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Painted dovecotes in E Anglia

Listed under Blog, hand-painted furniture, Richard Willott Posted Oct 04 2020

This article is part of a series on the wide range of unusual painted furniture projects we have undertaken at Traditional Painter. Here’s an insight into Painted dovecotes in E Anglia.

Traditional dovecote made by Richard Willott in E Anglia
A dovecote in Suffolk constructed, painted and installed by FX Decor

What are dovecotes all about?

As far back as Ancient Egyptian times, people realised the futility of getting down on hands and knees after the harvest to manually pick up tiny grains of nutritious wheat. Rather than let that potential food source go to waste, it made sense to use doves and pigeons to do the work for them. Therefore they would rear and house the birds in dovecotes, encouraging them to pick and peck the waste food off the ground. When the birds had tidied up, they would eat the birds. A most effective way to turn waste grain into organic pesticide-free meat, with endless eco eggs and manure to boot. Time and motion study perfection.

Traditionally, dovecotes would not fit on a pole

Traditionally dovecotes would be sizeable structures. Apparently Ancient Egypt had examples of fortified dovecotes. There is ample evidence throughout Europe that over the past 1000 years they have been the size of huge barns, multi-storey buildings, towers. For the landed wealthy of the Middle Ages, dovecotes were the status equivalent of big cars today. Check out some of the examples in this National Trust article plotting the history of dovecotes in Britain.

Why are small dovecotes on a tall wooden pole or high up the side of a building?

It isn’t just humans who like pigeon meat. To protect the birds from weasels, stoats and more, they have to be as high off the ground as is feasible. And there should be a platform or stones or some such wide obstacle to prevent vermin climbing from the pole and going along the underside of the platform into the dovecote.

Don’t place dovecotes anywhere near trees either, as that just enables easy predator attacks from above!

Tongue-in-cheek pole painting solution to deter predators

Anti-climb paint stops humans from climbing pipes and poles, but may not deter fleet-of-foot, lightweight vermin from reaching the top of a dovecote pole. However you could track their painted footprints from the decimated dovecote back to their den and deal with them there.

Why are dovecotes painted white?

Throughout history, people have built dovecotes from every conceivable material, from stone and brick and rock to clay. Invariably they wouldn’t have been wooden nor white. However, white or off-white painted wooden dovecotes are a feature across rural Britain today.

I cannot see any historical mention of how that tradition evolved. Is it because wood is plentiful and easy to work with and white paint is abundant? With dark or lead roofs and feature trim, white painted dovecotes look neat and tidy against a backdrop of plush British countryside?

If you know the source of the British tradition, please drop us a line.

Historical coating for dovecotes

This historical factoid might spurn a new Mylands dovecote paint marketing department. In Ancient Rome they used to build their dovecotes underground and coat the inside walls with marble dust! Mylands have already harnessed marble dust to produce their highly durable wall paint. With a few tweaks…? Watch this space…

Inside of a dovecote

I have hunted far and wide and cannot offer you any video evidence of what the inside of a simple occupied dovecote looks like. Not a pretty sight by all accounts.

Design, construct, paint and install a dovecote

Richard Willott of FX Decor Traditional Painter gives a brief run down of the process to make, install and paint the dovecote. Worth every penny.

As you can see, straight forward construction plans! …..Not.

plans to make dovecote

Once you have deciphered the drawings, try cutting wood at a setting of 22.5 degrees on a hand held jigsaw!

The dovecote interior sections are marine ply and the exterior is tongued and grooved  pine.

It is painted with Alcro Modern Oljefarg. This is the equivalent of Tikkurila’s  Everal Aqua, a semi-matt, water-based acrylic enamel paint designed to withstand changing weather conditions. Subsequently it offers high levels of durability for this sort of project.

The bigger and heavier the dovecote the more extravagant the foundations have to be. So it could be as simple as dropping the pole into an augered hole. However, with large lead roofed dovecotes, you may need to excavate a bed a metre or 2 deep and 4 metres across with bracing poles at the base of the central stem.

Each “pigeon hole“ is separate.

A breeding pair normally share one until she lays eggs, then she’ll turf him out!! Once chicks have hatched, both birds will feed them until they also decide to turf them out, ready or not!!

There are no interior shots.

Thanks for reading about Painted dovecotes in E Anglia.

Are you in the market for a dovecote, a dovecote painter, or need an experienced professional to paint an unusual piece of garden furniture? If so, feel free to contact Richard direct.

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