“ON THE ROAD” WITH KEITH MOTT.
LOOKING BACK OVER THE YEARS (PART 33.)
John Guard of Marazion
I had the good fortune to visit the Cornish long distance ‘ace’, the late John Guard, in 1976, while on holiday in Cornwall, with my wife, Betty. Cornwall isn’t the best place in the world to live when racing pigeons, with fogs and mists that close in in seconds and freaky rainstorms, which pelt down without warning and the birds of prey. One man who mastered and used these conditions to his advantage was John Guard. Many a Cornish man has said, ‘When the birds are a long way from home and the chips are down, with bad weather, you can bet your life, John Guard has got one home’. The longer the race and harder the weather, the better the Guard loft performed.
I visited the Guard’ Marazion home by arrangement made by my late friend, Johnny Winters of Penzance, at the end of August 1976, midway through the young bird racing. On our arrival we were taken in to the 17ft x 5ft loft by John to inspect the ‘ace’ team of long distance racing pigeons, I had been told about so many times. The self-built loft was very neat, with the back wall covered with nice, airy nest boxes, and the birds trapped through bob holes. The floor and nest boxes were dressed with nice, clean, fine sand collected once a week from Marazion beach and the birds were fed on a good mixture of beans, maize and barley. The loft housed four pairs of stock birds, 20 pairs of racers, a 24 strong young bird team and every birds had to be proven before it was bred from. The birds were paired up the second week in February and only one round of youngsters were reared. Then the racers were put on pot eggs, ready for racing. John and his son, Brian, were very keen on eyesign and all pairings were made by the bird’s eyes. The birds got very little training as John was a very busy gardener and hadn’t the time, but gave them an open loft all day long.
John handed me a dark pied hen saying, ‘This is my best hen and her name is, ‘Twiggy’. This fine hen was big, with a deep cast in the hand and her eye was nice and rich. ‘Twiggy’ had to her credit, 1st club, 1st Federation, 3rd open Combine Luxembourg (519 miles), 1st club, 2nd Federation, 8th open Combine Antwerp (442 miles) and many positions inland. John said that the late A. R. Hill of St. Just was always trying to purchase this great hen. The main family kept was made up from pigeons obtained from N. J. Southwell of Petersfield and the Kenyons of P. Cook of Wendron. These pigeons won at all distances, but were devastating at the long distance, winning scores of firsts through the years. John said 1967 was his best year for the long distance, winning 1st, 2nd club Antwerp (442 miles), 1st, 2nd, 4th club Luxembourg (519 miles), 1st, 2nd, 3rd club Hanau (638 miles). What performances! This fine team had made John premier prize winner in the very strong Penzance RPC for six years on the trot. John showed me many, many first prize diplomas won at the long distance. The loft’s performance must be described as fantastic, second to none. The second pigeon he put in my hand was a dark chequer hen named, ‘Hat-trick’, and she was medium sized, with long cast and light eye. This is the sort of pigeon you would give your right arm for, having won 1sst club Antwerp (442 miles) four years on the trot, as well as many club cards inland. To my mind this was the pigeon of the loft, because she had bred many winners as well as being a great racer. I handled eight hens bred from ‘Hat-trick’ and all were prize winners, with two being outstanding. The first was a very nice dark chequer hen, being big and long cast in the hand. She had to her credit, 1st club, 1st Federation Cranleigh, 1st club, 1st Federation Margate, 1st club, 3rd Federation Antwerp. This wonderful hen was a bit under the weather, having hit some wires a few days before my visit. The other hen was a red chequer, with a medium apple body and she had won three firsts inland. John showed me his best overseas racing cock and he was a red chequer, winner of three firsts overseas, including 1st club, 6th Federation Hanau (638 miles), only bird in the club in race time. Another outstanding bird at the Guard loft was the only blue he owned at that time and this game hen recorded 1st club Hanau (638 miles) twice.
John was a Vice President of the West Cornwall Federation and was the convoyer for the W.E.C.A. and Cornish Combine for many years. His wife, Kathleen, always clocked in the birds on race days, when John was away at the race point, liberating. He was very keen on showing his racing pigeons and had won scores of local shows. While judging a show at Camborne, John entered the raffle for a pigeon, presented by Gordon Air. The tickets were 2/6d each and John said until then, he had never won a raffle in his life, but that was his lucky day because he took the dark chequer cock home with him. This big handsome cock turned out to be John’s best stock cock, being the sire of many winners at the long distance. John started in the sport in 1945 and smashed his novice status in a Plymouth race. Many a good Guard pigeon won for other fanciers, including a gift grizzle, which won 2nd open S.N.F.C. for Darock of Gennoch. John Guard of Marazion was indeed one of Cornwall’s greatest pigeon fanciers! I hope my readers have enjoyed reading about this great fancier; I’ve certainly enjoyed writing it!
Bernard Jordon of Oxford.
When I travelled up to Hitchin in Hertfordshire, to photograph pigeons for the Inter Counties Federation Show in January 1978, I had the good fortune to meet up with the ‘ace’ partnership of Mr. & Mrs. Bernard Jordan. Bernard and Dot were judging at this great old show and they were described to me as the main spring of the racing pigeon section of the Kidlington Sports and Social Club, although their home and lofts were some miles away at Woodstock.
The partner’s family of Bricoux-Sion pigeons were a dual purpose bird winning out of turn in the show pen and on the road. Bernard has had pigeons since he was a kid and started racing in 1962. He smashed his novice status in 1964 from Dorchester with a Bricoux blue chequer hen. When I first met them in 1978 they had 30 pairs housed in two lofts, racers in a 22ft x 8ft structure and the breeders were kept in a nice roomy 12ft x 12ft loft. The open door trapping method was used and a sand and lime dressing used on the loft floor. The birds were paired up on 14th February and were fed on a good channel mixture, with the odd tit-bit to help condition for racing.
Bernard had brought two of his premier racing birds to Hitchin for me to photograph and I had the pleasure of inspecting them both. The first was his fantastic Bricoux red chequer hen, ‘Jen’, and she handled like a dream, above medium, appled bodied and had the looks of potential show winner. The parents of ‘Jen’ were both obtained from Bernard’s good friend, E. Matthews of Berwick in Scotland and she recorded in 1977: 1st club, 2nd Federation Rennes, 1st club Nantes, 3rd club, 8th Federation Bergerac. A half-sister to ‘Jen’, bred off the same sire, was sent up to Mr. Matthews and had won many prizes, including eight firsts, plus Federation positions. The grandsire of these two outstanding racers was Mr. Matthews well known pigeon, ‘Gimpy’. In the 1977 season ‘Jen’ won the ‘Overseas Average’ and was instrumental in helping to win the ‘Old Bird Average’ for the Jordan loft. Bernard’s second pigeon I looked at was his Bricoux blue chequer cock, ‘Needle’, and he handled medium, apple bodied. This great pigeon had been a most consistent racer on both hard and easy days, winning from Rugby, velocity 1820 and Perth, velocity 918. Good fortune had not always favoured this cock as he was out in front from both North Allerton in both club and Federation, only for the race to be declared void. ‘Needle’ also won in the show pen. Bernard liked the longer races and his family excelled at the long distance and his yearlings flew 400 miles with comparative ease. Bernard didn’t race young birds as a rule and found his birds came on better as two year olds. He didn’t believe in over training or over racing his birds. Bernard rated his good friend, E. Matthews of Berwick, his ideal pigeon fancier and said he was second to none. There you have it, another great fancier I met
up with in the 1970’s.
Dave Hunt of Reigate.
At the age of 14 years, Dave Hunt saw a man shoot a racing pigeon while out walking one day and as it was still alive he picked it up and ran home with it. This was the event that got the young David interested in pigeons. He doctored the bird and it recovered. He obtained some birds from John Peel and raced them in the Coulsdon & Caterham Club with very little success, due to being a novice to the sport. In the early days he had a lot of help from Stan Witts of Whitchurch and Cyril Skilton of Warlingham who sold him his first Davenport / Cattrysse pigeons which were the basis of his family. Dave and his wife Jan had been racing 12 years and had been top prize winners in the Dorking Coly (Surrey Federation) for the past four years. Dave said that in the early days he tended to over feed and over train. His first loft was a standard three section 18ft x 6ft and in those days his attention was drawn to the racing performances of C.H. Besant & Sons and the great Les Davenport. The Hunts' home and lofts were set in the wonderful Surrey countryside, as Dave had been a gamekeeper most of his life. There were rolling hills behind their very neat lofts which were at the bottom of their garden. The main loft was a two section 12ft x 6ft and the old birds race to that. The 25 youngsters which they breed each year race to a neat 8ft x 6ft loft. Dave said pigeons on natural need quietness and seclusion, so he thought the nest boxes were the most important factor in good loft design.
The 1980 season was a good one for Dave and Jan winning: (Old Bird) 4th Kingston Open (640 birds), 1st Monkshill Open (429 birds), 1st club Blandford, 1st, 2nd Addington M/W Weymouth, 1st, 2nd, 4th club, 10th, 14th Federation Blandford, 1st Addington M/W Weymouth, 1st club Weymouth, 1st Addington M/W Weymouth, 2nd, 3rd, 4th club Weymouth, 1st, 2nd club Exeter, 1st, 2nd, 4th Addington M/W Weymouth, 1st Addington M/W Weymouth, 1st, 2nd, 3rd club, 1st Surrey Federation Plymouth, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Addington M/W Weymouth, 1st club Weymouth, 1st Addington M/W Weymouth, (Young Birds), 1st club Weymouth, 1st, 2nd club Weymouth, 1st, 2nd, 3rd club, 1st, 2nd, 5th Surrey Federation Blandford, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th club, 12th Federation Weymouth, 1st, 4th club, 13th Federation Exeter, 1st, 3rd club Plymouth. Dave and Jan won six of the seven young bird races with the Dorking Coly and sent one to Palamos with the B.B.C. and recorded 86th Sect. 168th Open.
The partners' old bird Federation winner was the Cattrysse blue hen 'The 13 Hen' and she had to her credit: 1st club Exeter, 1st club, 1st Surrey Federation (2,513 birds) Plymouth. The Hunts only kept 12 pairs of old bird racers and two pairs of stock birds which were paired up at the end of February. They mainly had a go at sprint racing, but said their birds were good up to 450 miles and liked to have a go at Bergerac and Palamos. Dave said he was disappointed at losing his bronze hen which was a daughter of Stan Witts' dark chequer cock 'The Old Man' which won Best in Show at the B.H.W. Blackpool Show of the Year in 1980 and a Spanish diploma with the British Barcelona Club. They said the secret of natural racing is to find out each bird's best condition and work on that to get the best out of them. Dave and Jan's young bird Federation winner was another blue hen called 'The 222' and she won 1st club, 1st Surrey Federation (3,860 birds) Blandford. The loft housed 20 first prize winners and most have won two or more races. One of the loft's stars was the two year old blue cock, 'The Streaker', and he has totted up: 1st club Weymouth (twice), 1st club Blandford, 1st club Exeter, 2nd club Weymouth, 2nd club Blandford (three times), 3rd club Weymouth (three times), 3rd club Exeter, 1st mid-week single up Weymouth, a great sprint bird!
The birds were fed on a good balanced mixture and Jan said the birds get no stimulants, but they get Red Band regularly. The young and old birds were trained the same up to 50 miles and the youngsters start slow and steady in five mile jumps up to 50 miles. Dave liked to see a nice rich eye sign, as he said, with inbreeding a weak eye shows a weakening trend in the quality of the bird. He said if he had the power he would like the R.P.R.A. to organise liberations to stop clashing and reduce the number of birds in crates for inland races. The partners maintained the biggest mistake made by a lot of fanciers is that they treat their birds like machines instead of flesh and blood, whilst a lot of young bird fly aways are down to overcrowding. They rate C. H. Besant & Sons and the late Gerry Byrne, both of Kingston, as the best Surrey flyers at that time, as they were consistent, which they say is the name of the game. The partners didn’t show much as it seems to affect the birds' performance the following racing season, but Dave was always in demand as a show judge.
Bob Jackson of Richmond.
I made my visit to Bob Jackson's Rosedale loft on Easter Sunday and he was bubbling over his performance in the Open Race he had entered the day previous. He had brought his great Strawberry Mealy hen, `Melody,' out of stock for this event and she was his first bird home, probably recording 3rd Open and winning some good pool money. `Melody' broke the partners' novice status in 1973 by recording 1st Richmond & Dist, 10th West Middlesex Federation, 48th S.M.T. Combine Avranches winning £150 and had since been at stock breeding winners, including `Recherché', the 1st Research Fund Rennes Open Race winner. 'Melody' was a good looker and was medium-size in the hand with a nice strong back. The Jackson's very small and select family of Sions were mostly red chequer and mealies with the cocks handling large and the hens small to medium. Bob had to keep the team small because his self-built loft was only 12ft x 5ft and that spanned the width of his very small back yard.
We were soon in the loft, inspecting the team and after handling `Melody', Bob gave me the great `Mr. Q.' to look at. He was a big, handsome mealy stock cock and the sire of `Recherché’. Next to hand was the great 1975 red chequer hen `Recherché' the world record first prize winner. She was small in the hand and she was the second pigeon bred in the Rosedale loft to win over £1,000 for the Jackson's. Her full racing performance was out of this world, recording, 1975: 7th club Blandford, 118th sect, 158th open NFC Vire, 3rd club 7th Federation, 33rd S.M.T. Combine Avranches, 1976: 3rd club 9th London Federation Rennes, 1st Open Research Fund National Rennes, winning the world record first prize of £1,251, plus £249 in pools and the magnificent ‘Emiel Denys Trophy’ with specials. A truly great hen!
Bob was very interested in eye-sign and paired up by the full circles. He said he did not have that much knowledge of the subject but was about to embark on a deep study. He was a great one for studying pigeon subjects and spent most of the winter reading pigeon books. At that time he said he would like an eye-sign expert to look over his team and have a chat on the subject. The next pigeon we inspected was the dam of the mealy hen `Somakam Girl' and she had a wonderful breeding eye-sign. This handsome hen was purchased from George Duffutt of Colchester and was the grand dam of `Recherché.' One of the loft's best all round performances was from the 1975 young bird Avranches event, when they recorded 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 10th, 13th club, lst, 4th, 7th, 20th Federation, 1st, 18th, 83rd SMT Combine. A small red chequer hen `Joanna' won the Combine and her nest mate, another red hen was right up on her tail to record 2nd club, 4th Federation, 10th open Combine. A great pair which were sired by one of the Jackson's best Sion stock pigeons, 'Rosedale Lad.' `Joanna's' nest mate was the nice type but both were much the same in the hand.
Bob and wife Barbara started up in the sport in 1970 with the birds of Geoff Jones of Richmond, who was giving up pigeons but were not too successful with these birds. At the end of 1970 they decided to purchase new stock from George Duffett and Bernard Miles and these Sions were the base of their winning family. The founder cock of the family was the Bernard Miles blue chequer cock `Young Roberto' and he was purchased at a Spastics Auction Sale in 1970. This great pigeon had since been stolen from the `Rosedale Loft.'
The birds were paired up on Christmas day and the first round of eggs were thrown away so the birds all hatch off within a few days. A straw litter was used when the birds were breeding and this was removed when they have finished this duty. Twenty old bird racers were kept and about 30 young birds were bred each year. They were fed on a first class mixture of beans, peas, maize and tares with some seed when they return from races. Bob was a great believer in Lappetts which are the two wart like things on the lower beak and said when these were large and pinkish the bird is in top condition. He thought this subject of the pigeon's Lappetts should be investigated, like eye-sign, etc. He couldn’t find any literature on this theory at all! His family of Sions were very inbred and he couldn’t understand why some had this feature and others had not. In fact, only one cock had Lappetts and that was `Rosedale Lad' the Ace breeder. May be someone will come up with some facts on this subject one day? Bob was very keen on lots of training in any weather, rain, or shine, and said the birds must be hardened against bad weather as they can catch it any time when racing. One of the loft's all-time best birds was the great `Charmaine' and she was lost in 1975. She won £1,139 and 3rd sect, 16th open in the 1974 Nantes National and was the dam of `Joanna.'
Bob was a clock setter in his club, the Richmond & Dis. Inv. H.S. and Barbara used to be the club's scribe. Bob used to be foreman carpenter at the Star & Garter home on Richmond Hill and Barb did four first class write-ups on pigeon racing in the Star & Garter Magazine which is published every three months. She called them `Come Fly with Us' and dealt with different aspects of our sport, such as breeding, training and racing. This went down really well with the disabled service men at the home. Bob was one of the pioneers trying to get a loft erected at the home. Bob said Barbara was a great help with the birds, doing book work and timing in, etc., and their young daughter, Louise, had a knack of picking out the first bird on race days. He thought one of the things that was wrong with the sport was the Fancy Press and said a lot of outstanding fanciers who have won classic races have not had their due press coverage. That’s it for this week! This little loft in Richmond really set them alight in the mid-1970’s
TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT (www.keithmott.com)