|A. O. Cooke|
|Chapter Eight:||Pigeons of the Church:||Annotated|
|About twenty years ago, Mr.
George Marshall, the owner of Sarnesfield Court, noticed
while examining the interior surface of the tower
walls, a number of holes observable in their upper portion. These he at first
took to be niches in which the joists of a former belfry chamber had been
inserted, but closer study soon dispelled this first surmise. The openings
were all uniform in size - six inches square; the holes entered the walls
at an angle, and they enlarged gradually until a depth of from fifteen to
eighteen inches was reached. There are six tiers of holes in each of the
four walls, the usual number of the holes in every tier being four, though
there are sometimes five; one or two occur also on either side of the lancet
windows. Below each tier of holes there is a stone alighting
There cannot be the slightest doubt that these were nests for pigeons; not adapted to such purpose as an after thought, but planned and executed when the tower was built. As the tower dates from the first half of the thirteenth century this remarkable dovecote must be given rank as perhaps the oldest in the county - older by half a century at least than that which stands by Garway church. That it was not the only pigeon house in the parish seems suggested by the name Pigeon house Meadow in an ancient document; but any traces of the dove-cote there alluded to will now be sought in vain.
Very similar accommodation for pigeons occurs in the church
tower at Collingbourne Ducis, Wiltshire, and it is probable that many other
instances exist to which attention has not yet been drawn. The real purpose
of such holes as those at Sarnesfield might quite easily elude the observer,
who would regard them as "putlock-holes," made to receive the ends of horizontal
timbers used in scaffolding, temporary or otherwise.
||During the reign of Henry III. A certain
John of Hertford, who "carried Holy Water at Denham (Bucks), when he wished
to drive out some pigeons from a certain lantern at the church of Denham,
outside the same church, let fall a stone from that lantern upon the head
of Agnes, wife of Robert de Denham, who was sitting in the church, so that
the third day she died." Again, in 1375 the vicar of Kingston-on-Thames was
judged entitled to all pigeons bred in the church and its chapels.
We arrived at Elkstone church during the harvest thanksgiving service on a foggy Sunday morning. Directly across the road was Elkstone Manor, which had a triangular wooden dovecote attached to its front gable. We walked around the churchyard until the service ended, and then went inside, where a kind lady let us look at their columbarium . It is reached by a circular stone stairway in a wall to the left of the chancel. The dovecote itself is in a chamber above the chancel. It has a wooden floor and several nest holes built into the walls shown at right. It is well lit by a lancet window, which was unglazed when the birds lived here. September 27, 1998
|Adjoining the west end of the now ruinous
church of Portpatrick, Wigtownshire, and slightly encroaching on its western
wall, there is a curious small round tower. The walls are over three feet
thick, and the internal diameter about nine feet. The lower portion seems
much older than the upper part, from which it is divided by a string course.
The slated roof, a truncated cone in shape, is topped by a small pigeon
In 1670 a door was placed at the top of the steeple at Wilmslow church, Cheshire, in order to "keepe forth the Piggens from Fowleinge the church." The door seems to have failed in its duty, for five years later a net is bought for the same purpose. This apparently succeeded no better, and finally, in 1688, the drastic step was taken of expending two pence on "shot and powder" to exterminate the birds.
Though it seems certain that Sarnesfield church tower was originally built in such fashion as to include its utility as a dovecote, later arrangements were in some cases made to the same end. At Elkstone, near Cheltenham, a chamber over the chancel shows clear traces of having been so adapted, the forty odd nest-ing-places now seen being evidently a late addition. The birds flew in and out by way of an unglazed lancet window.
A like case existed at the church of St. Peter, Marlborough,
where the dovecote, a chamber over the chancel, had a groined stone roof.
Here pigeons nested until towards the middle of the nineteenth century. To
the same recent period extended the custom of allowing pigeons the use of
a room above the vaulting of the church at Overbury, Worcestershire. Four
centuries ago the pigeons which frequented Yarmouth parish church had their
headquarters over one of the chapels.