Oxhouse at Dovecote Farm


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Heyford Park / Upper Park, Dovecote Farm, Upper Heyford Northamptonshire. Ox-house stands at the western edge of the field adjacent to the River Nene. Heyford Mill is located a short distance to the west.
Statutory Address:
Dovecote Farm, Upper Heyford, Northamptonshire, NN7 3LX


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Statutory Address:
Dovecote Farm, Upper Heyford, Northamptonshire, NN7 3LX

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Heyford Park / Upper Park, Dovecote Farm, Upper Heyford Northamptonshire. Ox-house stands at the western edge of the field adjacent to the River Nene. Heyford Mill is located a short distance to the west.
West Northamptonshire (Unitary Authority)
Upper Heyford
National Grid Reference:


A cattle shelter of unusual horseshoe-shape plan form, dating to around 1700.

Reasons for Designation

The oxhouse at Dovecote Farm, a cattle shelter dating to around 1700, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* Despite the replacement of its roof and some alterations, the original form of the building is easily understood and a significant proportion of historic fabric survives;

* The building shows careful design for its use accommodating oxen. Its plan form is unusual but practical for its function, allowing for a yard to be enclosed within the building. Wide windows accommodate the horned heads of cattle.

Historic interest:

* The building provides evidence of an early Northamptonshire cattle shelter, with good documentary history linking it to a large estate owned by a notable figure;

* The unusual form of the building is an early example of the experimentation in farming practices which gathered pace in the later C18;

* The building has a historic connection with the surrounding good pasture land which provided food for the cattle housed there.


Cattle have been domesticated for their meat and dairy products for millennia, and have also been used for their strength in performing agricultural work. Oxen and horses were the primary source of power for this work in pre-industrialised England. From the C17 oxen began to be regarded as too slow in the light of increasingly efficient farming practices. The consolidating 1801 enclosure act marked the point where traditional long strip fields had been mostly replaced with the large, often irregular, field patterns seen today. These modern field shapes required more turns to plough than the previous single long strip fields, and this highlighted the advantage of horses over oxen in terms of speed and manoeuvrability. By the early C19 oxen were almost completely replaced by horses for ploughing and other heavy tasks.

Up until the C19, cattle were bred in Northamptonshire and taken down drove roads to the London meat markets. The Nene Valley provided particularly good pasture land for the rearing of cattle. Only the most valuable or vulnerable cattle needed housing over winter, and the number of cattle that could be housed was limited by the availability of hay. From the C16 improved irrigation techniques and the later introduction of root vegetables to the diets of cattle allowed more animals to be kept in over winter, and for them to be fattened rather than just survive.

The Upper Heyford oxhouse is evidence of early experimentation in cattle housing. Its location has been determined by proximity to the river and the excellent grazing of the surrounding fields, and there are no other buildings nearby. The oxhouse is of a novel plan form. The typical plan for cattle housing would have been rectangular with either a central or end feeding passage. Alternatively, cattle could be housed in a shelter shed which had one open side fronting a yard. Here, the curved horseshoe shape allows the enclosure of a small yard within the footprint of the building. The north / south alignment has been chosen to allow maximum benefit from the sun and to provide the most shelter from the prevailing weather. No evidence survives of any potential loft where hay or fodder could be stored, or for stalls or of any way of tethering the animals. Given the open sided nature of the building, it appears that this was more of a shelter shed rather than a more restrictive type of cattle housing.

The building was part of the estate of William Herbert, Marquess of Powis, and was sold in lots at auction in 1758. The oxhouse was sold in a lot together with surrounding arable fields and an orchard. Sales particulars survive and describe the building in question as ‘a large well-built Ox-House in ditto [referring to arable] for Winter feeding’. A plan of the building included with the sales particulars shows it to be the U-shaped building with an open front that is still extant. The sales details provide an upper limit for a possible date of the building. As the land surrounding the building was described as being arable in 1758, it seems likely that by then the oxhouse had been out of use for some time.

It is thought that the Marquess of Powis enclosed his Upper Heyford estate in 1712. Assuming that the oxen housed here were utilised as draught animals, this date of enclosure may mark the point when the building fell out of use and the surrounding fields were converted to the arable state that is recorded in the 1758 sale. A late C17 or early C18 date is therefore likely for the building.

The oxhouse has been the subject of vandalism including arson, resulting in it having a modern replacement roof.


A cattle shelter of unusual horseshoe-shape plan form, dating to around 1700.

MATERIALS: the oxhouse has walls of local yellow-brown sandstone with repairs and alterations in brick. The roof is corrugated metal. The floors are a mixture of concrete and cobblestones.

PLAN: the building is U-shaped in plan, with the open end of the ‘U’ to the south. The arms of the ‘U’ are formed by two straight ranges running north / south, linked by a curved range at the northern end of the building. The ranges enclose a small yard. The straight ranges have curved corners at the southern ends of the outer elevations. The building is approximately 4.2m wide and 20.5m long, with the total width from east to west including both ranges and the enclosed yard around 16m. The walls are around 0.5m thick. The River Nene is immediately to the west of the building. East of the building a track runs north to Heyford Mill and south to Nether Heyford.

EXTERIOR: single storey with modern metal pitched roof. The walls are generally regularly coursed of mostly rough stone, though with occasional moulded pieces, perhaps re-used. Each range has four horizontal windows, and the curved northern range has a central door. The windows have wide internal splays and have been bricked up. The windows in the southernmost bays are half the width of the other windows. The survival of cast-iron pintle hinges shows that the windows were originally shuttered on the outside. The doorway in the centre of the curved north elevation is blocked with stone rubble externally, and with concrete blocks to the interior.

The elevation of the building fronting the yard is open, but punctuated by timber posts which support the roof trusses and divide the interior into bays. The two straight ranges each have four bays, the curved range has three irregular bays. All the posts to the yard-fronting elevations of the building are modern replacements, though one sits on an old stone pad, suggesting that all the posts may have originally had such pads. There is a vertical niche of unknown purpose recessed into each of the external walls of the straight ranges, roughly in the centre of each elevation.

INTERIOR: cobblestone floors survive in part, elsewhere the internal floor is concrete. The back wall flares out at its base to form a buttress. The roof trusses are split telegraph poles, with modern posts supporting them. There is a single rowlock course of bricks beneath the wallplate. Some of the horizontal timbers are older pine and are re-used, but it is unclear whether they are from an earlier roof to this building. A rough wooden fence is attached to the back posts. There is a section of modern brick wall in line with the front posts fronting the north-west corner of the yard. A separate section of modern brick wall in the north-eastern bay of the curved range abuts the interior wall at right angles.


Books and journals
Brunskill, R W, Traditional Farm Buildings of Britain, (1982), 22, 60-69
Jeremy, Lake, Historic Farm Buildings, (1989), 27-38
Bassir, A, 'Northamptonshire: Ox house in Upper Heyford' in Northamptonshire Past and Present, , Vol. 71, (2018), N/A
Sales catalogue of estates of William Herbert, Duke of Powis, Northamptonshire Archives, ref ZB0587/5 1985/325


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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