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24 September 2014

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You are in: Nottingham > History > Local history > Notts treasures: House of 4000 pigeons

Wollaton Dovecote Museum

Notts treasures: House of 4000 pigeons

The building that Wollaton Dovecote Museum is housed in is as much an attraction as the exhibits inside.

The Wollaton Dovecote Museum is a little known museum on Dovecote Drive, Wollaton.

The dovecote was built in 1572 by the Willoughby family and, along with Wollaton Hall and Park, was part of their estate up until 1925.

It is now run by a small group of volunteers from the village, including Maureen Jones (above) and Marilyn Nurse.

"[We] think it's a real gem for Wollaton, it's just not known enough. Everyone is always amazed that they don't know that it's here."

A bird in hand

The two-storey Elizabethan dovecote has 1180 nesting sites built into its walls. Each nest would have been home to a male, female and two young, known as squabs. That's over 4500 birds at capacity.

"It would have been a very noisy and a very smelly place."

These birds would not have been used for racing but for eating. The dovecote would have helped keep the 'lord of the manor', Sir Francis Willoughby, well fed all year round.

Wollaton Dovecote Museum

Walls covered with nesting sites

Each nesting box is shaped like the letter 'L'. The dark bit at the back would be where the nest would be.

When the gamekeeper came for some filling for Sir Willoughby's pie he could climb up the perches, reach into the nest and help himself to the pigeons.

In original form, the Grade II listed building would have had no windows and just one small doorway.

This door was built incredibly small for security reasons - any thieves trying to run off with a sack full of food would struggle to make their exit.

In safe hands

The estate remained in the hands of the Willougbys up until 1925, when it was sold to Nottingham Corporation, now Nottingham City Council.

Since then the dovecote has been used as both a shed and a stables but in 1986 the Nottingham Civic Society took over its tenancy and obtained funds to renovate the building.

It wasn't until this date that the pigeons were finally evicted and the louvre, the pigeons gateway to the dovecote, was blocked. 

Birth of the museum

It has been a museum, run by volunteers from the Wollaton Conservation Society, for the last 20 years. Maureen was there at the start.

Louvre on top of the dovecote in Wollaton

The dovecote's louvre

"We said yes [to being key holders] because we thought it'd be nice for headquarters [for the Society]. We didn't know it had no water.

"It's a bit of a dead loss as a headquarters so we opened it up as a dovecote.

"There were a couple who were helping called Mr and Mrs Bunker. They said if we put a table in each room and borrow a few bits and pieces.

"People just kept on giving us things. All sorts of things..."

The museum was born and is used as a temporary exhibition space.

Wollaton Dovecote Museum is open one Sunday a month between May and September each year. It is located off Bramcote Lane, on Dovecote Drive, in Wollaton. For more information please ring Marilyn Nurse (0115 928 5055) or Jean Dinsdale (0115 928 4643).

last updated: 13/05/2009 at 17:56
created: 24/03/2009

You are in: Nottingham > History > Local history > Notts treasures: House of 4000 pigeons



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