During the 16th and 17th centuries, the richest people across the United Kingdom and France built beautiful towers, just for pigeons.
Known as dovecotes, pigeonniers, doocots, or colombiers, these buildings served as apartment blocks for hundreds of pigeons who were waiting to be eaten by members of the nobility.
Early 20th-century pigeon expert Arthur Cooke estimated that by the 1650s, there were 26,000 dovecotes in England alone.
Though many dovecotes had similar designs, each had its own flair.
In his 1920 Book of Dovecotes—the seminal tome on the subject—Cooke waxed lyrical on the grandeur of the pigeonnier:
“Are not all dovecotes pretty much alike?” it may be asked.
The answer to this question is emphatically “No.”
It would be difficult to find two dovecotes quite identical in every detail, architectural style, shape, size, design of doorway, means of entrance for the inmates, number and arrangement of the nests.
They were designed and built by craftsmen gifted with imagination, who, though they worked to some extent upon a pattern, loved to leave their individual mark upon the thing they fashioned with their hands.
Dovecotes were used primarily to keep pigeons for their meat. (The birds’ guano was also collected and used for fertilizer, gunpowder, and tanning hides.)
At the time, root vegetables had not yet arrived in Britain, meaning that in winter, farmers could not rely on their usual crops to feed livestock such as pigs and cows. They were therefore bereft of beef and bacon, and turned to alternative sources of meat.
Pigeons were easy to maintain: as natural foragers, they spent their days seeking food, then came home to roost at night. A farmer needed only to have a tower lined with nest-friendly alcoves in order to keep hundreds of squabs at the ready.