From the Chair by Chris Williams
A group of Black country pigeon men at the Brierley Homing society HQ the Turks Head Pub in Brierley Hill on tv in 1965
As I start to put this article together on the 21st of February having just received my first Covid-19 vaccination and it looks as though things are gradually moving in the right direction. The weather on Monday 22nd in Weymouth was kind and so I made the most of it and sat out in the garden with the pigeons. How lovely it was to once again feel the sun on my face watching the goings on in nature, listening to the canaries singing away as our birds went out for the first time this year. These early loft flights are all about getting both fancier and pigeon back into a routine, and so now it’s a case of getting up, birds out, and kettle on. To my way of thinking there is no better way for a fancier to start their day than with a mug of tea as you watch the pigeons take to the skies once again, is it just me or do your spirts lift with every beat of their wings? It is great to have the birds out again watching them doing what they are meant to do!
Speaking of watching, I have always been what you might call a people watcher particularly of the older generation, and if you are willing to listen, they have some fascinating tales to tell, admittedly some might be “taller” than others shall we say but all have their merit, and the pigeon world is full of them. I consider myself fortunate to know and have known some great characters within the sport.
Recently I came across an old film from 1965 about The Black Country which was part of the BBC “Landmarks” series. This area of the West Midlands has always been a true hotbed of our great hobby with many characters who love their pigeons with such zeal that one would think you were in the heart of Antwerp. In the documentary it showed members of the Brierley Homing society marking for an open race from of all places Weymouth which made me smile. As the film unfolded viewers were treated to the drama of pigeon racing from basketing to clock checking, immediately my mind was transported back to the days of my early childhood when Dad raced at the Coton Liberal Club in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. The place was a hive of activity from the first to the last race and I still get goosebumps when I think of the monastic silence that filled the air during clock setting and again at strike off, a purple cloth would adorn the table, which always put me in mind of an alter cloth and as soon as I saw it knew immediately that something serious was happening!
The clocks would be set out with such care and everything was kept in order. While I didn’t have birds of my own at this point I would always wait with Dad for race birds on a Saturday then go to the club so I guess I was learning by some kind of pigeon osmosis. A fellow member John McNeill, better known as Big John, is still a friend to this day. Dad’s hometown of Bedworth like The Black Country has its own dialect and proud industrial heritage being a coal mining town in which at the highest point of its productivity in 1939 you could find 20 pits in the Bedworth area producing over a staggering 5.8 million tons of coal! Perhaps it was because pigeons provided immediate fresh air and means of escape from the entrails of the earth. Pigeons and pitmen have gone hand in hand for as long as the sport has been in existence, like most towns at this time almost every garden had a pigeon loft with dedicated fanciers which meant competition was fierce and you had to be at the top of your game on race days! Dad being brought into pigeons in this competitive environment by his neighbour and mentor Syd Brown, an elderly man even when my Dad first knew him. Mr Brown was the archetypal, no nonsense working class fancier that knew his birds like the back of his hand racing a team of only six youngsters, mopped up the competition with such ease proving that a large team was not a guarantee for success. Of course times have changed and people today have bigger teams but we must not forget that without quality no matter how many you have you can do nothing!
Speaking of Bedworth, I recently saw a result from the 1931 in which a fancier by the name of WW Harris of Bedworth was 4th British section, from what my online enquiries have unearthed he may have lived in Wooton Street and flew pigeons with the Bedworth HS and that is where the trail goes cold, so perhaps there is someone out there who can fil in the blanks for me?
Right from children we are taught that ‘manners maketh man’ and fanciers will no doubt agree that the same rule must apply to our feathered friends because one ill disciplined pigeon can hold back or even spoil the rest of your team. In my article in the BHW on 26th February I mentioned the “red hat man” from Lier market, well I remember Swa telling me “3 chances and then into the soup, my boy never be afraid to eat expensive soup!” Of course, I was being taught the importance of selection. If ever there was a fancier who exemplifies the importance of rigorous selection it must be André Roodhooft, after all how else do you explain his record within the “academy of pigeon sport” that is Union of Antwerp? I read recently that in order to make the grade according to André Roodhooft: A young pigeon must at least fly 60 to 65 percent prizes… with early lead prizes, but in particular with regularity. This school of thought clearly shows that in order to attain high standards in racing the fancier must set high expectations for his or her pigeons and in order to do so must be motivated and put in hard work or as they say in The Black country “gi'it some 'ommer"
Right I’m off to see if there are any more eggshells about, I love to see new life in the loft.
Until next time enjoy your pigeons
Coton Liberal Club Nuneaton the place where even “big John Mcneill” was known to buy a round ha!
Getting ready for the new season
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