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Dovecote at Hedingham Castle

A Grade II Listed Building in Castle Hedingham, Essex

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Latitude: 51.9918 / 51°59'30"N

Longitude: 0.6037 / 0°36'13"E

OS Eastings: 578863

OS Northings: 235796

OS Grid: TL788357

Mapcode National: GBR QHY.3FN

Mapcode Global: VHJHZ.F60F

Entry Name: Dovecote at Hedingham Castle

Listing Date: 21 June 1962

Last Amended: 5 April 2016

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1233895

English Heritage Legacy ID: 409496

Location: Castle Hedingham, Braintree, Essex, CO9

County: Essex

District: Braintree

Civil Parish: Castle Hedingham

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Castle Hedingham St Nicholas

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford

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Castle Hedingham


Dovecote built in 1720.


Dovecote built in 1720.

MATERIALS: red brick laid in Flemish bond with red plain tile roof covering.

PLAN: octagonal.

EXTERIOR: the dovecote is an example of the tower design with buttressed corners. It has an eight-sided hipped roof with a moulded brick eaves cornice and a concave leaded apex with a square, glazed lantern surmounted by a finial. The initials RA (for Robert Ashurst) and the date 1720 are shown in vitrified brick on six out of the eight faces (one letter or number per face). The doorway has a plain timber surround and a door of three vertical planks with diamond ventilation holes. From the door, the second face to the right is lit by a small two-light C20 window.

INTERIOR: this is lined on all but three sides by nesting boxes constructed of clunch, approximately five feet from the ground to the eaves, supported on low brick walls. The base of the central timber potence – a tall revolving axle with a projecting arm against which the ladder could rest – remains. The roof structure dates to the late C20.


The dovecote at Hedingham Castle House was built for Sir Robert Ashurst whose father, Sir William Ashurst, had died just as the house was completed in 1719. He had acquired the Hedingham Castle estate in 1713, ten years after the previous owner, Aubrey De Vere, the 20th Earl of Oxford, had died without an heir to inherit the title. His ancestor, also called Aubrey De Vere, had built the large earthen ringwork castle with two baileys (a scheduled monument) probably in the late C11 on land granted to him after the Conquest. The Keep (Grade I listed) was built in the mid-C12. The 13th Earl was responsible for a great rebuilding programme in or around 1496 but only the Tudor bridge (Grade II* listed) survives from this phase.

Sir William Ashurst sited his new house on a levelled area created by the removal of a section of the inner bailey earthworks, and at an angle to them so as to afford a direct view down the valley to the south. The remainder of the inner bailey was shaped into a small private garden and the castle mound was probably landscaped. The deep ditches of the former castle were utilised for wooded walks, and kitchen gardens were laid out to the west of the canal which was created out of the medieval fishponds. A survey carried out by Bailey in 1785 depicts the layout of the estate in great detail, including the dovecote to the south of the house in between two ponds which were possibly formed out of old fishponds. The dovecote was associated with the C18 farm which was mostly destroyed by fire in the 1830s. Although it was a functional building, the dovecote has an ornamental design and was clearly meant to be seen and appreciated as a garden feature. In the early C18 when the dovecote was built it was usual for nesting boxes to reach almost to the floor. After the arrival of the brown rat in England in the 1730s however, the lowest tiers of nesting boxes were often removed or plastered over as brown rats were voracious predators and could gnaw through most building materials. It is therefore likely that several tiers of the original nesting boxes were removed from the dovecote at Hedingham Castle soon after it was constructed. In the 1990s the roof was rebuilt and the buttresses were repaired.

Between 1766 and 1785 the Hedingham Castle estate passed by marriage to the Majendie family who during the 1890s tried to sell it on at least three occasions but it never reached its reserve at auction and was withdrawn. In the early C20 the ponds on either side of the dovecote were filled in to create bog gardens. The estate remains in private ownership but the castle is open to the public (2015).

Reasons for Listing

The dovecote at Hedingham Castle, built in 1720, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: it is a well-preserved example of an early C18 dovecote which retains key elements, such as the nesting boxes and the base of the central timber potence, demonstrating the building’s original character and function;

* Historic interest: built by Robert Ashurst in 1720, the year after the house was completed, the historic interest of the dovecote is enhanced by the inclusion of his initials and date in the brickwork, manifesting the association in the fabric of the building itself;

* Group value: it has strong group value with the scheduled elements of the castle, and with the four listed buildings on the site, namely the C12 Keep, C15 bridge and the C18 house and stable. Altogether these form an ensemble of structures dating from each key phase in the nine hundred year evolution of the site, thereby encapsulating important aspects of the historical and architectural development of England.

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