Before the advent of modern silage and winter fodder crops such as turnips enabled livestock to be kept over winter, most farm animals had to be slaughtered and salted down in the autumn. Pigeons were therefore a valuable source of year-
As far back as the year 1503 every Lord and Laird was ordained to erect Dovecots.
A Statute of 1503 declares that the breaking of dovecots is a point of dittay (indictment).
Children found guilty of that offence were liable to a fine of 13s 4d Scots.
In 1579, breakers of dovecots were given eight days imprisonment and fed on bread and water.
By 1617, pigeons had become a public nuisance, and an Act was passed, forbidding the building of dovecots upon any land within the Realm (restricted their building to those whose land had an annual value of 10 chalders of grain within two miles of the building. 10 chalders represented nearly 8000 gallons of grain -
From a "Report on Agriculture of the County of Fife" dated 1800.
"Pigeons, however much esteemed as an article of food, are justly reckoned a great nuisance to the country at large. They make dreadful havoc among the grain, particularly to the wheat and pease, in filling and harvesting time."
Doocots ceased to be constructed for food after the 1790's. Some 360 existed in Fife in 1700 and today the ruins of more than 200 can still be seen.
CRAIL PRIORY DOOCOT is the earliest type of free standing stone-
It probably dates to the 16th century and stands on the south side of a path leading from the Nethergate to the shore.
The doocot is 20 feet high, converging to an apex, with an internal diameter of 11 feet 3 inches and the walls are 3 feet thick over the stone nests, of which there are about 700. The stone rubble walls are harled without break to the wall head, where they terminate in a slightly crenellated parapet within which rises a circular drum containing the entrance for the birds. The door is to the south.
LATER STYLES OF DOOCOT
Lectern doocots date from the very late 16th century. They have a rectangular plan and the roof rises from the front wall, normally on the south side, to the much higher back wall. the shape obviously giving rise to the name. Lectern doocots are unique to Scotland. The beehive shape came from France.
In the mid 17th century the cynindrical tower doocot became popular. After 1800 doocots were still built but in most cases these took the form of ornamental features designed to add beauty to estates and farms rather than provide food.
CRAIL PRIORY DOOCOT.
An early type of free standing doocot of circular plan, internal diameter slightly over 11 feet. Walls 3 feet thick.
ROOF of alternately raised slabs of stone giving the appearance of a crenellated parapet and is surmounted by a circular drum containing the pigeon entry.
WALLS stone rubble – completely plain without the customary encircling bands (rat-
DOOR one small south facing door.
DATE most likely 16th century.
NESTING BOXES of stone radiating as a continuous inner lining to the walls (approximately 700).
POTENCE a post with a revolving ladder in the centre of the building. The top of the post fitted into the hole visible in the roof of the drum, and the base (presumably) into a socket stone now hidden beneath the present floor level. This was free to rotate so that the pigeons could be collected.
OWNERSHIP The Doocot was donated to the Preservation Society by the Brown family in 1960.
MAINTENANCE It was restored by David and Sandy Simpson, Crail's stonemasons, with help from the Dalrymple Archaeological Fund in the 1960's. The architect was the late Mr. Murray Jack of St. Andrews.
The Crail Preservation Society is again (2013) looking at further work to safeguard it for the future, but meantime some work has been undertaken to ensure that it is safe for people to view during Doors Open Days and Guided Walks.