William Dargue A History of BIRMINGHAM Places & Placenames from A to Y
Pigeon House Hill
B31 - Grid reference SP018790
This hill lies on the Bristol Road South at the junction of Quarry Lane and Hill Top Road. Pigeon House, a farm marked on the 1834 Ordnance Survey map on Hill Top Road, derives its name from a pigeon house or dovecote whose distinctive shape and size on top of the hill would have been a significant landmark. The name appears on James Sherriff's map of 1798.
A substantial house, The Grange was built opposite later in the 19th century and the Pigeon House was used as its servants' quarters. The building was used as a private school at the beginning of the 20th century.
Few pigeon houses now survive. Originating in Ancient Rome, dovecotes were introduced to this country from Normandy during the Middle Ages.
Pigeon houses were usually attached to the manor house for the lord's own use, and tenants were generally forbidden to build them. Their purpose was to ensure a supply of eggs and meat; the bird's droppings were used to manure the fields.
In the Managier de Paris of 1394, the anonymous 'goodman' author gives a number of recipes for cooking pigeon and explains:
Nota que trois paires d'oiseaulx sont, que les aucuns queux rostissent sans effondrer; scilicet aloés, turtres et plouviers, pour ce que leurs bouyaulx sont gras et sans ordure, car aloés ne menguent fors pierettes et sablon: turtres, graine de genèvre et herbes souef-flairans: et plouviers vent.
'Note that there are three kinds of birds, which some chefs roast without cutting open; that is to say larks, turtle-doves and plovers, because their guts are fleshy and without faeces, for larks eat only gravel and sand: turtle-doves, juniper seeds and sweet-scented herbs: and plovers the wind.'
Until recently the accepted thinking was that doves were used to provide a source of fresh meat during the winter months. Before the 18th century it was not usually possible to over-winter cattle due to lack of animal feed. Most livestock was therefore slaughtered at the onset of winter and their meat stored in salt barrels. The introduction of turnips, which could be stored as winter feed, meant that fresh meat was then available throughout the winter, and fresh pigeon meat was no longer a luxury. However, it now seems that it was the young pigeons that were eaten in spring prior to their taking flight. Known as squabs, the birds were less than 4 weeks old, about half a kilogram in weight and very tender to eat.
Dovecotes largely fell out of use during the 18th century. A pigeon house survives at Castle Bromwich Hall and one is open to the public on advertised occasions in Moseley.
The Bristol Road was widened from 1921 and the Pigeon House was demolished. A hoard of Roman coins was discovered during the road works. These included coins of the Emperors Claudius II Gothicus (268-270), Diocletian (284-305), Maximian (285-286), Constantius (305-306) and Constantine (306-337), dating a Roman presence here to the 4th century AD.
The southern part of the Bristol Road runs parallel to what was the Roman road linking Metchley fort in Edgbaston with the Roman camp at Dodderhill near Droitwich, and ultimately, via Worcester and Gloucester, with the Bristol Channel port at Sea Mills. The road goes on northwards to Wall near Lichfield.
The burial of the these coins indicates that a settlement of the Roman period stood nearby, though evidence of this has not been found. It is not known what the circumstances were that would cause a family to bury their money, never to return to claim it.
Left: Widening of the Bristol Road photographed by J Rhodes in 1921. Image reused from the British Geological Survey's Geoscenic website in accordance with their terms and conditions.
William Dargue 04.04.2009/ 04.09.2012
For 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps of Birmingham go to British History Online.
Map below reproduced from Andrew Rowbottom’s website of Old Ordnance Survey maps Popular Edition, Birmingham 1921. Click the map to link to that website.