“ON THE ROAD” WITH KEITH MOTT.
LOOKING BACK OVER THE YEARS (PART 18.)
C. H. Besant & son of New Malden.
I have known the Besant family for well over 40 years, and in that time I have seen them win every major award there is to win in pigeon racing. The 1979 brothers partnership of Ken, Bobby and Ron, won at Club, Open, Federation, Combine and National level and at that time theirs must be rated as one of the all-time great lofts in the United Kingdom. When I first met Bobby and Ken in 1970 their dad, Cecil, had just passed away and the boys were about to take over the very successful C. H. Besant & sons pigeons. Although I never met Cecil, I had always admired his fantastic performances in the Surrey Federation. The boys carried this great fancier’s name on in pigeon racing history to an even higher degree.
The Besant’s first successful stock was obtained from the late Fred Meale of Hounslow and this came about by them reporting one of his stray birds. He was a great and many of his pigeons found their way to his Besant loft over the years, these birds won from the shortest to the longest races. Bobby said at that time that the Meale pigeons charged them into a very successful outfit and Fred Meale was instrumental in getting the Besant’s to the top of the prize lists for many of the early years. In the last 30 years the brothers have raced many different strains of pigeons with outstanding success including Fred Meale, A. R. Hill (Kirkpatrick), Delwiche, Krauth, Van Hee, Busschaert, and all have produced super pigeons for them.
The Besant loft at that time had won 1st open National Flying Club twice, the first time in 1979 from Guernsey with their champion young bird, ‘Stafford All Alone’ and this game Krauth blue cock beat 9,353 birds, and won the Young Bird National by five clear minutes. Champion ‘Stafford All Alone’ was a full brother to the widowhood blue cock Champion ‘White Beak’, winner of 14 times first prize, beaten by loft mates for a further six firsts, and both these Krauth cocks went to Louella Pigeon World. “White beak” was once said to one of the most outstanding Krauths pigeons in Europe, winning 68 prizes from 87 miles through to 555 miles. He was also said to be one of the most versatile Krauths at that time, winning from Blandford, then going on to record 150th open (6,066 birds) N.F.C. Pau (555 miles). The two brothers were bred from the stock pair, ‘Duke’ and ‘Duchess’, both direct Martin Krauth imports. The brothers’ champion Busschaert widowhood cock ‘Little Dark’ was also sold to Regency Lofts and other champions to grace the New Malden loft were ‘Flight Leader’ and ‘Treble Three’.
Kenny and Bobby raced to their dad’s loft for my years, which was 18ft in length, with a long bay on the front and a clear plastic roof which let in plenty of sunlight. The Besant partners had been premier prize winners in the now disbanded Kingston & District H.S. countless times through the year, including 1993, when they flew only part of the programme. In recent years the partnership was made up of Bobby, Ken and Bobby’s son, Anthony. The loft won 1st open National Flying Club for the second time in 1999, from Bordeaux, with 3,776 birds taking part in the race. The partners’ winner, the Herbot blue cock, Champion ‘Besant’s Bishop’s Pride’, was bred by Brian Bishop of Sutton and in six consecutive races he won: 2nd club Weymouth (108 miles), 5th club Exeter (151 miles), 28th section E. (2,500 birds), 254th open N.F.C. Nantes (10,591 birds), 1st club, 1st Surrey Federation Weymouth (1,973 birds), 1st section E, 1st open N.F.C. Bordeaux (3,776 birds). This great pigeon won the National by over 45 minutes, winning £4,478, a record amount of cash for a single pigeon in one race at that time, winning an R.P.R.A. Merit Award for 250-450 miles performance, awarded the London Social Champion of London Trophy in 1991. Ken said at the time he was a once in a lifetime pigeon and was a champion at stock, his children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews all won in open and national competition.
The partner’s new loft was purchased at the end of the 1990 season and was 48ft long, with nine compartments and a 3ft corridor running the whole length of the front, which was half glazed. The roof had an apex, with the shorter side being clear plastic to let in the sunlight and warmth in to the loft. Five sections of the loft were fitted out for widowhood, two sections for the young birds and two sections for stock and widowhood hens. Bobby maintains the main feature in good loft design is: dryness, plenty of room per bird, good light and fresh air. The Besant partners housed 16 pairs of stock birds and started with about 40 widowhood cocks each season, rearing in the region of 80 youngsters for themselves to race. There was no set time for pairing up, as Bobby and Ken were both postmen and December was very busy with Christmas mail, so it was some time after that, normally in January.
They raced the widowhood system in the main, using the standard method of showing the hen every time the cocks went to a race and on their return. Anthony said they tried not showing the hen, but preferred to do it the ‘showing’ method for all races, including channel racing through to the Pau National. The partners raced a few hens, these being very successful when sitting eggs and the widowhood cocks were raced every week until they wanted them for a specific race, then they were given a week off before a big race. They didn’t necessarily race the club week in and week out, but picked open races, which are more lucrative and more of a challenge to the birds. The Besant’s didn’t believe in keeping birds for certain races, but started in March and raced through to July, with the same birds going to Pau (556 miles) that went to Weymouth (108 miles). The youngsters had a thorough training down to the coast, about 60 miles, breaking them up to least doubles until they were coming regularly. The partners carefully timed all the birds on the training tosses and used the information to pool accordingly. The young birds were usually given one club race before the National and were sent unpaired on a method which was always very successful.
The Besant loft was probably the most successful in National and Open racing over a three year period in the early 1990’s, in England at all distances: in 1991they won, 1st, 5th, 81st section E, 1st, 10th, 126th open N.F.C. Bordeaux (3,776 birds): 1st section, 11th open London & South East Classic Club Guernsey (700 birds), 19th, 24th, 28th, 53rd section E, 190th, 236th, 254th, 377th open N.F.C. Nantes (10,591 birds) and 46th, 138th section E. N.F.C. Pau (1,328 birds). In six consecutive open sprint races flown they won 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th Shepperton Open Weymouth(108 miles), 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th Bucks & Herts Open, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th Borough of Hillingdon Federation Open and 1st, 2nd, 3rd Caversham Open Weymouth, winning three R.P.R.A. Awards.
Some 1992 results in racing a very reduced programme were 4th, 33rd, 37th, 72nd, 210th section E, 10th, 56th, 63rd, 126th, 493rd open N.F.C. St. Malo (10,035 birds): 12th, 64th, 67th, 121st section E, 74th, 330th, 341st open N.F.C. Saintes (5,070 birds): 25th, 28th, 31st, 37th, 46th open London & South East Classic Club Chartres (1,376 birds).
Highlights of 1993 were winning: 6th, 8th, 18th, 77th section E, 11th, 13th, 36th, 208th open N.F.C. Pau (5,423 birds): 11th, 12th, 71st, 96th, 98th, 107th section E, 23rd, 33rd, 260th, 366th, 402nd open N.F.C. Saintes (5,273 birds). Sprint open race positions won were: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th Adur Valley Open (£448): 1st, 2nd, 6th, 10th, 11th, 12th Boxmoor Open Dorchester (£500) plus many club firsts, Federation and Combine prizes.
The partners’ main racing families in the 1990’s were Herbot, Janssen and Busschaerts. The Herbots originated from Rex Doe of Cornwall, who had been a great flier fore many years. The first Herbot pigeons came from Brian Bishop of Sutton, including Champion ‘Besant’s Bishop’s Pride’, the Bordeaux National winner. While on holiday in Cornwall, Bobby visited Rex and was very impressed with the family, especially the blue pieds, and decided there and then to obtain some Herbot stock birds. Since that time they selected and purchased the ones they wanted to establish a family of pigeons that were second to none in any type of racing. The Janssens came from various sources including Fountainhead Lofts, Johnny May and other introductions from the best of the strain in this country. Bobby said, in his opinion, at that time the Busschaerts came from the best origin possible, the late W. Parkes of Northern Ireland, a fantastic family of Busschaerts noted for winning with birdage of up to 30,000 birds. They tried to introduce new birds every year from different sources and test them against their own birds, but it all takes time, one must be patient and it usually comes out in the end.
The Besant’s didn’t keep different families for different distances, they all did their bit and when prepared properly usually succeeded. Kenny always said, they expected them to win from 100 to 500 miles and they did. The main stock bird in the 1990’s, after Champion ‘Besant’s Bishop’s Pride’, was his sister, ‘Pride’s Sister’ and she was the dam of winners up to and including National level. She was dam of ‘Triple Ace’, winner of 10th open N.F.C. St. Malo (10,035 birds). Three other brothers, Ronnie, Alan and John, have all raced pigeons with outstanding success at one time or another. The Besant’s half-brother, Freddie Layton, was a very successful fancier in the Heathrow Airport area. Back in 1976 Fred donated a Dordin youngster to the Surrey Federation Transporter auction sale, which I purchased and won Bergerac (450 miles) the following season with her. The person who put up with all the brothers’ pigeon carry-on was their late mother, Lilly, as the loft was on the site of the old C. H. Besant & sons loft in her New Malden back garden. Bobby said, she was a brick to put up with it! Bobby’s wife, Angela, had always encouraged him in the hobby and actually had a pigeon named after her, ‘Angie’s Pied’, a Busschaert bred by Billy Parkes, which won nine times first prize racing, including winning open races and the Surrey Federation.
Kenny Besant always maintained that motivation is the name of the game. The old birds racer though to Pau (550 miles), the young hens go through to the National race and the young cocks were generally only trained ready for future racing. They fed the normal break down, build up system as they had found it worked well, irrespective of the distance. Feed, with slight variations to suit, was Bosmolen PXL corn and depurative. Bobby said this corn was used for its quality and consistency. The brothers used condition seed and Hormoform throughout the year and the youngsters got a lot of Hormoform in their first few weeks of life. Old birds were trained for a couple of weeks before racing and particular attention was paid to the yearlings as they did not race as young birds and were thus very inexperienced. The young birds were trained to the south coast, about 60 miles, as often as possible, as the National race was their priority. They preferred this training to young bird races, as it was more educational and created individuals within the team. Bobby likes to look at the bird’s eye sign and has judged show classes, but he believes it is only a part of the whole. The only true test of a pigeon is the basket and all the theories are just theories! They believed the best birds were bred from the best paired to the best, performance bird to performance bird. They successfully paired brother and sister, father to daughter etc. When pairing birds they don’t have any set pattern, but performance pigeons paired together is the norm. When the birds were in a heavy moult, the brothers endeavoured to give them as much variation in the corn as possible with added linseed for the oil content. They did breed latebreds off their best racers of the season and use them for stock. The Besant loft won 1st Federation countless times, far too many to list in this article and won 1st Federation in two races on the same day!
It has been a most tragic time for the Besant family in recent years, with the passing on of younger brother Ronnie, mother Lily and Kenny within two years. Kenny was the loft manager in the family pigeon partnership, the tireless force behind the pigeon management and training to ensure the Besant’s lasting success over many years. Bobby has been a very good friend of mine for many years and as I’ve written many times before, he is one of the best pigeon fanciers I’ve ever met! Bobby is a pigeon fancier of the highest order, but always knew where to draw the line where his family were concerned, always putting Angela and the kids first. Bobby is a great guy and a brilliant pigeon fancier! There you have it, C. H. Besant & sons of New Malden, one of greatest pigeon racing partnerships ever, in the U.K.
Coming up to date, Bobby now races in partnership with his son, Anthony, to their new loft set up in Worcester Park. They have raced their birds in the old Besant tradition, by winning at the top level, with the highlights being: 1st open International Agen (10,500 birds) in 2015 and 1st, 2nd open BICC Cholet National (3,000 birds) in 2019. Brilliant pigeon racing!
The late Arthur Payne – ‘Success on a push bike!’.
Arthur Payne was 80 years of age and had never driven a motor car, doing all his pigeon work on his push bike, including taking the birds to the local club on marking night. His little team of racers only had one Guildford (20 miles) training toss before the first race and was only out of the Three Borders Federation result a couple of times in the 2006 old birds season. Arthur didn’t send to the last two S.M.T. Combine races, but still finished up third in the Federation Individual Points Trophy at the end of old birds. His 2006 old bird performance in the Federation was: 23rd Federation (1,563 birds) Wincanton: 4th Federation (1,805 birds) Wincanton (2): 2nd, 17th Federation (1,737 birds) West Bay: 20th, 21st Federation (1,775 birds) Kingsdown: 23rd Federation (1,212 birds), 45th open S.M.T. Combine Yelverton: 8th Federation (1,223 birds), 48th open S.M.T. Combine Wadebridge: 5th, 23rd Federation (1,557 birds) Exeter: 8th, 23rd Federation (1,081 birds), 9th, 39th open S.M.T. Combine Truro: 6th, 7th, 12th, 17th Federation (1,376 birds) Portland: 3rd, 8th, 20th Federation (788 birds) West Bay (2): 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 10th Federation (1,068 birds) Lulworth. ‘Success on a push bike!’
Arthur Payne started the 2006 season, in the same fashion as he finished the 2004 and 2005 seasons – winning pigeon races! The star bird of the 2006 season once again was Arthur’s Champion ‘Kenny’ and he won several premier positions this year, including: 2nd Federation West Bay, 3rd Federation West Bay, 8th Federation Wadebridge, bringing his win tally up to seven times 1st club. Arthur chalked up 1st club, 6th Three Borders Federation, from the first race of the 2005 season, from Lulworth with his brilliant Jan Huybregts blue chequer cock, ‘Kenny’, and this great pigeon has lots of previous good form, winning in 2004: 1st club, 1st Three Borders Federation, 4th open S.M.T. Combine Poitiers, 1st club, 9th Three Borders Federation, 11th open S.M.T. Combine Fougeres. A brilliant performance! Arthur named the handsome blue chequer, ‘Kenny’, after his breeder, the late Ken Besant of New Malden, who produced him from stock birds obtained from John Keywood of Hersham. Other top performers of the 2006 season were, ‘Mark 1.’, ‘Mark 2.’ and ‘The 25’, all Janssen cocks bred by Arthur and Bobby’s friend Mark Kidby.
Back in the 1970’s I flew in the very strong Kingston club, Surrey Federation, with Arthur and he was always one fancier to look out for, especially in the channel events. This great fancier, who was 80 years of age, told me that after racing in the Kingston club for over 50 years he was very sad to see this great club stop functioning at the end of the 2003 season. 2004 was Arthur’s first season racing in the Surbiton Flying Club and won ten races that season, taking the first three positions several times. He enjoyed a brilliant season in the Three Borders Federation, recording 10th open Exeter (1,292 birds), 8th open Lulworth (2,384 birds), 9th open Fougeres (1,137 birds), 8th open West Bay (2,105 birds), 3rd open Exeter (1,584 birds), 1st open Poitiers (823 birds), 10th open Lulworth (1,629 birds), 18th open Kingsdown (1,140 birds). A brilliant loft performance! Arthur’s son-in-law is Bobby Besant of the old double National Flying Club winning partnership of C. H. Besant & sons of New Malden and he enjoyed his Saturday afternoons at Arthur’s loft, helping him clocking in.
Arthur’s set up consisted of two small lofts, which were scraped out regularly and they were very open, as he was a fancier who likes plenty of fresh air for the inmates. He said he had always been a scraper man and had never used deep litter on the loft floors. The old birds were raced on a type of roundabout system, with 25 pairs of racers being paired up in February. Never having driven a car, Arthur just rode a bike, so his hens were trained on the local pigeon transporter twice a week. The cocks were not trained, but exercised round the loft every day. The racers were fed a good widowhood mixture, being broken down in the early part of the season and were given extra maize as the races got longer. Just like the normal widowhood system, the hens were shown to the cocks on marking night and they race every week in the Federation. Arthur told me that ‘Kenny’, his first winner of the 2005 season, had flown in 25 races over the previous two seasons. The Payne loft housed several families of pigeons, including Janssens from Mark Kidby, Huybregts from John Keywood, Winkel and some birds introduced of Eric Cannon long distance family. The main stock cock was a Winckel called ‘Peanut’ and a lot of his winning bloodlines were in the loft. This wonderful old cock was Arthur’s favourite and used to come into the back kitchen, and eat peanuts off the table. ‘Peanut’ was never raced from France, but won many inland races for the Payne loft. He was a good racer, but a better breeder, and had bred no end of winners for Arthur. A grandson of ‘Peanut’ won two races in the 2004 season. Two of the top racers in the loft, ‘The Image’ and ‘Queenie’, were direct children of the old blue cock and Arthur said ‘The Image’ was the image of his father, and had won races every season. ‘Peanut’ was bred by C. H. Besant & sons and strayed in to Arthur’s loft as a young bird, but liked the Payne loft so much, he kept coming back and was gifted to him. A wonderful old pigeon!
TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT (www.keithmott.com)