A dovecote is a building or structure, usually of brick or stone, which was constructed for the breeding and keeping of doves. They are usually circular in plan, up to 10m in diameter, with a conical roof but they may also be square, rectangular or polygonal with a pitched roof. Dovecotes either occur as isolated monuments or within an agricultural, religious, or manorial complex. They were constructed for the breeding and management of doves in order to provide a constant and sustainable supply of meat, eggs, and manure.


Dovecote at Notley AbbeyThe tradition of dovecote construction in England is associated with the Norman aristocracy of the 11th century. From this period, the right to build and keep a dovecote was restricted to royalty and the ecclestiastical and lay nobility but from the 14th century ownership extended throughout the social hierarchy. A high-point of activity in the construction and use of dovecotes may therefore be seen in the 14th and 15th centuries. A second high-point of activity was seen in the 17th century, by which time the ownership of a dovecote, as well as providing an alternative source of food, had also assumed a social significance. In addition to their functional purposes, dovecotes assumed an important architectural and asthestic role and as such they continue to be built in the present century. The majority of dovecotes fell out of use during the late 18th century when a constant supply of other meat became available throughout the winter period.


Dovecote at St Dunstan's church, Monks RisboroughWriters on animal and farm husbandry in the 18th and 19th centuries suggested that a dovecote should be placed in a conspicuous position away from surrounding trees. This meant that the homing birds could see their house easily. Shelter from the prevailing winds was also important and entrance holes were often made to face south to avoid the cold. A water source for drinking and bathing was also important and so many dovecotes are situated near the manorial fishponds or farmyard ponds. Initially dovecotes were built on the margins of estates or manors or within the agricultural or manorial complex but in the 17th and later centuries many dovecotes became incorporated into the newly planned farm layouts.


Examples of dovecotes in Buckinghamshire are one at Notley Abbey and one near the church at Monks Risborough, both associated with ecclesiastical institutions.