It is believed that dovecotes were first introduced to Britain by the Romans. Certain ruins, Caerwent for example, show evidence of dovecotes. The influence of the Latin word, ‘columba’, meaning, ‘dove’ in Britain is extensive. Indeed, a ‘columbaria’ is a building which is used for the respectful, and usually public storage of cremation urns, and is a derivative of, ‘columba’, but the buildings were initially built to house pigeons and doves – dovecotes, in effect. In Wales, this word has evolved to ‘Colomendy’, which is a common enough place name. However, while the Romans may have introduced dovecotes to Britain, the evidence suggests it was the Normans after 1066 that began to effectively farm the birds.
Doves and pigeons have symbolised many things to many different peoples, such as love, peace and fertility, but practically speaking, they were a source of year round food. Breeding several times a year, they could be relied upon to provide flesh and eggs on a regular basis, and were thus encouraged to home in purpose built dovecotes within communities and estates. Dovecotes were thus no different than any other means of keeping livestock, however decorative they may have become.
Indeed, the more decorative the dovecote, and the smaller they are, the later they are generally dated. There are exceptions, of course, but existing dovecotes seem to comply with that rough and ready divide. The dovecote at Rhuallt was part of the Rhuallt Hall Estate, and is entirely functional, a small, brick built ruin that provided the estate with birds all year round. As agriculture improved, as technology made the preservation of food possible, the need for dovecotes began to decline, and they tended to become more decorative than practical.
Dovecotes in North East Wales are in no way rare, but do come in many weird and wonderful shapes. Chances are you will come across them wherever you are, many of them still in use, more for appearance than need.