While at home recently, visiting the senior Gardners, we took a trip to the western edge of Warwickshire. While zipping along the country lanes, I spotted a sign to a National Trust dovecote at Kinwarton, and persuaded the folks that we should make a short detour and investigate.
At first glance, the 14th century dovecote looks very plain and barely worth a glance. The circular tower rises above a boggy field at the end of a track, its only company a few shy horses who seem to enjoy using the rendered walls as a scratching post.
However, open the gothic door and once you have semi-crawled inside you are in for a treat. The metre-thick walls are lined with 580 nesting holes, served by the dovecote’s original timber rotating ladder.
I was moved to take a few shots, reminded of one of my all-time favourite photographers Eric de Maré.
De Maré died in 2002, leaving an immense archive of architectural photographs that not only included modernism but also an exploration of Britain’s industrial heritage, including vernacular buildings, warehouses and canal structures. These buildings became collectively known as the Functional Tradition.
While clearly pre-industrial, in my view the dovecote at Kinwarton sits comfortably in the Function Tradition. It is built for purpose, the austere beauty of its architecture a direct express of its function.
(There is an excellent book about de Maré by the late RIBA British Architectural Library assistant director Robert Elwall.)
Kinwarton itself is one of Warwickshire’s ‘lost villages’, abandoned during the Middle ages largely due to changing agricultural practices rather than the Black Death.
Its tiny church, which features a diminutive timber tower, is another delight. Less than 20m long, the 13th century parish church of St Mary the Virgin features a few fragments of wonderful medieval glass, including a fierce-looking serpent. The snake theme is continued on a rather beautiful tombstone in the churchyard, while another 14th century window features an original timber frame.
If you are in the area, nearby Alcester is well worth a visit, with a centre that feels unspoilt by modern development. It’s a small town that often seems to come alive to the sound and dance of morris men.