The Orraman looks at Doocots


Doocot’ is the Scots word for ‘a building devoted to the domestication of pigeons’.

Domesticated pigeons all originate from the rock dove, columba livia, so called because it lived in caves and cliff sites.

Pigeon houses were plentiful in 3000 BC in Egypt and were prolific in the Middle East in huge towers.

Doves produce from four to 16 young in a year and this prolific breeding cycle made them ideal for farming.

Pigeons are still used for racing but, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, doocots were often fashionably built as follies in designed landscapes.

Many have survived for centuries because of their substantial construction, and their architecture is generally a perfect expression of local craftsmanship.

They have an appeal to anyone with an eye for architectural form and express a substantial degree of functionalism in their design.

They also represent a reflection of an architectural tradition. Despite the quest for individualism, doocots do have certain, recognisable prototypes.

The dome-vaulted beehive shape is a primitive, but elegant form, like the defensive brochs of the west coast and Orkney, or the bottled-kilns of the earliest industrial periods.

Their main interest for construction connoisseurs lies in the fact that they are usually statutorily listed as Buildings of Special Historic or Architectural Interest, they are often Ancient Monuments and may unfortunately frequently fall into the category of Buildings at Risk, and we are in danger of losing these sentinels of a past life.

The earliest forms of dovecotes were those converted from natural caves or cut into rock, known as ‘coo caves’.

The earliest surviving Scottish doocots date from the 16th century with the oldest at ROCHELHILL, Glamis, which is a rectangular lectern doocot with a panel dated 1565, a date of 1715 on jambs with a slated roof and triangular dormers.

We are particularly lucky here in Angus as we not only have the oldest and the largest examples in Scotland but all the 71 Angus Doocots were listed by G.A.G.Peterkin in the book he wrote in 1980, ‘Scottish Dovecotes’, which details the Finavon doocot, which is the largest in Scotland with 2,421 nestboxes and is described as a rectangular double-chambered lectern doocot.

Another well known doocot is at Glamis Castle which is a rectangular double-chambered lectern doocot with triangular, crow-stepped back wall which was repaired 1971 to preserve it.

In Arbroath at Hospitalfield House there is a lectern doocot which is one of the rare examples to have found a new purpose as an electric substation and hopefully this will help keep it for posterity.

Yours aye,

The Orraman