nearby South Farm on whose land it stands.