Miscellaneous - Spital Dovecot
From the 16th century doocots, or dovecots as they are more commonly
known, provided a valuable source of fresh nutrition to many fortunate
landowners. Pigeon supplemented their diet in the latter months, when
lamb was unavailable and food scarce. The younger pigeons, ’peezers’,
were the main ingredients in pies and stews. Pigeon eggs were also
eaten. The birds themselves, fed on the surrounding vegetation, much to
the annoyance of local farmers, as doocots could often house up to 2000
The doocots were mainly the privilege of landownership, as the
construction of such were controlled by land regulations in Scots law,
often in relation to the acreage of the land held by the landowner. The
oldest surviving doocots in Scotland date to the 16th century. There
were principally two types of doocots; the Beehive and the Lectern.
Beehives were the earlier of the doocots, resembling as the name
suggests beehives. Most were made of stone, with a small doorway at the
base of the structure, and a circular vent at the apex to allow the
pigeons to fly in and out. Beehives, like Lecterns, had several ‘rat
courses’ projecting around the circumference of the building to deter
rodents. The stone nesting boxes within, numbered some 300-500.
Lecterns were the most common of the doocots, found only in Scotland
and Southern France. These date to the early 17th century, and were
generally rectangular in construction, with a monopitch slated roof.
They came in either single or two roomed structures, with several
flight holes in an upper wall to allow the birds access. Some of the
larger lecterns housed up to 2000 boxes.
Today the ruins of a doocot (probably a lectern), can still be found 50
metres from the Stonehouse to Lesmahagow
railway line, near Westtown
farm. The doocot dates to at least 1816, when it was listed as a
‘pigeon cot’ on William Forrest’s, map of Lanarkshire. The doocot would
appear to have been the property of Spittal House, as a path is shown
on the map leading from the house to the doocot. In 1862 the site was
listed as Dovecot, but it is unclear when it fell into disuse. All that
remains today are the ruins of a structure approximately 5m square by
1m high with walls about 1m thick.
Another area of Stonehouse where there may have stood a doocot, is
Dovesdale, not a mile from the doocot at Spittal House. Again, the
former Dovesdale House dates back at least two centuries (Bovensdale
1821, John Ainslie). As the names suggests, Dovesdale House may have
retained a doocot. Some prominent houses and farms of the period, had
flight holes incorporated into the construction of the building, for
the occupants own consumption. A newspaper article from 1866 stated
that a Doocot was present, adjacent to West Mains Mansion.
In times of superstition and more popular natural remedies, pigeons
were believed to retain medicinal powers. What was more unusual however
was the belief that ‘doo dung’ rubbed into the feet, claimed to cure
the sufferer of fever. The ‘doo dung’ was also used as a fertiliser
into the 19th century. In 1625, Charles I issued an order that doocots
should have stone floors, as the doo dung was a rich source of
potassium nitrate, an ingredient of gunpowder. Pigeons are still eaten
as a delicacy, though the breeding of such is confined to ‘homing
pigeons’ for racing. The term ‘doocote’ or ‘pigeon hole’ is still in
use, as a distribution system for mail in the work place, but now a
distant memory of its origins.