The circular, beehive-shaped dovecote, or doocot, is common in Scotland but only one exists in West Lothian and it stands in Learmonth Gardens, across from the Canal basin.Â Today the doocot stands in quiet peaceful gardens which commemorates Alexander Learmonth, provost of Linlithgow from 1802 to 1807 but once this 16th century doocot, stood on what used to be the rig end (the old gardens which were like allotments for the people of the town) belonging to the Barons Ross of Halkhead.
It is constructed of rubble stone walls, three and a half feet thick, with three rat courses outside and 370 nest holes in 18 circular tiers.Â The birds fed on grain and provided a welcome source of protein during the winter months. They also provided a valuable source of manure and perhaps surprisingly, the high potassium nitrate content made it also a valuable ingredient in the manufacture of gunpowder.
The Ross doocot however, also hides a dark history, as Bruce Jamieson, author of The Ghosts of Linlithgow, explains.
In June 1699, Baron Ross went into his doocot. He found that he couldn’t open the metal grill which blocked the entrance for it was jammed by a child’s leather shoe. Upon entering, he found a grisly sight. On the floor were the remnants of a child’s clothing and bloodstains.
Only two people held keys to the doocot; himself and the ‘Garderer o’ the Does’ Gabriel Mowbray. The body of Mowbray’s daughter had been discovered the previous December in a nearby copse and a poor deaf and mute hermit whom the townspeople called ‘Brother Michael’ Â had already died in the Tolbooth for the crime, which he could not protest. The case was considered closed until Baron Ross’s discovery.
When challenged, MNowbray confessed to the murder of his youngest daughter. During the time of the ‘Seven Lean Years’ he had found it easier to sacrifice his daughter rather than feed her. He was finally hanged at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh.
When the Baron gave testimony at the trial, he was asked why he had entered the doocot at such an unusual time. He stated than a weird creature appeared before him, telling him to go and look in the doocot. No one knew who this creature was, but some said it was the gost of Brother Michael weho came back from the dead to gain his revenge.