South Scarle has two ancient dovecotes, buildings specifically constructed to house pigeons.one, originally in the grounds of Beeches Farm, is easily seen from church lane. The other is in the grounds of The Hall. Both are built of lias limestone as are several older houses in the village. The dovecote at Beeches Farm has been renovated and has a pyramidal pan-tile roof with a ‘cat-slide’ dormer glover that provides access for the birds. The dovecote at The Hall is roofless but provides 221 well-preserved , stone nesting boxes.
Originally the right to keep pigeons was only granted to feudal barons, abbots and Lords of the Manor. Later the privilege was extended to the parish clergy. It was not until the mid-18th century that any landowners could build a dovecote on their own land. Both of South Scarle’s dovecotes were probably built well before this date.
The birds that were reared were blue rock pigeons and today their descendants are the feral pigeons that throng all our cities. They are distinct from, but related to the familiar wood pigeons that are actually impossible to domesticate.
Pigeons were mainly reared fro their meet which was invaluable in the winter when other fresh m,eat was scarce. Each breeding pair produced two chicks about six times a year for up to seven years. Young ‘squabs’ were usually selected for the pot after four weeks, before any flying had toughened the meat.
Many Other Uses
Pigeons, however, had many other uses.Their well-known homing instincts have been used for centuries for carrying messages right up to the Second World War.In addition, their droppings were used for manure and for tanning and in the 17th Century, were a major source of salt-peter used in the manufacture of gunpowder.
Pigeon feathers, along with those of farmyard birds, were used for stuffing pillows and it was once believed that those who slept on pigeon feathers lived to an old age. One medieval remedy for melancholy was to apply to the head of the afflicted a live pigeon head cut in half. Eric Johnson-Sabine