Wolverhampton's Listed Buildings

The Dovecote

Hedgerow Walk, Ryefield

Listing:  formerly part of Barnhurst Farm. Late C17. Restored 1980s.

Comment: The dovecote was originally part of Barnhurst Farm, which stood where the pub now is.  It had a large pond round two sides of it, on the sides away from the farm.  There is now no sign of the farm or the pond. This building came into the ownership of Wolverhampton Borough Council when it bought Barnhurst Farm at the end of the nineteenth century for the purposes of a sewage farm.  

The Dovecote (left) and the Gatehouse at Barnhurst Farm, about 1900.

Dovecotes are not all that rare nationally but they are in Wolverhampton and the West Midlands, where there seem to be only two - this one and one in Moseley, Birmingham.  This one is not only a rarity in itself but is also an interesting reminder that this area was agricultural until the second half of the 20th century.  

In the late 1970s this part of Barnhurst Farm was developed by the borough council as a housing estate.  The estate was called the Dovecotes and the people who moved there took the Dovecote as a focal point, giving the new estate some sort of roots and identity.  The local churches produced a magazine called "The Dovecote" and this photo is from the cover of an issue of April 1978.  The churches held an ecumenical service beside the dovecote on Whit Sunday 1978.  

In the distant left houses can be seen under construction.  Note the condition of the dovecote and its numerous tie bars. And compare the lantern with that in the photo above.

Thanks to Phil Williams for supplying the photo.

The dovecote stands in a green open space behind the Dovecote pub in the middle of a housing estate.  In 2004 the pub has been sold to a church who will use part of it and lease the rest to the local community association.  The Dovecote will therefore become more closely associated with the community.

Wolverhampton council was once a little less enthusiastic about our listed buildings than it is now. In the 1980s they tried to demolish this building on the grounds of its decrepitude, liability to vandalism and value as a development site. The Wolverhampton Civic Society opposed them at a public inquiry and won. The building was then restored, the work including putting a concrete ring round the top of the walls, then removing the reinforcing bars and reinstating the roof.  Unfortunately no use was found for it and the interior is never open to inspection, except when the Wolverhampton History and Heritage Society managed to arrange its opening one day in September 2001.

Local schoolchildren, their teacher and a representative of the Heritage Lottery fund pose for the city council's photographer on the Project launch day. More recently the council has taken renewed interest and, with Sue Whitehouse, one of their conservation officers, taking the lead, has set up the Dovecote Project.  This project operates with the involvement of the Dovecotes Tenants and Residents Association and the local schools.  

The Dovecote seemed to need repairs to the roof and there were some cracks in the walls which needed checking.  Northampton Archaeology (Tony Walsh) did desk study and detailed structural surveys were carried out.   

The consequent restoration work was carried out in late 2003 and early 2004.  The brickwork was repaired and repointed, inside and out.  Minor repairs were done to the roof and the lantern practically reconstructed.  The interior was limewashed and lighting installed.  The door was rebuilt.  Two interpretation panels were placed outside and one inside.  

A group of local teachers has helped produce a teacher's pack (mainly for Key Stage 2).

The council opened the restored building for the Heritage Open Days in September 2004 and it is intended to use the building for educational purposes and, if possible for other community purposes.

The Dovecote in September 2004 after the restoration was completed and showing one of the interpretation boards.

Note the rebuilt lantern which is the one created for the 1980s restoration.  It has small entry holes with landing perches at each.

View of the roof and the lantern entrance.

The lantern, through which the birds would have entered and left, is a reconstruction, in the 1980s, from old photographs.  The rest is reasonably original.

The building is octagonal and is unusual for a dovecote in that it has windows, in this case on every other side.

There is a small and low door, designed to ensure that when anyone entered the building they they had to crouch down; the aim was to cause as little panic in the dovecote as possible when someone came to collect the eggs and birds. 

Inside there are the usual l-shaped nest holes on all walls, with ledges below. (The photo of the interior, right, was taken before the 2004 restoration).  Some of the ledges on one wall are wooden, the rest being of the usual brick.  The nest holes on the lowest few feet have been filled in.  This was probably done when the brown rat reached the area in the 18th century and started to take eggs from the lower nests.  One or two holes in this area were probably inserted during the 1980s restoration.

The floor inside is part of the 1980s restoration work but it reproduces a central hole, showing where there would probably have been a potence.

The l-shaped nesting holes are thought to have been made in that shape to accommodate the birds' tails and in imitation of the nesting hole shape most favoured by wild birds. A projecting course of bricks beneath each row of holds provides a landing perch.  (This pigeon is, of course, a plastic model, one of several which give great pleasure to visiting school children).
A reconstruction of the interior of the dovecote, showing the potence.
Drawing copyright Wolverhampton City Council.

It was once thought that the pigeons were bred to provide meat during the winter.  But recent research has shown that most pigeons were consumed between April and October, suggesting that their consumption was a matter of taste rather than necessity.

The birds were eaten as "squabs" - fledglings about 4 weeks old.  Each pair of birds would produce 2 squabs up to ten times each year.

The potence was a large central post with projecting arms, to which a ladder was attached.  The whole thing could move round, thereby giving access to all the nest holes for the collection of eggs and squabs.

This potence is at another dovecote, the one at Erddig.  The dovecote there is of a very similar octagonal design.  

Note that it is occupied and the floor is therefore covered in droppings. Until the latter part of the 17th century droppings on earthen floors were collected by government agents because it was a source of saltpetre for making gunpowder.  Until other and better sources were found it was forbidden to put a floor in a dovecote. 

Thanks to Sue Whitehouse for much of this information.