DOVECOTES have a way of flying us back through time, and connecting us to one of the greatest royal stories of all time and the composition of some of the most romantic poems in the English language.

In the days before refrigerators, dovecotes were important as they proved a regular source of fresh eggs and meat. They became fashionable accessories to a country estate around 1700, although the older, more rustic, are centuries older than that, and most of the building of dovecotes in our area was done by 1800 – however, you know all that because you’ve been following what has been a long running series on the locations of dovecotes.

Now, with lockdown easing, Ian Hillary, from Hurworth, has been out into North Yorkshire to check on some dovecotes which we haven’t yet mentioned:

Arbour Hill, Patrick Brompton: Last summer, when we were obsessing about icehouses, we told how Hornby Castle, between Richmond and Bedale, had at least three of the chill, subterranean structures hidden in its landscape, which was created by Robert Conyers-Darcy, the 4th Earl of Holderness, in the 1760s. His parkland may have been designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown with the renowned Yorkshire architect and bridge-builder John Carr in charge of realising the designs.

Between them, they built bridges, summerhouses and grottoes, and fringed the gardens with a ribbon of ponds which looked like a flowing river. On the ridges all around, they built “eye-catchers” – three model farms which were designed to break up all the boring greenery of the Yorkshire countryside.

Apparently, this was because the earl’s wife, Lady Mary, was missing her Italian homeland where every hillock has a farm on it.

Due south of the castle, Arbour Hill farm was built in 1760. It is perfectly symmetrical with a pair of Palladian pepperpots on either side of the house. One is a summerhouse and the other is a dovecote. Both have recently been converted into bijoux holiday accommodation.

Aiskew House: Standing beside the A684 on the road into Bedale, Aiskew House is a Grade II listed property built in 1734. Its huge, square, brick-built dovecote is easily visible from the main road, and is large enough to have a couple of stables beneath it.

Aiskew dovecote, by Ian Hillary

Aiskew dovecote, by Ian Hillary

Snape Castle: Like at Arbour Hill, the dovecote at Snape Castle, near the Thorpe Perrow arboretum, has recently been converted into a holiday let, but it could be that a lady involved in the most famous of all royal stories once collected eggs here.

Snape Castle, on June 14, 1958: Catherine Parr was held hostage here in 1537 and was perhaps forced to rely on the dovecote for food

Snape Castle, on June 14, 1958: Catherine Parr was held hostage here in 1537 and was perhaps forced to rely on the dovecote for food

Chiselled into the rafters of the dovecote is the date “1414”, which suggests that it was standing in 1534 when its owner, John Neville, the 3rd Baron Latimer, married his third wife, Catherine Parr, who was 19 years younger than him.

John had Catholic sympathies and, in 1536, he was captured at Snape by rebels who demanded that he should lead the Pilgrimage of Grace which aimed to overthrow the new Protestant faith that divorce-happy Henry VIII was imposing. The rebels carried John off and he played a major part in the rebellion – perhaps he pleaded with them to calm down.

A few months later, the rebels returned to Snape and held Catherine hostage. She had Protestant sympathies but it seems they were threatening to kill her to prevent her husband grassing up the ringleaders to the king. John hurriedly arrived at the castle, and talking them out of any murderous activity, but the incident might explain why Catherine’s keenness to stay in Mashamshire cooled, and she and John moved to the south, where John died on March 2, 1543.

Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII, who lived for several years at Snape Castle

Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII, who lived for several years at Snape Castle

He’d been dying for some months, poor fellow, and Catherine had been lining up a suitable next husband at court. However, as soon as she became available, the king himself stepped in and married her on July 12, 1543, in front of 18 witnesses at Hampden Court. She was his sixth wife, and was still married, with her head intact, when Henry died on January 28, 1547.

Henry admired Catherine’s intellect – she is the first English queen to have written a book (a book of prayers) – and he made her regent when he was fighting in France. Perhaps he also admired her culinary skills as, quite possibly, from her time alone in Snape surrounded by rebels with only a dovecote to hand, she knew how to knock out the tastiest pigeon pie in the country.

DES NEEDHAM of Over Dinsdale, near Neasham to the south of Darlington, reports that there is a Grade II listed mid 18th Century square, brick dovecote at Rose Hill Farm, Over Dinsdale, and that there is another at Sockburn Farm, near the Grey Stone under which the remains of the dreadful Sockburn Worm – a fearsome dragon – were buried many centuries ago.

This farm was built in the 1730s by Thomas Hutchinson, a celebrated breeder of shorthorn cattle, and the dovecote was standing by the early 19th Century – so it could have been standing on May 11, 1799, when William Wordsworth arrived to visit Thomas’ great-niece, Mary, whom the poet had known during his Lakeland childhood.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850), who visited Sockburn in 1799 and walked the banks of the Tees

William Wordsworth (1770-1850), who visited Sockburn in 1799 and walked the banks of the Tees

Wordsworth, and his sister Dorothy, were returning from a long holiday on the continent and arrived on the stagecoach at the Entercommon tollbar – the tollbar house to the north of Great Smeaton on the A167 was recently demolished – and rode on horseback over the Tees and onto the Sockburn peninsula. What was intended to be a brief stay turned into a seven month sojourn as Wordsworth fell in love with the countryside – walking from the Dinsdale fishlocks to Croft’s bridge – and with Mary.

One of his most famous poems, about a homecoming, was composed during these wanderings and neatly copied out by Mary:

I travelled among unknown men

In lands beyond the sea;

Nor, England! did I know thee then

What love I bore to thee.

That autumn, Wordsworth’s writing partner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, arrived at Sockburn and immediately struck up an affair with Mary’s sister, Sara.

He wrote a passionate poem about the moment at Sockburn that the affair began:

“She half enclosed me with her arms,

She pressed me with a meek embrace:

And bending back her head, looked up,

And gazed upon my face.”

If only he had thought to rhyme love with dove, we’d have known the cote was in existence.

The two pairs of lovers left Sockburn on December 17, 1799, and while Sara’s affair with Coleridge ended unhappily as he slid into opium addiction, Mary married Wordsworth in 1802.