Dovecots and fowl Runs


The safe-keeping of poultry was of vital importance in the early Cape - not only was it a source of food for the local inhabitants, but it also provided considerable revenue from the provisioning of passing ships calling in at the Cape. Fowl runs and dovecots are among the most interesting of the small farmyard buildings erected at the turn of the 18th century, a time of prosperity when Cape Dutch architecture was at its zenith, and much care was lavished on their decoration.

By far the grandest of the pigeon lofts is at Coornhoop, Mowbray, originally the Dutch East India Company's wheat farm and the site of Port Coornhoop, built to ward off marauding Khoikhoi in the early years of the settlement. Prior to unsympathetic restoration, this pigeon loft was one of the most beautiful buildings in the Peninsula. It was most likely built by Servaas van Breda in 1797, at a time when the neo-classical influence of the Government architect Louis Michel THIBAULT was considerable. The nesting holes line the upper and lower walls of the double-storeyed building, behind the great arcaded archways. The facade is topped by a pedimented parapet and is set back between the end-gables of two barns. Another Peninsula columbarium is that at Buitenverwachting, Constantia, built in 1792 by Ryk Arnoldus Mauritius Cloete. It is a small building standing within the werf, thatched and gabled, with living quarters below the loft.

Perhaps the most famous fowl houses are those at the Myburgh farm, Meerlust, at Faure. The columbarium stands alone, and has a straight central gable flanked by side courts with plaster scrollwork above the entrances. These open courts were reputedly for the breeding of fighting cocks, whilst the older central portion served as the pigeon loft. Within the werf is the large L-shaped fowl run with nesting boxes of varying sizes for ducks and geese as well as for chickens.

Many of these interesting buildings survive, such as those at Boschendal, Groot Drakenstein, Babylonstoren, Klapmuts and the small hokkie (cote) built by Joseph Barry at the Auld House, Swellendam, along with his storehouses and business premises. Another feature of the farmyard was the vethokkies. Good examples of these survive on the farms at Dal Josafat. Other small buildings of the Cape Dutch werf were piggeries and sheep kraals, each with their walls and entrances plastered and decorated in the manner of the homesteads and main outbuildings.

[Picton-Seymour Désirée, 1989. Historical Buildings in South Africa. Cape Town: Struikhof Publishers. p, 68.]