Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A Duff'uss And Some Do'cots

"Duff'uss" and "do'cot" are the old local words for "dove-house" and "dovecot". The doves in question were probably Stock Doves and were kept for their meat. The usual practice on farms before the advent of fodder crops was to kill off many of the livestock before the winter. The meat was then salted to last through till the next year. The doves or pigeons would have provided a welcome source of fresh meat. But only the lord of the manor was allowed to keep them, though he could grant permission for others to do so if he wished. The doves must have been a great irritation to the general population as they would, of course, feed wherever they liked, ruining the crops; but you'd be in big trouble if you killed them. Most villages in southern England would have had a dovecot and some still remain, if you know what to look for.

The dovecot tucked away at Chiswick End in Meldreth is fairly typical.  The gable ends would have had an entrance for the doves to gain access. Inside wooden nest-boxes were arranged all around the walls and a ladder was used to collect the "squabs" as the young were called - they were the choicest meat.

At Trumpington there is a dovecot included in a range of other farm buildings. It's thought to date from the eighteenth century and may have included a granary in the lower part of the building. The saddleback roof is a fairly common feature of dovecotes with the entrance holes being in the gablets (the little triangular wooden bit at the top). A book published over thirty years ago said this dovecot was in very poor condition; it probably owes its survival to the fact that it still serves some purpose on the farm though it no longer houses birds.

Others have survived because it has been possible to convert them into houses like this rather grand structure at Haslingfield. The birds entered through the "lantern" at the top. The circular structure allowed a ladder to revolve around a "king-post" in the centre of the building so that all the nest-holes could easily be visited and squabs collected.

In a field in Foxton stands a dovecot that was once fairly ruinous but has now been restored to something like its former glory, using old pictures as a guide. A plaque on the side gives the date of its construction....

1706, in case you can't work it out. I promised you a Duff'us too and here it is....

Standing on the site of The Great Duff'uss of 1436 is this eighteenth century building, now known as Dove Cottage. It was said to have had 3000 pigeon holes. Poultry were also kept at ground level. It says much about the way that farm labourers were treated that it was later converted to three dwellings which housed 18 people. It is now the home of the manager of a large farm company.

Take care.


  1. Dovecotes are fascinating buildings, we have a wonderful 16th century one near us at Fanshawegate Hall, there are still white doves using it though they are a decorative addition rather than a prospective meal these days:)

  2. I have read of dovecotes, but had no idea that the raising of pigeons served such a practical purpose of winter meat.
    Many of the farms of my rural childhood had a few resident pigeons--maybe remnants of an earlier time when they were more welcomed. My grandfather was glad that none inhabited his hayloft--as he considered them "messy" birds.

  3. These buildings are so pretty, John! And just built for the birds. amazing. We have many mourning doves here. Are they the same as the ones raised for meat? It would seem they have very little meat on their bones, but they are certainly gorgeous birds. Larry calls them "rain crows" because supposedly their call foretells a rain coming. Have you ever heard that?

  4. Well, I've learned a whole lot I didn't know, reading this. I don't know if we have dovecots up north - maybe I've just not noticed them...

  5. Thank you for all your comments. Jennyfreckles comment sent me on a long involved trek through the internet where I learned, among much else that pigeons were also important as a source of manure, of feathers to make feather beds, and unbelievably gunpowder was made from their droppings!

  6. Gunpowder from bird droppings? What in the world...and who thought of THAT? Thank you for the morning laugh, John. I'm going to put a link to this post on Facebook--I know a lot of people who would be fascinated by such information :)

  7. The Dovecote pictured in Haslingfield belongs to some dear friends of mine. :)


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'll try to answer any questions via a comment or e-mail within the next day or two (no hard questions, please!).