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Tealing Dovecot And Earth House

An elegant dovecot of the late 16th century

Tealing Dovecot And Earth House

Tealing Dovecot

A source of food

A dovecot (or doocot) is a pigeon house. Structures like this were once a feature of many hihg-status residences, and contained anything from 500 to over 2,000 nesting boxes. They were built throughout Scotland, chiefly between the 1500s and 1700s. A dovecot supplied its owner with an additional source of food, particularly useful over the long winter months.

Some dovecots were incorporated into other buildings, but most were free-standing structures. Externally, they had horizontal stone bands, called string courses, projecting from the walls. These were to deter rats from running up and entering through the flight-holes at the top.

Inside, the walls were completely lined with stone nesting-boxes, each housing a pair of breeding birds. The birds and their eggs were taken as required. A revolving T-shaped pole, called a potence, with ladders at the outer ends, gave servants access to the upper rows of boxes.

A ‘lectern’ dovecot

Dovecots were built in two shapes – circular (‘beehive’) and rectangular (‘lectern’). Beehives generally date from the 1500s, while lecterns are usually later.

Tealing is an unusual variant of a lectern dovecot, having two pitched roofs, not one. It was built by the Maxwells of Tealing. The panel above the door bears the initials of Sir David and Dame Helen Maxwell and the date 1595.

Perhaps the unusual design is down to the fact that it was among the first of the new-style rectangular dovecots. Tealing has one rat course and picturesque crow-stepped gabled roofs.

A valued asset

Dovecots and their valuable contents were protected by law. Shooting the laird’s pigeons was punishable by 40 days in prison, and a second offence could mean the loss of one’s right hand. There was also a popular belief that if a dovecot was demolished, the wife of the laird would be dead within the year. This may explain why so many survive!


  • The pleasing location – situated between woodland and farm buildings.

Tealing Earth House

An Iron-Age oddity

Despite their name, earth houses were not dwellings but stone-lined underground passages. Where they have been excavated, associated buildings have been found at ground level.

Earth houses are also known by their French name souterrain, and are found in Brittany, Cornwall and Ireland as well as Scotland.

Earth houses are found on the eastern seaboard of Scotland, from Lothian to Shetland. There are distinct regional types. They range from the massive earth houses of Angus and Perthshire, averaging some 46m2 in area, to those in the Northern Isles providing a mere 5m2 of floor space. The latter date from around 400 BC, whereas the former were most likely built in the first two centuries AD.

When Tealing Earth House was discovered over a century ago, a magnificent cup-and-ring marked stone, of Bronze-Age date, was found re-used at the base of one of its walls.

Hiding place or storage space

All sorts of suggestions have been advanced as to what earth houses were used for, including hiding places. But they were probably little more than cold stores, their cool, dry conditions suitable for grain and other produce.

The far larger size of the Angus and Perthshire earth houses may reflect the greater fertility of the surrounding farmland. Their dating, in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, suggests that they might have been built to store grain for the occupying Roman army. Excavations have shown that most were filled in deliberately around AD 200, as if they were no longer needed.


  • The Bronze Age cup-and-ring marked stone – an unusual feature to find in an Iron Age structure.


Limited parking in farmyard beside Dovecot.

Strong Footwear Recommended


Region – Perthshire, Kinross and Angus

Close to the village of Balgray 5m N of Dundee off the A90.

Grid reference - NO 412 381.