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Looking back at London & South East Classic Club winners (Part 27.)


Mike & Lyndsay Armitage of Ash.


My assistant for the first London & South East Classic Club Guernsey young bird and old hens classic of 2008 was my son, Mark, and I must say I really enjoy have him riding ‘shotgun’, as he works hard, and is great company. For several days before the first young bird event from Guernsey, according to the early weather reports, it looked like it was going to be a holdover with rain over the Channel Islands on that Saturday, but my weatherman Steve Appleby, studied his carts and told me there could be a window in the weather for an early morning liberation. On the day Steve and I put our heads together and had an early release, too produce an excellent race against all the odds. I liberated the 2,151 birds at my earliest time ever at Guernsey and on my return home, late on Sunday morning; it was great to hear that the members enjoyed a very good race, with excellent returns. On our arrival at the Guernsey car park liberation site the sky had broken cloud cover and was bright and starry. I got no sleep as I knew it would be an early liberation or a hold over until Sunday and was keen to keep an eye on the weather and prepare the transporter for release. I rang my race advisor, Steve Appleby, at 06.00hrs and he gave me a favourable weather report for the English Channel and main land England, but informed me that the pending bad weather was about 40 miles west of Guernsey and coming in. I watched the weather with anticipation and with the sun braking through the 60 per cent broken cloud cover, we liberated the 2,151 birds at 06.30hrs in a brisk south / south west wind. The convoy broke into three batches and cleared Guernsey in a northerly direction in good time. After parking the transporter in the dock yard we had a full English breakfast at our regular café on the sea front and noticed it started to spit with rain at 08.00hrs, and then the Guernsey weather took a nose dive. At that time our birds were just hitting the south coast of England and were hot-foot on their way home. It was a work of art getting liberation and good race that day from a rain soaked Guernsey, but we beat the weather and enjoyed a good young bird and old hens classic!


Mike and Lyndsay Armitage of Ash sent six widowhood hens to the old hen’s classic and had a brilliant race, timing in five of his entries to record 1st, 7th, 26th, 75th and 91st open. Wonderful pigeon racing by any ones standards! Mike’s classic winner was his good yearling blue hen, ‘LuLu’, and she was raced on Mike’s widowhood method, which he says is really a jealousy system. This game hen won the old hen’s classic by over 50 ypm and also beat the young bird classic winner! She had every ‘Lion Brewery’ Mid-Week Hamworthy race and three Federation channel races on her built up to her Classic win, and was not stranger to success having won several premier prizes for the Armitage loft. Her sire is Mike’s good racing cock, ‘Centenary Boy’, winner of 1st club, 365th open Nantes Centenary Race (65,000 birds) in 1999 and he was bred Roger Lowe’s Hartogs and Mike’s old family of Marriott. The dam of ‘LuLu’ was one of the premier stock hens at the Ash loft, ‘The Taylor Hen’ and she was bred by Colin Taylor of Kent.

The Armitage partnership have won 1st open British International Championship Club from Le Ferte Bernard and have won the London & South East Classic Club three times, and although I've visited their home many times, one of my first visits as a pigeon writer was when he won the Classic from Alencon , with 3,252 birds competing. I was chief convoyer and press officer for the Classic at that time, and drove down to the ‘Lion Brewery' to see his winning pigeon. Mike's winner, a Fountainhead Janssen blue chequer cock was raced on Mike's own semi-widowhood system. This handsome pigeon, named “Wonder Boy” by Mike's young son, Tom, had won five races previously and raced in the Weymouth mid-week race on the Wednesday, before winning the Classic on the Saturday. The Armitage loft had a brilliant weekend winning 1st and 10th open L&SECC Alencon, 8th open BICC Le Ferte Bernard and 1st club Sennen Cove. A fantastic loft performance for one weekend!


The ‘Lion Brewery’ Mid-Week Club has its HQ at the ‘Lion Brewery’ PH set in the wonderful Surrey countryside at Ash and it is common knowledge that the pub has been run for the last 40 years by the premier pigeon racing partnership of Mike and Lyndsay Armitage, who have won both the BICC and L&SECC in recent seasons. The pub is a marking station for the NFC and BICC, and has been the home of the ‘Lion Brewery’ Mid-Week Club since 1980. Mike’s wife, Lyndsay, has a great interest in the pigeons and works very hard for all the clubs who are based at the pub in Ash. The very smart lofts are sited in the pub garden and Lyndsay has her loft of all white racing pigeon in the garden of the Armitage’s house next door to the ‘Lion Brewery’.


Mike Armitage started up pigeon racing in his home town of Hull over 60 years ago and has been an outstanding fancier over the years, winning many premier racing honours, including: 10th open NFC Pau, the first ten positions in an open race and 1st open Federation many times. Years ago he liked sprint racing, but is now in to channel racing with the BICC and NFC. He has been a publican for nearly 50 years and has been 38 years at the ‘Lion Brewery’, a wonderful little pub set in the Surrey countryside at Ash. The ‘Lion Brewery’ is very much a pigeon pub, with several clubs being based there, including the British International Championship Club, which has been there at Ash for over 20 years. He told me when the BICC first came to the ‘Lion Brewery’ it had 164 member and now it has progressed up to over 1,600 members, which he maintains is full credit to a great management team. Mike has three lofts totalling 160 ft. smartly set in the pub garden and all the birds are trapped through open windows to the ETS system. Mike has in recent seasons erected a new loft in the pub garden and I must say it looks very smart. The main 50ft Belgium style racing loft was purchased from Johnny May of Worcester Park after his recent retirement from pigeon racing and is kitted out with slatted floors, Perspex roof lights, German up and over nest boxes and the ETS. The families raced are Fountainhead Janssens and Busschaerts, Roger Lowe’s Hartogs and the fantastic Marriotts obtained from John Grey of Hull in 1977. The Marriott pigeons have been outstanding for Mike over the years and the 8th open BICC Le Ferte Bernard winner on that brilliant weekend was a Marriott blue chequer hen, raced on the semi-widowhood.


The Armitage pigeons are raced on Mike's own semi-widowhood system, whereby he can race both cocks and hens in different races on the same day. He pairs up on 14th February and the pairs are split in the normal widowhood way after their first round of youngsters. The cocks are raced and the hens trained in midweek, with them seeing one another two or three times during the week. Mike says he never breaks the racers down, but the racers are mostly fed on a first class widowhood mixture. He works very hard with his birds and they are so tame that prior to ETS, sometimes they used to land in the garden on their return from a race, and Mike could pick them up and clock them on the lawn. He keeps a bit of condition seed in his loft coat pocket and the birds follow him around the garden, looking for a tit-bit, which he gives them by hand. The stock birds are housed in nice big aviaries. He feeds all ‘Gem’ corn and never breaks his racers down. He pairs his stock birds up on 10th December and the races in February, when they rear a single youngster before going on the widowhood system. At the end of the season Mike breeds a select few late breds off his best racers which are retained for stock. Mike breeds about 60 young birds for himself to race and these are put on a semi-darkness, which Mike says, they are taken off earlier than the conventional darkness pigeons, as he like them to moult as normally as possible. Mike uses the ‘Lion Brewery’ Mid-Week for training his youngsters and says, ‘a 100 mile race every Wednesday is brilliant education for them and then they race the Classic and National races’. Mike's lofts and pigeons are a credit to him!


Gordon & Delia Marsh of Southwater.


Gordon Marsh was a great worker for the London & South East Classic Club for many years and won many premier racing positions over the years, including 1st open (twice). Gordon and I served on the London & South East Classic Club committee together for many years and we were both vice President and President of that great club. He maintains that too many people join committees just to pursue their own agenda and leave when they are unable to do so. Members empower you to manage! It is for each of us to ensure we make decisions that will move the club forward, whilst keeping it on a sound financial footing. I second that!


Gordon had the good fortune to take early retirement from work and use to races as Marsh & son, but his sons don't take part in the running of the pigeon loft, they prefer football and computers. His wife, Delia, is now his pigeon partner and is known by many fanciers, as she started the C.H.A.S.E. Charity Show, which was run every winter at Horsham. Gordon says, she is an excellent stock woman, having spent her life with horses and can pick out a fit pigeon in the basket, and tell him which one will be the first to the loft. Delia is very much a dog lover and Gordon told me, ‘Delia and her rescue dogs participate in a big way in dog agility. Qualifying for finals with the Kennel Club and U.K. Agility takes them all over the country. ‘Megan’ has won many first prizes and reached championship status, and both dogs have qualified for U.K. Agility finals several years running. It’s amazing how much pleasure you can get from dogs thrown out by irresponsible people’. In the time that they have been married, they have had pigeons and she has built lofts, cleaned out lofts, trained pigeons, and taken care of them when Gordon has gone away, clocked winners, chased cats and looked good on presentation nights. Gordon says, could I ask for more?


Gordon Marsh was born in South Wales, but only lived there for a year and has now spent most of his life, living in West Sussex. He from a racing pigeon family, his grandfather had pigeons, as did his father and both his brothers. Gordon says, he was born into pigeons and as far back as he can remember, he was always in the pigeon loft with his dad. The loft was up on 6ft poles, with double door trapping and it had a cabin, with easy chairs and paraffin stove to make tea on. He spent hour up in his dads loft and it was in 1965 that Gordon got his own place, and started up his own loft of pigeons. His first stock came from his father’s loft in the form of a complete round of youngsters and he recalls that Jed Jackson gave him a really nice pied hen, which was surplus to his requirements. Gordon's first major success was with a young blue cock, which recorded 2nd club, 3rd Federation and was well up in the S.M.T. Combine result from Avranches. When I asked Gordon, who was the first fancier who drew his attention to their performances in the early days? He quickly replied, without question my boyhood hero was Jed Jackson of Worthing. He would wait outside Worthing station just to see Jed get off the bus, with his dog in one hand and his basket of birds in the other. Gordon told me, that even 50 years ago Jed was a hard man to beat and of course went on to win the Pau Grand National. Gordon's first pigeons were mainly Logan's, Barkers and Kirkpatrick crosses, as raced by his father and his father before him, and they won at all distances. He joined one of the best clubs on the south coast, the Worthing & Dist. H.S. and his loft was set up for the natural system, with just two sections. He wintered ten pairs of old birds and bred only 12 youngsters, which had to race the programme. Gordon maintains, he was a well-trained pigeon fancier long before he was ever let loose on his own, but has made many mistakes since and hopefully learnt from them. His two biggest mistakes were undoubtedly, in the 1970s, making winning his one aim, forgetting that he loved to be around pigeons and being impatient.


Gordon’s present loft set up is three sections for racing and a small section for stock birds. The loft is a traditional wooden structure, with a pan tile roof and has stall and open door trapping. He maintains, the most important factor in any loft design is good ventilation and getting rid of the warm, stale air is a must. The pan tile roof provides an excellent way to ventilate pigeon lofts. Gordon uses deep litter in his loft, because it suits his management and he has never had any problem with it. He says it comes cheap; he just pinches Delia’s horse bedding! The old birds are flown on a basic roundabout system. Years ago some of his best results were won on the roundabout system up to 300 miles and then re-pair for the long distance events, but he never re-pairs these days. Racing his birds on this method has been very successful for the Marsh loft, having won 1st Open London & South East Classic Club (twice) and 1st Kent & Sussex Palamos BBC on this system. He feeds a basic mixture with peanuts, linseed and Hormoform added to suit the requirements of the season and the condition he wants to get them in. Gordon says, feeding is an art, but you need to watch your birds at exercise, as they will tell you when you have got it wrong. He never breaks his pigeons down.  Most of his yearlings go to Tours (300 miles), with some going on to Bergerac (450 miles) and all the old birds go to the longest race points. Years ago when on natural he tried to discover how individual birds do best at the longest races and set them up that way, but the norm going to marking sitting 10 to 14 day old eggs.


He likes all pigeon races and enjoys winning at any distance, but in recent years has only really raced club racing in the Horsham RPC. He told me, one of his best pigeons ever was a dark chequer cock, bred down from the old Marsh pigeons in the 1970s and he flew Thurso seven times (twice on the day), winning on three occasions, also winning 2nd and 3rd  on two other occasions. His first London & South East Classic Club winner was also from the old Marsh stock and she was a yearling chequer pied hen sent feeding her first ever youngster. Over the years you own many good pigeons, but some you never forget. Gordon says, he has had many thrilling experiences with his birds, but one of the best must be seeing his pigeon on the loft at just after six, on the day of liberation from Thurso and half an hour later seeing his hen arrive, to take 1st and 2nd club, only two birds on the day. Winning 1st open London & South East Classic Club twice ranks highly in his most thrilling experiences category.


I recently had an email from my ol’ mate Gordon Marsh, up-dating me on his recent racing success and I must say looking at the photo he sent, it was great to see him looking in such great form. The partners won ten firsts, eight at the Horsham Flying Club and two at the Worthing 5 bird club in the 2017 racing season and won: ‘Ace Fancier’, ‘Ace Pigeon’ and ‘Old Bird Average’. Gordon and Delia Marsh have been good friends of mine for a number of years and I wound describe them as two of our premier good workers in our sport, but they have also been very successful racing their pigeons for many years. They race in one of the strongest clubs in the south of England, the Horsham RPC and are very proud of the fact that have been top prize winners in the club in the 2016/15/14/13 racing seasons. A wonderful achievement! The club has some big birdages, up 500 birds some weeks and only the member’s first two birds on the clock count in the prize list. Prior to the 2017 racing season Gordon and Delia lifted 25 club trophies and two South Coast Federation trophies those four seasons. The partners told me they intended to take a step back from club racing in 2017 to concentrate on building a team of birds to compete in the longer races, but cur come to temptation and raced on their usual weekly basis. They say the Horsham club has a fantastic membership and will continue to support them as much as possible.


Gordon and Delia race on the ‘roundabout’ system and their small team of old bird racers are paired up in early January, and they are allowed to rear one youngster per pair. The first round in the race loft is quite often eggs transferred from the stock birds. Ten days after the second round of eggs are laid the birds are separated, with the cocks remaining in the breeding section with the nest boxes closed and nest pans turned over. The females go into a section with a gilled floor and ‘v’ perches. Gordon tells me, ‘the roundabout system is very simple, but very affective for the cocks and the hens in races at any distance. My hens go out, then the cocks go along the corridor to the hen compartment and then the empty nest box section is cleaned out and food is put in the pots for the hens. After an hour or so the hens are called in to the breeding section and fed. The cocks are then let out for an hour of exercise and the hens go back to the ‘v’ perch section. All the birds are exercised twice a day and fed in the nest box section. I only train if I think they need it and both cocks and hens race most weeks, and on marking night the hens are allowed to go in with the cocks for a few minutes. On their return from the race I let the pairs stay together for about an hour or may be a little longer on the long distance events. I never repair the birds in the racing season. Prior to pairing up the stock and race birds are vaccinated and treated for worms, canker and

salmonella and the young bird get the same prior to the start of their training and racing. My young birds are raced on the ‘darkness’ system’ and get about 30 training tosses before racing the full young bird programme’.


Well, there you have it, two of the sports gentlemen this week, Mike Armitage and Gordon Marsh. I can be contacted with any pigeon ‘banter’ on telephone number: 01372 463480 or email me on: keithmott1@virginmedai.com


TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT (www.keithmott.com).

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