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Leeds Priory Dovecote

One of the more interesting building recording projects undertaken recently by the Trust concerns a ruined brick dovecote on the site of the former abbey at Leeds, near Maidstone.

Leeds Priory Dovecote

The dovecote is one of only two structures that have survived from the Augustinian Priory, which was founded in the early twelfth century – the principal claustral buildings, including the church, have all been demolished. The site and surviving buildings are now scheduled ancient monuments.


The dovecote dates from around the turn of the sixteenth century and is a substantial structure (approximately 20.0 metres in length by 7.3 metres in width), its monastic origins surely accounting for its large size, the feature intended to supply a relatively large population of monks, rather than the inhabitants of a typical farmstead.


Originally, the dovecote interior was divided into three chambers or compartments, the walls of which were pierced by many hundreds of nesting holes. Birds would enter the chambers through cupolas on the roof, the monks through three small doorways in the east wall. The roof originally terminated with attractive crow-stepped gables at either end.


Leeds Priory Dovecote

In the seventeenth century, perhaps, the two northern chambers were floored over and put to some other use but presumably an agricultural one. A new door, windows and winding newel staircase were formed at this time. In the eighteenth, the south bay was divided off from the rest of the building, by forming a passage through the structure, and re-roofed.


Leeds Priory Dovecote

The dovecote survived relatively intact down to the middle of the twentieth century but has since lost its roof and internal floors along with the distinctive crow-stepped gables. Plans to restore the building and reinstate its missing features are presently being considered. The Trust was commissioned to prepare detailed reconstruction drawings of the lost roof, floors and gables, based on the available evidence – primarily photographs of the building taken in the 1950s before it collapsed, a survey undertaken by John Caiger in the 1970s and a record of the fallen timbers made by the Oxford Archaeological Unit in 2000.


Evidently, the dovecote was covered by an attractive and substantial arch-braced roof, with clasped side-purlins. The available evidence allowed the carpentry of the roof, which comprised nine bays, and missing floors, to be understood in some detail and it should, therefore, be possible to accurately recreate the original arrangements in new oak, if required.


For more information on building recording go to: Built heritage | Canterbury Archaeological Trust (canterburytrust.co.uk)

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