MSO9437 - Medieval dovecote at Dunster Priory Farm (Building)


A dovecote that formed part of the property owned by Dunster Priory Farm. Some of the features inside are characteristic of the 14th Century but it is also thought the current structure could date to the 16th Century.

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Type and Period (1)

Protected Status

Full Description

SS 9902 4372. Dovecote (NR). [1] A little to the west of Dunster Priory is the 13th Century Prior's dovecote. The doors and jambs are of great antiquity and within may be seen the revolving ladder by means of which the young pigeons were removed from the nest. [2] The dovecote is in excellent repair. (See GP AO/65/124/6). [3] Dovecote, Priory Green. Grade II*. Good example of circular dovecote, probably late 16th century. [4] Scheduled Ancient Monument (Somerset County No 33). [5] Round rubble built dovecote with conical stone slated roof and louvre. There is a revolving central ladder allowing access to the nesting boxes. The Dovecote is part of the agricultural complex attached to the Benedictine Priory with the priory barn a few yards to the east. The walls are 1.2 metres thick and the tower 6 metres high. The bearing and potence are thought to be 400 years old, revolving on metal pinina cone of metal. Access by ancient wooden door. [6] Scheduling affirmed with new national number (was Somerset 33) on 24 April 2002. [7] Restoration work in 1989 showed the revolving ladder to date to the 19th Century, possibly on the site of an earlier structure. [8] The 'potence' is an 18th Century introduction and the feeding platforms above are early 19th Century in date. Both horizontal arms are of hand-sawn hardwood and the upper is 0.38 metres out of vertical with the lower. This gives a less than comfortable working angle but it is correctly mounted and secured with handmade wrought iron hooks. The surviving sections of the double wallplates or ring beams appear to be 14th Century carpentry but the roof is of typical 18th Century construction with later repairs. [9] The Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment of 2009 gave the site a survival score of 0. [10] The dovecote is situated within Dunster Conservation Area. [11] Binding says of the dovecote that it was part of the Priory and gave fresh meat throughout the year; squabs (young birds) or adult pigeons. It contains around five hundred nesting boxes reached by a ladder attached to a central pivot. The birds left the dovecote through louvres in the roof. It was purchased for the Luttrell family soon after the Priory's closure in 1539; "an entry in the Castle garden accounts in 1788 notes the purchase of a 'wyer lattice' in the pigeon house." [13] The building was visited in April 2012 as part of the rapid condition survey of Exmoor's Listed Buildings 2012-13. It received a BAR score of 5A. [14] The site was surveyed in April 2015 as part of the 2015 Exmoor Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment. It was given a survival score of 7. [15] Dovecotes were built in England from the 12th Century onwards to provide a luxury food and until the 17th Century, only lords of the manors and parish priests were allowed by law to keep pigeons. From 1819 this privilege was extended to other freeholders and in the 19th Century, tenant farmers were allowed to keep pigeons with the landlords consent. Dunster dovecote has been subject to alteration but has never been converted to a secondary use. Some of its carpentry is characteristic of the 14th Century, including the arched doorframe made in three sections and two incomplete ring beams on the wall head. It was owned by the Benedictine Priory of Dunster but was sold to the Luttrells after the Dissolution in 1539. In the 18th Century major alterations were undertaken, with the floor level and wooden door frame raised and the lower tiers of nest holes blocked and plastered over to protect from rats, which spread to Somerset in the 1760s. At this time, the revolving ladder (or potence) and the southern window installed, which necessitated the removal of some of the nest holes, and the roof rebuilt. There are 501 nest holes in the structure, which penetrate c.0.40 metres into the wall, widening at the inner ends. In the 19th Century two feeding platforms were added to the axis of the revolving ladder. The ladder was altered between August 1936 and 1952, when the dovecote was still in private ownership. The dovecote was purchased by the Dunster Parochial Church Council in 1952 and opened to the public. It underwent substantial repairs in 1989, when the new weather vane was introduced. [17] Few priory buildings have survived. An early map of the area appears to show a large building on the site as well as a dovecote. [18]

Sources/Archives (19)

  • --- Map: Unknown. c.1770. Plan of the Priory, Dunster. Pen and Ink.
  • <1> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1929. County Series, 3rd Edition 25 inch map. 1:25,000.
  • <2> Monograph: Hancock, F. 1905. Dunster Church and Priory. P. 44.
  • <3> Unpublished document: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Field Investigators Comments. GH Pitcher, 10 June 1965.
  • <4> Index: 4/8/1983. Twenty-fifth List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. District of West Somerset (Somerset).
  • <5> Index: Department of the Environment (IAM). 1978. List of Ancient Monuments of England and Wales 1978. P. 123.
  • <6> Report: Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission. Field Monument Warden Report.
  • <7> Unpublished document: English Heritage. 10/6/2002. English Heritage to Somerset County Council.
  • <8> Monograph: Croft, R.A. 1989. Dunster Dovecot.
  • <9> Unpublished document: McCann, J. 28/2/2002. McCann, J to Somerset County Council.
  • <10> Report: Bray, L.S.. 2010. Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment 2009, Exmoor National Park.
  • <11> Unpublished document: Fisher, J.. 2002. Dunster Conservation Area Character Appraisal.
  • <12> Monograph: Pevsner, N.. 1958. The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset. Penguin Books. p156.
  • <13> Monograph: Binding, H.. Discovering Dunster. The Exmoor Press. p87.
  • <14> Report: Lawrence, G.. 2014. Exmoor National Park: Rapid condition survey of listed buildings 2012-13.
  • <15> Report: Gent, T. and Manning, P.. 2015. Exmoor National Park Scheduled Monument Condition Survey 2015.
  • <16> Leaflet: Alderson, C.D.. 1971. The Dunster Dovecote. N/A.
  • <17> Leaflet: McCann, J.. Unknown. The Dunster Dovecote. Unknown. 94/04.
  • <18> Report: Croft, B.. 2007. Dunster Tithe Barn: Archaeological recording and excavations 2005-2007; Interim report November 2007.



Grid reference Centred SS 9901 4372 (5m by 6m)
Map sheet SS94SE

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (2)

Related Events/Activities (2)

External Links (1)

Other Statuses/References

  • 2012-3 Building At Risk Score (5A): 26/4/82
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MSO11988
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MSO12119
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 94 SE86
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • Pastscape / NRHE HOB UID: 36954
  • Somerset SMR PRN: 34618
  • Somerset SMR PRN: 34982

Record last edited

Apr 14 2021 11:35AM


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