Sunday, July 13, 2008

Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire

The ruined 15th-century manor house at Minster Lovell is an idyllic spot for picnicking, kingfisher-spotting, and meditating on the passing of time. Although the years haven’t been kind to the house – it seems to have been dismantled in the 18th century and the remains used as farm buildings – the wonderful circular dovecote is still very much intact.

Hundreds of nest holes line the walls and an impressive bit of carpentry holds together the roof, with its central lantern, through which the birds could come and go. On a hot summer’s day it’s cool inside the substantial stone wall, which is thick enough to accommodate nest holes almost an arm’s-length in depth.

That was quite deep enough, as it was the dovecote-keeper’s job to reach into the nest holes and pull out the young pigeons – known as squabs – when they were well grown and plump, but not quite ready to fly. The squabs were harvested during the breeding season (roughly March to October), providing the Lord of the Manor with a source of tasty meat. In the Middle Ages only barons, manorial lords, and abbots were allowed to keep a dovecote, so pigeon-meat was a luxury for the upper-classes, not, as is sometimes said, a winter supplement to the diet of the poor.

Dovecotes come in several different shapes. Oxfordshire alone has wonderful round, octagonal, and rectangular examples. As working farmyard buildings, they’re not usually highly decorated, but the timber-work required to roof a round or eight-sided building often has an intricacy of its own. Thanks to Neil Philip of Adventures in the Print Trade for introducing me to this one, and for providing the picture. And while I’m at it, thanks too to Emma Bradford for a picnic worthy of the Lord of the Manor.


Peter Ashley said...

I hope you had the picnic from a wicker basket with Colman's Mustard.

Anonymous said...

Decided not to bring potted pigeon that day even though we had two wicker baskets - did have Lincolnshire Poacher cheese though - hardly more authentic than Lymeswold I fear, but interesting nonetheless.

Neil said...

Anonymous was Emma, as any fule kno.
There is a wonderful if slightly spooky legend about the ruined manor house at Minster Lovell. Frances, Lord Lovell ("Lovell our dogge" in the famous rhyme), was last seen swimming his horse across the river Trent in 1487 after the battle of Stoke. He is supposed to have taken refuge in Minster Lovell, in a secret chamber to which only his faithful servant had access. But the servant died in the night, leaving Lovell trapped. Many years later the door was forced open, revealing Lovell sitting at a table, his hound at his feet. Before the onlookers' eyes, both were reduced to ash within seconds.
A friend of mine visited the manor late on a summer's evening. The rules of entry state 'any reasonable hour', but I suspect this was an unreasonable one, and drink had been taken. He was walking along, when he felt someone join him. They walked companionably round the ruins. But when my friend looked up, there was no one there.

emma said...

Sorry to post my comment as Anonymous. My skills at blogging just don't cut the mustard.
Happily, I've had longer to hone my picnic-making skills!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Emma - Your picnic-making skills do indeed cut the mustard, whether or not mustard is on the menu. And Lincolnshire Poacher cheese, even if not authentic, is a good one, fit for any yellow-belly.
Neil - Marvellous stories, as usual. The ruins now of course feel so inviting that it's hard to believe the spooky tale of the skeleton turning to ash. The more modern tale, though spooky too, also has an air of congeniality about it that makes it seem to fit the setting.

Anonymous said...

Wow, it looks incredibly atmospheric.

Peter Ashley said...

And then there's Mad Jack Fuller who's supposed to be buried sitting upright at a table (complete with a bottle of port)in his pyramid in Brightling churchyard in Sussex. Except he isn't. But you can see the pyramid in the churchyard scenes in the film of Cold Comfort Farm.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Ah, pyramids. Reminds me that Egyptian-inspired structures are another source of the odd and unusual in the world of English buildings.