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The late, great Beat Penn of Brentford.

I was very sad when given the very bad news that my dear friend Beat Penn had passed away in 2007 and after all those years, it still makes me sad today. She was the ‘first lady’ of pigeon racing, dedicating a lifetime of hard work to our great sport and was one of the sport’s greatest administrators. She was also my aunty Beat and I loved her!

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I’ve known Beat and her late husband, Ernie, more or less since I started racing pigeons in 1970 and at that time she was the secretary of the Isleworth S.R.F.C., West Middlesex Federation and S.M.T. Combine. I remember writing at that time that she was the best lady administrator in the sport!  I often hear pigeon secretaries, quite rightly, complain about their thankless plight, but this lady had three times as much as the average secretary on her plate and loved every minute of it.  She was the secretary of the S.M.T. Combine for many years, starting when it was formed in the 1960s and once told me the only task she hated was when she had to print at the bottom of a Combine result that a member had been disqualified through no fault of their own.

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Beat started as secretary of the West Middlesex Federation in 1962, with a short break when she had to retire because she had a major operation in 1971 and I can remember the great times we had at the annual Federation Show, held at Isleworth in those days. At that time Beat commented to me that the Isleworth club members were second to none and without their help she would not have been able to cope with all her jobs. She had held the secretary's job in the Isleworth club, off and on, since 1958.

I think one of Beat’s major triumphs in the mid 1970s was when the West Middlesex Federation needed a new transporter and they decided that a new top would be built on top of the old transporter chassis at the princely sum of £6,000. She told me at the time that the fundraising events put on by the member clubs were overwhelming, but they got their new transporter, and it was well worth the massive effort. The new vehicle had an aluminium body, air conditioning and held 264 crates, with the release system allowing many small liberations if required. When she took on the S.M.T. Combine secretary job it was still rail transport for the pigeons and when road transporters came in she much preferred the new form of transport, saying it made the job much easier and the birds' comfort was much improved.

Beat had been an R.P.R.A. councillor since time began and was President of the R.P.R.A. London Region; I think I’m right in saying that she was the first lady to hold that office. She was secretary of the London Region for many years and carried out lots of work for charity.

Beat flew pigeons in partnership with Ernie from the early 1970s, but prior to that was a silent partner with the birds since their marriage in 1944. Ernie was a shift worker at Heathrow Airport, which is sited only a few miles from their home in Brentford, so Beat’s input was very vital to the management of their very good team of pigeons. At that time she told me she didn’t pick out favourites in the loft, but I think she had a soft spot for the partners good blue cock, ‘904’, the winner of several first in sprint races. One of Beat’s fondest memories was the day of her daughter’s wedding and ‘906’ won the Exeter race, which gave the great day an extra edge. The loft housed many successful families and in the mid 1970s the Cattrysse pigeons were introduced from the Trussler Brothers partnership in West Molesey. Beat fed, cleaned out and clocked the pigeons, but when it came to pairing up etc, Ernie took the reins.

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Beat telephoned me a short while before she passed away and asked if I fancied a day out in London as she had to present a £1,500 cheque to the Richard House Children’s Hospice in Docklands. The money was a donation from the British Homing World ‘Show of the Year’ and I was pleased to go, as I hadn’t seen Beat for a while and it was such a worthwhile charity. My good friend, Peter Taylor, came along and we picked up Beat at her beautiful home in Brentford to start the two hour drive through central London to the Children’s Hospice, which was sited near Docklands Airport. On our journey too and from the Hospice, Beat and I had a really good laugh about the good ol’ days and the good times we had at the S.M.T. Combine prize presentations and West Middlesex Federation Shows back in the 1970s. This was the first time Peter had met Beat and after we dropped her back home, he commented to me, what wonderful lady she was, and that’s exactly what she was, a wonderful lady. That great day out in London was the last time I saw Beat Penn!

I don’t know of any other person who has done more for the sport of pigeon racing over the last 50 years than our Beat. She was up in her 80th years and still working tirelessly for the sport nearly till the end. I will miss her happy voice on the telephone, her Christmas card every December and I will greatly miss meeting up with her at the Blackpool Show every January. Beat Penn was one of the greatest people I’ve ever met in the sport of pigeon racing and I’m very proud that she was my friend.

The late, Norman Middleton of Iver.

The last weekend of May 2001 saw the London & South East Classic Club hold it’s Sennen Cove race, incorporated the annual Yearling Derby, and members entered 1,530 birds for this 250 miles event. More or less from the time we arrived at the grassed car park liberation site, on the cliffs above Sennen Cove, it was fogged out by dense sea mist coming in off the Atlantic and had to hold over until the Tuesday, when I liberated at 08.00hrs in a west wind. I released the convoy into blue sky and sunshine and after forming one big batch, they cleared the site very quickly. I anticipated a brilliant race but, although the velocities were good and constant, the race didn’t really live up to my expectations, with returns being very patchy. A local Sennen pigeon fancier, Peter Lugg, informed me that there are at least 15 pairs of Peregrine Falcons within sight of the Sennen Cove liberation site and, on my return home, several classic fanciers reported getting birds home badly hawked. When I liberated the classic birds on the Tuesday morning, the convoy was in ‘mint’ condition and it was a perfect day for racing pigeons. It makes me wonder if the convoy was attacked and broken up by hungry Peregrine Falcons en route home.

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The weekend after the race I made the 30 miles drive to Iver in Buckinghamshire to visit the winning loft of Norman Middleton Brothers and I must say how impressed I was with the quality of the pigeons in the loft, which were mainly Starview Busschaerts. Norman clocked his winning pigeon, a two year old Busschaert blue chequer hen, to record 1668 ypm and she was raced on Norman’s own roundabout system. He named his champion hen, ‘Miss Camin’, and she was bred from the very best Massarella Starview Busschaert lines, with her sire being Norman’s champion blue chequer cock, ‘Buster’s Pride’. This wonderful champion was now at stock, breeding many winners, after a brilliant racing career, winning 1st sect. E. 2nd open N.F.C. Saintes (beaten by 2ypm) and 1st open U.B.I. Combine Nantes. Another daughter of ‘Buster’s Pride’, a blue pied sister of ‘Miss Camin’, won 4th open U.B.I. Combine Liskeard. A brilliant family of pigeons!

Norman’s late brother, ‘Buster’, was an outstanding fancier for over 50 years and started as a lad with a pair of pigeons in a box on the garden shed roof. The young Buster helped and cleaned out the loft of Tubby Bignell of West Drayton and on the starting up racing pigeons, Norman taught Buster how to drive so he could train his birds. Norman has always helped Buster with the pigeons but, in recent years when he became very ill, Norman helped him more and altered the loft to suit Buster’s ill health. When Buster passed away he left a wonderful team of pigeons to Norman in his will, with some money to meet the running costs of the loft, as he wanted it to carry on after he had gone. I must say that Norman had done a brilliant job carrying on with premier positions where Buster left off.

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Norman raced 40 pairs on the roundabout system but said it’s not hard-core and called it his own ‘mess about’ system. The birds were fed twice a day, a seed mixture in the morning and widowhood mixture in the evening, and were given a 50 miles training toss once a week. He raced only south road and said at that time his hens were racing best, although the cocks flew out best on their twice a day exercise sessions around the loft. Norman liked to race middle distance best but said he thought the Starview Busschaerts could fly Pau (560 miles). Norman’s racers were flown to a self-built 40ft loft with seven sections and drop hole trapping and his 14 pairs of stock birds were housed in two lofts and a wire flight.

Norman’s pride and joy was his champion blue chequer cock, ‘Buster’s Pride’, and he told me that, after a fantastic racing career, he had to retire him to stock because he was damaged by a Sparrowhawk attack. On my visit to the Iver loft, Norman showed me several of his top performers, including his champion four year old chequer pied Busschaert hen, ‘Galaxy’, and she had recorded racing on the roundabout: 1st sect. D, 1st open B.B.C. Nantes (2,691 birds) and two weeks later 1st sect. E, 5th open N.F.C. Nantes. A brilliant hen!

Roy & Suzanna Spratley of Isleworth.

The late Roy & Suzanne Spratley of Isleworth were top prize-winners in West Middlesex Federation in 1986, winning 24 positions in the first 20. These included six times 1st Federation and three times 2nd Federation. Suzanne's father was Roy's brother Ted, who sadly died in June 1983. Ted was one of the top fanciers in West Middlesex for many years and was never out of the top prize winners in his club. On his death Suzanne and her uncle Roy took over the birds.

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Ted and Roy had flown in partnership for something like 40 years, their father was also a pigeon fancier, so pigeon fancying has been something of a way of life for the family. Suzanne recalled that as a little girl aged four, her father used to take her to the loft every day and that interest had been maintained. Most of the knowledge she had was gained from her late father. Both Suzanne and Roy admitted that they found it tough going at first after Ted's death and the original pigeons were of the Sion strain, but it was found that these pigeons had a tendency to put on a lot of weight very quickly. Because of this it was felt that they needed a lot of training to keep them in racing condition. The Huyskens­ Van Riel bloodlines were introduced; these did a lot to enhance the Spratley racing reputation. In 1978 two Hansenne hens were introduced and since then the lofts had gone from strength to strength. The Van Riels and Hansennes had blended perfectly, producing Federation winners and, probably just as important in many fanciers' eyes, pigeons of a very nice type.

The partnership raced their own system of semi-widowhood. The loft was very well maintained, kept very tidy, certainly neighbours would have no grounds for complaint. The front was completely closed in, half with opaque glass, allowing light in but no vision out for the birds. Trapping was by way of the open door. The design of the loft was such that it was always perfectly dry, an essential point as far as Roy and Suzanne were concerned. There were three sections arranged so that some birds could be flown on the Natural system when required. Widowhood hens were kept in separate boxes in a small shed at the opposite end of the garden. Pairing up usually took place around mid-January with about 30 young birds bred for racing. It should be said that although the partners bred 30 youngsters they were not fanatical young bird racers. They trained them as much as possible, giving them as many 30 mile tosses as Roy could stand with the likeliest candidates being held back for the following year. Old birds usually receive two training tosses per week from 25 miles. The practice here was to get them into good condition for racing and then if particular birds look 'right' send them. Roy said that in the early days the biggest mistake they made was sending pigeons that were not ready. The pigeons must be prepared and ready for the job they were required to do, so that when you send them you send them with confidence.

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Both Roy and Suzanne were more than pleased with the results produced by these Van Riel x Hansennes, they find that they win from 90-500 miles. There is no doubt that Suzanne's favourite pigeon was a white cock, this particular cock could be found in the pedigree of almost every bird in the loft. Although he didn’t not fill his eggs when I visited the loft, he was at one time a very useful racer as well as breeder, among his positions won is 1st club, 13th S.M.T. Combine Bergerac (13 hours on the wing). The loft prefix was ‘Treble Lofts’, so named after Roy and Ted's chequer cock known as 'The Treble Cock' which was the first pigeon to win West Middlesex Federation three times. Best pigeon in the loft at that time must be the five year old chequer pied cock known as 'Sue's Boy', winner of seven times 1st club and five times 1st Federation. A champion in the truest sense of the word!

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The partners fed to a normal widowhood pattern; depurative part of the week followed by a good widowhood mixture. They found that this method conditions the birds very quickly. A small amount of conditioner seed was fed but mainly for trapping. Whilst they both liked to see a nice eye, they did not think that eyesign actually means anything. When it came to long distance racing their favoured racing condition was feeding a 14 day old youngster for hens and sitting 14 days for cocks.

Obviously, because this was a close knit family of pigeons, quite a bit of inbreeding was done. It was not unusual for the partners to breed six late breds each year to pair back to their grandparents, always assuming of course that they meet their required standard. Roy's advice to new starters and novices was, obtain a good winning family of inbred pigeons and be patient. Suzanne was of the opinion that many unsuccessful fanciers made the mistake of overcrowding their lofts and breeding from inferior birds. Roy did express the opinion that he did not think that the sport had progressed over the last 20 years. He also thought that more should be done to encourage young people into the sport. There you have the Spratley family of Isleworth, premier racers in the West Middlesex Federation for many years!

Fred Birch of Uxbridge.

A drive over the River Thames into Middlesex led to a visit to the Combine winning loft of Fred Birch. Fred was a real nice change, because he was the first loft that I visited that was 100% on the Roundabout System.

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Fred only kept a small team of racers, but enjoyed outstanding success from the long distance races. His best performance at that time was 1st S.M.T. Combine Bergerac (463 miles), winning the S.M.T. Combine Continental Average and RPRA London Region Award, at the time the loft only housed 14 birds. In 1995 Fred sent six birds to Bergerac, clocking two on the day, winning 1st club, 1st Berkshire Federation, 2nd open UBI Combine and the other four candidates were on the loft early next morning. Fred only raced two Channel races in 1994 and recorded 8th sect, 24th open Pau NFC and 6th, 13th open UBI Combine Bergerac, again with only very small teams being sent.

Fred raced the roundabout system and said it’s a very easy method for a small team fancier. He raced the cocks and hens, but the racer must always come home and find their mate in the nest box. Fred trained his birds well along the south coast and uses inland races as fitness tosses. The birds were never over raced and Fred liked the big jump method, with some birds being sent to 400 and 500 miles for their first Channel race, and they won. His roundabout loft was 20ft, two sections with Sputnik trapping and housed 14 pairs of racers.

The first bird we looked at on my visit was Fred's 'Combine Hen'. a very nice blue chequer bred by Wynn Cole of Middlesbrough from Dutch bloodlines. This game hen won five cards as a year1ing including 1st cub Nantes and then went on to win 1st club, 1st Berkshire Federation, 2nd open UBI Combine Bergerac in 1995. On her build-up to the Bergerac win she had several tosses from the coast, two inland races and was lifted straight into the 463 mile race. She had never been overworked and had no races as a young bird, which is Fred's method of getting the best out of his birds in the long distance events.

Fred had a second loft which houses his stock birds and youngsters. His five pairs of stock birds were paired up on 1st January and he only kept about ten youngsters each season. Fred's best stock cock was a Peter Titmuss / Fear Brothers red chequer cock bred by the late Ken Hine of nearby Hayes. This ace flew the Channel 14 times for the Birch loft, scoring several times from Bergerac and winning 130th open Pau NFC and 48th section Dax International. Since the red cock had been retired to the stock loft he had bred many distance winners including Fred's good red chequer cock, winner of 8th sect, 24th open Pau NFC. All the lofts had a thick bed of straw on the floors and Fred hopper fed a heavy mixture, with peanuts added when the long distance races come around. The racers got lots of 50 mile training tosses, as they got very little racing, and Fred liked to double them up from the south coast.

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Fred had had pigeons for 50 years, starting up at the age of 12 years old and his first loft was only 4ft with a wire front. His first birds were from London's famous street market Petticoat Lane and raced in Uxbridge South Road club. The main families at the time of my loft visit were Peter Titmuss and Fear Bros and the only pedigree that Fred was interested in was the basket. His wife, Sylvia, was very interested in the pigeons clocking long distance racers and Fred was President of his club, the Lambert Flying Club. Fred had always looked up to the outstanding performances of Eric & Pat Cannon and said the former Godalming partnership was the best in the South of England. Fred line bred his birds and only bred late breds if friends want them for stock. He thought the moult was very important and calls for special feeds and lots of rest. He used a thick carpet of oat straw on the loft floors, as a vet told him red mite will no live on oat straw and said his birds looked very unhappy when he took it out of the loft once. Fred Birch, one of the very best in Middlesex!

George Morris of East Acton.

In the 1998 season, George enjoyed great success, winning many major positions including 7th open Pau (NFC) and 1st open SE Combine Bergerac in the space of six days. A fantastic performance! The 1999 season saw him continue his outstanding success, with 9th open Combine Rennes, 14th open Combine Nantes, 34th open Combine Rennes, 1st, 2nd club, 1st, 3rd  West Middlesex Federation, 1st, 4th open SE Combine Bergerac. These performances were  what dreams are made of and George said at that time, the wonderful loft performances over the two seasons were unbelievable. The two pigeons clocked from Bergerac in 1999 were a brother and sister nest pair, with the Combine winner being a two year old widowhood cock, trained only as a young bird and raced as a yearling only inland. In 1999 he had five inland races and two Channel races from Rennes (245 miles), then into Bergerac to win the Combine, taking 131/4 hours to fly the 460 miles. His sister, George's Champion blue chequer, won 4th open Combine in 1999, also 1st open Combine Bergerac in 1998. What a nest pair. She was sent to Bergerac in 1999 sitting ten day old eggs and flew 133/4 hours to record 4th open Combine. The Morris set-up was two small lofts in an L-shape by the railway tracks of East Acton tube station and all trapping was through open doors. The natural racers had 15 widowhood style nest boxes and the small team of widowers had 12 nest boxes. His 36 young birds raced on the natural system to their own section all the way through to 200 miles and were trained at least twice a week.

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George started racing at the age of 11, when he was in partnership with his father and they were outstanding in the long distance north road races. He turned south road seven seasons before my visit and had won at every stage through France, including winning the longest old bird race from Bergerac every year. George had a small loft with big performances and in the last 13 seasons on the north road, he has won Thurso eleven times. A fantastic loft performance! He said he liked week-to-week club racing, but was most successful at the long-distance events, keeping a few widowhood cocks for the spring club races and the bulk of the loft being on natural for the races from France.

On my loft visit (early in 1999), George showed me his champion blue chequer white flight hen, winner of 1st open SE Combine Bergerac (460 miles) in 1998. She was sent to the longest old bird race sitting 12-day-old eggs, flying 111/4hours, to win the combine and three weeks prior to this, she won 3rd club Poitiers. She was a granddaughter of his champion racer and breeding cock, 'The Thurso Cock', her dam being a pigeon from George White of Kent. George started his own family of long-distance pigeons in the mid-1970s with a Havenith pigeon from Stan Towers and a bird from his friend Gerry Dellany, both outstanding fanciers. From time to time he brought in an outstanding pigeon to cross with his own family, which he said, more often than not, brings out a top-class performer.

He paired up his widowhood racers in January and the natural birds in mid- March and because of his work commitments found it very hard to do much training. The little training he gave the team was from the south coast and he used the short inland races to get the birds fit. His build-up for the long-distance events was two inland races, one 350-mile Channel race, and then he sent them to the main event sitting about 12-day-old eggs. He said every pigeon likes a different nest condition when sent to the distance, but he hadn't had much luck with birds feeding youngsters. He showed me his fantastic mosaic cock, which in 1998 flew 560 miles from Pau in 151/2 hours, recording 7th open NFC. He was sent sitting 12-day-old eggs and was also a grandson of 'The Thurso Cock'. This mosaic cock was no stranger to winning and previously recorded 1st club Bergerac (131/2hours on the wing) and 159th open Saintes NFC. A great George Morris pigeon! This cock was injured in the 1999 season and was put to stock.

Well that’s it for this week! I hope my readers have enjoyed this look back at five London area champions of yester year. We will be looking at some more very soon. To view some old video footage of some of these fanciers and their birds go on to my YouTube channel. I can be contacted with any pigeon matters on telephone number: 01372 463480 or email me on: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.