Friday, February 6, 2015

Milcombe, Oxfordshire

A different angle

There is something satisfying about buildings that break away from the convention that determines that most of our houses and places of work are rectangular structures with rectangular rooms. Rectangles have their advantages, of course, They’re practical, accommodate our furnishings, and fit together well. But how about a round building occasionally, or an octagon, if not for human use, then for the featured tribe? There are quite a few circular dovecotes around, for the good reasons that they look good and work well. Inside, the walls are lined with nest holes, and in the centre of the interior is a vertical pole supporting a framework and a ladder. This contraption, sometimes called a potence, rotates, allowing the dovecote’s owner access to all the nest holes, so that the young pigeons (known as squabs) may be removed, and consumed. Octagonal dovecotes also have potences, although presumably the ladder can’t be so consistently close to the walls as with a circular design. Close enough, though, to allow one to lean out a bit, reach in, and do what one has to do.

This lovely example in local ironstone, with dormers in the roof and a crowning lantern through which the doves could come and go, adorns a green in the Oxfordshire village of Milcombe. The birds have long flown, but the little building is still an ornament to the village. It probably dates to the early-18th century and would originally have belonged to a farm or manor. The neat hipped dormers and lantern, together with the building’s unusual octagonal form, ensure that it’s still a visual asset to the locality, even though no longer used in the way its builders intended, and an object lesson in the pleasures that can come from buildings that avoid the ubiquitous right-angle.


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Not unrelated to WHY lots of octagonal and round church towers in East Anglia. (See issues of 'Round Tower' by the Round Tower Churches Society). I don't think those were originally made for pigeons to live in, whatever fauna is in residence now! - I can't help thinking the AESTHETIC reason is the main one. Square-plan dovecotes too - can't remember the examples offhand.

Anonymous said...

With a dovecote (and indeed an Iron Age roundhouse) perhaps part of the reason for a circular shape is that you get the maximum circumference (for nest holes) or internal area (for living) for minimum input of materials. For church towers, you get the maximum height for input materials, at least for a regular prism.

But no doubt aesthetics is important too!