Strictly for the birds – a look at local doocots

Westquarter Doocot
Westquarter Doocot

Last week I was speaking to a local man just back from a walk round Linlithgow where he had seen the famous doocot near the canal.

“A pity we don’t have any in our area” was his comment, and after I recovered from my shock at his ignorance, I told him about some of the fantastic examples we do have in Falkirk district.

The Arnotdale Doocot as it is today

The Arnotdale Doocot as it is today

Back in 2011 I wrote about this topic after a visit to a local primary school where I was talking about Callendar House. I showed the children a picture of the doocot on the old stable block and asked why people used to keep pigeons. One lad offered “To race them against other people’s birds”. Another said “To carry messages tied to their legs”.

Finally one of the girls said “To eat them!” This was greeted by all the class making sick noises and shouting “Yuk” or “Ugh” etc. They had not yet discovered the pleasure of a pigeon casserole which was an important part of our forefathers’ diet.

In fact almost every mansion house had either a purpose built pigeon house or dovecote (doocot in Scotland) or had one adapted within an existing building for the purpose.

Quite a few of these are still to be found in our area though many are in a poor condition due to neglect or vandalism.

Some have fared better than others and the finest example without a doubt is at Westquarter where the magnificent lectern style building has survived the demolition of Westquarter House in 1933.

It bears the date 1647 and the initials WL and HL for Sir William Livingston and Lady Helen ore his wife. It has been restored and is protected by an A listing from Historic Scotland. It has spaces for nearly 900 birds.

Not so well preserved is the interesting tall octagonal shaped red brick doocot close to the ruins of Carron House in Carronshore. This Georgian structure had room for over 1000 birds and despite its B listing has lost part of the top sandstone cornice and is at high risk of further deterioration.

Perhaps the best know of the doocots in the Falkirk district stands behind Arnotdale in Dollar Park. It was built at the same time as the house around 1834 and I think it is still home to a few white doves.

It is also in a poor state but thankfully the Friends of Dollar Park have plans to have it renovated in the future.

Parkhill House in Polmont has a nice example of the square Gothic style doocot which looks a bit like a small castle. Unfortunately it is hemmed in by housing and is also badly in need of some care and attention.

There are others like the one in Muiravonside Country Park, also lectern style, and at the recently fire damaged mansion house of Avondale close to the landfill site which has a doocot set above the arched passageway through the farm buildings on the approach to the house.

Unfortunately we do not have an example of the beehive style which so delighted my friend in Linlithgow and which is certainly worth a visit as is a similar one in Corstorphine.

At one time there had been more than 50 in our area but I’d surprised if there are more than 10 now. If we are not careful then this number will continue to decline and we will be the poorer.

They may not be castles, churches or fine municipal buildings but they help us understand an important part of our heritage and deserve to be protected.