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Ian Axe of Owston Ferry.

I had the great pleasure to visit Ian Axe a few years ago and this great fancier made us very welcome. Ian's fantastic Axholme Stud is in a large brick building next to his main house, and can boast many champion breeding pigeons, including two 1st Open Scottish National winners. The stud houses ten different families including Delbars, Marcel Desmet (Stichelbaut), Gus Hofkens and Verheyen Hofkens (Janssen), Pepermans, Van Reets, Jan Aardens, Busschaerts, Emile Deweerdts, Van De Weyers, Roberts Venus 'Super crack' family, Roland Kyndts, Van Loon Janssens and the fantastic Robert Venus Janssen family. Ian owns sons and daughters from most of Robert Venus's champions, and a full brother and sister of the great champion Hofkens cock 'De Keizer' winner of 23 times 1st prize.

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The stars of Axholme Stud for me were the two 1st Scottish National winners which live there, champion 'Newington Martina' and champion 'Newington Sharlisa'. The first one we looked at was 'Martina' which was bred by Ian Axe and raced by Philip Heslop in Scotland. This wonderful seven-year-old blue pied hen won 1st Section, 1st Open SNFC Nantes (540 miles) in 1993 and won the National by 43 ypm. Ian bred this fantastic hen from Delbar and Jan Aarden pigeons and she has now returned to Axholme Stud and is breeding winners. The other National winner was the blue pied hen 'Sharlisa' and she won 1st Section; 1st Open SNFC Sartilly in 1990. This great apple-bodied hen was bred and raced by Philip Heslop from stock purchased from Ian and has proved to be a goldmine at stock, breeding many winners for fanciers all over Great Britain. Ian started the stud in 1987 and has about eight pairs of each family, which are housed in ten separate sections. The stud has grille floors, hopper feeding, automatic drinkers and nice big wire flights so the inmates can get out in the weather.

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After looking at Ian’s stud we moved on to his fantastic racing lofts, which are set up in his farm fields, surrounded by the Yorkshire countryside. Ian’s father, who was a great stock man, started up in pigeon racing in 1945 and Ian has carried on from him since 1958. Ian’s racing record is outstanding being top prize winner since 1958 and winning well over one thousand first prizes. The 1994 season was one of his best ever, being highest prize winner in the Owston Ferry R.P.C., winning Old Bird Average, Channel Average, Young Bird Average and Combine Average. He was also highest prize winner in the Scunthorpe & District S.R. Federation, lifting the Old Bird Average, Channel Average, Young Bird Average and Combined Average, and at that time was the record holder, with 75 positions in the Federation. Ian was also highest prize winner in the Jolly Sailor and Highfield House clubs. At that time he had been premier prize winner in the Owston Ferry R.P.C. for the last 23 years. The Federation consisted of about 250 members sending up to 2,500 birds per week, with 13 clubs competing. The 1995 season saw Ian’s pigeons take 73 Federation positions and 40 times first club, 39 times second Club and 36 times third club, plus Axholme Lofts has be premier prize winners in the Federation many times.

Ian has a long smart racing loft, with open door trapping and races 60 widowhood cocks in three clubs. He races mainly widowhood, but when they get over the channel he likes to enter about eight hens on natural. Ian likes to win all the races he enters from the shortest to the longest and considers his widowhood cocks are outstanding on the long distance events. On our visit we looked at several top racers, including the good Hofkens blue cock and winner of 1st club, 1st Federation, 1st open Combine, plus many other top positions. This handsome cock was in the widowhood team and his parents are the ‘Golden Breeding Pairs’, at that time being the parents of eleven 1st Federation winners.

The racers are paired up the third week in January and are put on the widowhood system on their second round of eggs. Ian isn’t into long training tosses and the cocks get about 17 miles several times before the first race. He only breaks the cocks down when they are locked up in bad weather and feeds a standard widowhood mixture. He shows the hens on Friday night if he has the time and sometimes takes the cocks down the road two miles and lets them fly home to the hen on the nest bowl before being basketed for the race. The cocks get the hen for half an hour on return from the race, and after about five races get the hen until Sunday morning to renew the bond. The cocks fly out for an hour in the morning and one hour in the evening during the racing season. Ian breeds about 120 young birds to race in three clubs and in 1995 finished up the season with 109 left. All his youngsters have to race right through to Fareham, which is 180 miles. There you have it, Ian Axe of Owston Ferry, one of the premier lofts in Yorkshire!

Keith Morgan of Warsop.

Keith Morgan races 30 cocks on the widowhood system. In 1997 he won 8 times first and 9 times second in the very strong Notts and Derbyshire Border Federation. He says one of the highlights of the 1997 season was clocking three in two minutes from Lerwick (481 miles).

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In 1979 Keith started with young birds. He likes to race his cocks from 50 through to 550 miles. The 30 cocks are paired up on December 6th and after rearing a pair of youngsters the hens are taken away and they are then on widowhood. The birds are not re-paired, but the hens are shown when the cocks return from pre-race training. The widowhood cocks are hopper-fed and are only broken down on Saturday and Sunday during the racing season. The hens are always shown on marking night, and the cocks get their mates for one hour on their return from the race. The com is never changed, and is not beefed up for the long distance race, and the racers are paired up for the longest club race from Thurso. On my visit to Keith's loft, we looked at several of his star performers, one of which was a blue chequer pied cock, ‘Teardrop’. As a yearling he recorded 3 x 1st club, lifted £500 in the NRCC Thurso race and won 1st federation. Another brilliant racer was Keith's Wildemeersch blue chequer cock whose dam bred 38 x 1st prize winners for the Morgan loft.

Racing his young birds on the darkness system, to make it easier to get them through the moult later in the year, he puts them on the system after they have thrown their first flight. When I visited his loft in April his youngsters looked and flew around like a team of old birds. He says they always show up early and always pair up very young, so tend to be sitting for racing. He isn't a lover of training his pigeons but his young birds get regular tosses from 35 miles and race the programme through to Perth (240 miles). The top young bird in recent seasons has been a dark chequer cock, half-brother to Teardrop, raced on widowhood. This brilliant young bird won 1st (twice), 2nd, 4th, 6th and 11th Notts and Derbyshire Borders Federation. When I handled this champion youngster I noted that he had had a good first moult, in spite of being on the darkness system that season. Keith's 50 youngsters are housed in a 12ft loft with open door trapping. The main racing/loft is 20ft long and the seven pairs of stock birds are housed in a small loft with a wire flight. Stock birds are paired up at the same time as the race team and are fed on the hopper with beans.

John Mayson of Babworth.

John Mayson has been in pigeons for well over 50 years and has a wonderful loft set-up at his Midlands home. The loft is 70ft long with hangs the clock around his neck when clocking in. He says ventilation is the most important aspect of good loft design, but not at the expense of dryness. John's family of pigeons is mainly Frans Van Wildemeersch which .he originally purchased from Wooff Brothers of Ollerton. He has since purchased stock from Bertie Fletcher of Northern Ireland, Mitchell Brothers of Bilsthorpe and direct from Frans Van Wildemeersch himself. He also keeps a few Van Reets, Grondelaers, Busschaerts, Kellens and Rene Nauwelaerts. The Mayson loft has raced north road and John maintains that his Van Wildemeersch pigeons are his best pigeons by far, right from the shortest to the longest race, Lerwick (472 miles). John has won the federation about 30 times since 1986 and has been three times 1st open Midlands Championship Club on the north road. His best performance was when he won the Fraserburgh Championship and Gold Medal because on paper, the eastern side of the federation shouldn't have stood a chance in the strong south-westerly wind. This great performance was put up by John's double championship winner, Champion ‘Bablake .Bodie’, a blue pied Van Wildemeersch / Grondelaer first cross cock raced on widowhood that also Won 1st open Midlands Championship Club from Thurso (377 miles).

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The pigeons race on a standard widowhood system, with no frills or fads. John breaks down for two days, if he thinks the birds require it, and sometimes will feed widowhood mixture all week. He doesn't show the hens prior to the race, but the cock is allowed the nest bowl, which has been turned over since the previous race. On arrival from the race hens are always waiting for the cocks whether they are early or late.

Joss Mee of Mansfield.

While looking at Midlands lofts we must feature Joss Mee, a premier widowhood racer in the Notts and Derbyshire Borders Federation. He has won the federation countless times, but one win he always remembers is when he won by eight minutes. He says he knows it was eight minutes as his second bird was 2nd Federation eight minutes later on the clock. He has recorded many performances in the NRCC and years' ago when he raced south road had some good positions Channel racing. The top racer at the Mansfield loft is a Staf Van Reet blue pied cock called ‘The Ten Cock’ which has won many premier positions over the seasons and £4,000 racing on widowhood.

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The widowhood cocks are housed in a very roomy section in the main racing loft and Joss flies them on what he calls the 'flock conditioning system'. Hens are only raced as young birds and the main widowhood section houses several federation winners. Birds are paired in early January and the hens are taken away on the second round of eggs to be re-paired nearer racing. Cocks are not trained very much as they fly really well around the loft. They are broken down until Monday in the racing season. The main family are Van Reets which mostly originate from Ian Stafford and which Joss says are outstanding up to the middle distance.

The 50 young birds are raced on the darkness system. Joss races mainly hens as the young cocks are saved for the widowhood system. The hens race through to Perth and Berwick. The young bird loft is a very smart affair and the birds trap into the empty middle section before going into their own section. Youngsters are flagged around the loft, and a month before the first race they are trained very hard.

Ron Vardy of Sutton-in-Ashfield.

Ron Vardy was born into the pigeon racing sport 60 years ago, as his father, Arthur, was a top fancier, racing with his brother as Vardy Brothers. Many years ago the great Arthur Vardy was top prize winner countless times and in one old bird season won 1st federation six times in 11 races. Ron's present team of pigeons are basically his father's old family crossed with pigeons brought in from top sprint lofts from time to time. Recent successful crosses have come from his good friend, Dave Boot, and the great John Salt of Kimberley, both top print lofts in the Midlands.

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Ron Vardy's pigeons have won countless prizes through the years, including over 20 x 1st Federation in recent seasons. In 1995 he clocked up 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th federation with over 2,000 birds taking part and did the performance in the 1993 season. He likes to race his birds from the shortest race to Thurso (400 miles) but doesn't send to the longest old bird race from Lerwick. He races 20 cocks on the widowhood system and a small number of hens on semi-widowhood. He doesn't show the hen to the cock all the time on Friday night before marking and says some cocks need to see the hen on basketing night and some don't, but he always shows the yearling cocks, who are fresh to the job. The cocks gets their hen for about half an hour on arrival from the race and only get a few training tosses before the first race, with just regular flies around the loft during the racing season. The cocks only get breakdown on Saturday and are fed on a standard widowhood mixture. They are paired up at the beginning of January and the widowhood cocks rear the first round of eggs off the stock birds. One of Ron's best racers in recent seasons is a Vardy x Janssen red chequer cock that has won many federation cards from Morpeth (140 miles) to Perth (240 miles), including three times 1st federation.

Ron Vardy is one of the sports gentlemen and when I visited his loft in the mid-1990’s he made me very welcome. After all these years he is still one of the best pigeon racers in the midlands and wins the Federation several times each season. It was a great pleasure to meet this great fancier!

Billy Simons of Woodhouse.

Billy Simons had been in pigeon racing all his life, with his father and brothers all being top fanciers in years gone by. His 30ft loft was sited on the Sheffield allotments, and in some Saturday races club members sent over 500 birds. It must have been very nerve-racking trying to trap birds with racers pitching into 30 lofts in a small area. Billy's very successful team of birds were his own family, built up over the years, with champion pigeons he had bought in. If he saw a champion pigeon he fancies, he would purchase it, and always paired outstanding racer to outstanding racer. The Simons' loft had put up some fantastic performance through the years topping Federation, Amalgamation and scoring high in NFC and MNFC races. Billy had a first-class loft manager in Brian Henderson and said he couldn't do without him.

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Billy's family were mostly blues and he kept 40 pairs of racers. They were paired up in February and were raced for the first five races, up to the south coast, on the widowhood system. Then they were re-paired in May for the long distance French races. Billy liked 500-mile races best and on my visit we looked at a section of 12 cocks and all had flown 500 miles plus on the day. He raced his hens as much as the cocks, and said his hens had put up his best performances from the distance events. He told me at that time his loft must have bred 100 Federation toppers for him and his friends through the years.

One of Billy's best racers was the blue cock, Champion '64', for which he has turned down a five-figure sum offered by a fancier who wanted to purchase this great pigeon. '64' only raced in Nationals on the natural system, and was said to be one of the best pigeons to race into Yorkshire. He had fourteen races in Midlands NFC, being clocked thirteen times, and recorded twelve positions in the first 50 open, lifting over £6,000. He never raced in the Federation and scored in every nest condition, including sitting eggs and feeding youngsters.

Bill's nice roomy loft was painted all white, so the birds could pick it out when breaking off the batches coming to the allotments on race days. It had nice big open door trapping and was scraped out every day. The loft had a big Porta cabin joined to it and had all the comforts of home in it for the lads when waiting for pigeons from the 500 mile events. The Simon’s loft bred about 140 youngsters each season, but only kept and races about 50. The remaining young birds were given to friends who had won many Federation races with them, and Billy told me he got as big a ‘buzz’ out of his mates winning with his pigeons as when he wins himself. The babies were raced to the perch, but if a young cock was keen, Billy sometimes paired him to an old hen. He didn't like his young hens to lay and the whole team raced through the programme to 280 miles. The youngsters got about eight training tosses up to 50 miles before their first race.

Billy’s loft was full of champion racers, but another ‘ace’ was the blue cock `Robin Redbreast' which had scored many top positions in long distance National races. He was always raced on the natural system and Billy again turned down five figures for this champion. Billy's best hen was the blue '85' and she was his first bird in the Nantes and Saintes Nationals in 1995, scoring high in the open result both times. This neat little hen had flown 530 miles on the day, again racing on the natural system.

Steve Carder of Woodhouse.

The second loft we visited on the Sheffield allotments was that of Steve Carder and he had been in pigeon racing for about 32 years, which is most of his life. He raced cocks and hens all on the widowhood and roundabout systems. Steve had won the Federation eight times in recent seasons and in 1993 clocked five widowhood hens on the day from 535 miles, the first bird being 14 hours on the wing.

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In one of Steve's widowhood sections we looked at about twelve fit ­looking cocks and all of them were 1st prize winners. One of the inmates was his good Janssen dark white ­flight cock 'White Flight' which was born in 1992. This good feathered cock had won 34 prizes inland racing, including seven times first and recorded eight Federation prizes in 1995. A fantastic pigeon. Steve paired up his 32 widowhood cocks in mid-January and they all raced from 70 miles through to 500 miles. The loft raced only South Road and had been on the widowhood system for the last 12 seasons. Steve's main family were Janssens and he started his widowhood hens later in the season from Rugby, then they went through to 500 miles. The hens were shown to the cocks for about two minutes on Friday night before basketing and the pairs were left together for half an hour on arrival from the race. Another of Steve's top racers was a Janssen dark chequer cock and the nest mate to 'White Flight'. This game cock was an ‘ace’ racer from over the English Channel winning 3rd Federation Nantes, 2nd Federation Rennes and 4th Federation Rouen.

Steve's smart loft was painted green, with open door trapping, and had an office and basket store at one end. He raced his 70 young birds to the perch, right through to 290 miles and they got about 20 training tosses before the first race.

Birch & Booth of Chesterfield.

For our next loft visit we are going to the wonderful county of Derbyshire to see Birch & Booth of Chesterfield. There were several members in this highly successful partnership including Mr. & Mrs. Peter Birch, their son Steve and Terry Booth. Peter had been in pigeon racing since 1950 and that present partnership was formed in 1993.

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The Birch & Booth partners had a very smart 60ft ‘L’ shaped loft which was built well off the ground, with fresh air in mind. The birds were trapped through open windows into a full-length corridor and the whole loft front was closed in with Norplex. About 40 cocks were raced on the widowhood system, plus a few hens on the natural system, these with middle distance races in mind. The loft had won Countless premier positions through the years, including 1st open Federation many times with birdages up to 7,500. The loft had three sections for the widowhood cocks and each section was set up to race in a different club. The racers were all paired on Boxing Day and fed on a standard ‘Widowhood’ mixture. Main families kept were Busschaerts and Janssens, and one of their top racers was a Busschaert blue chequer cock, winner of six first inland.

One of Steve Birch's favourites was his Dave Allen / Staf Van Reet blue cock which topped the section twice in 1995 from middle distance races. Terry Booth showed me his good Janssen widowhood blue cock, which was ‘Bird of the Year’ in Chesterfield club in 1995, winning three races on the trot. Peter Birch was the stock man and his loft had a wonderful big stock section. This part of the set up housed 16 pairs of Busschaerts and Janssens, which were also paired up on Boxing Day. Peter said his Busschaerts excel up to 400 miles, which suited his purposes, as he liked middle distance racing. Peter and his family ran one of the top pigeon shops in Chesterfield and fanciers came from all over Derbyshire for their corn and pigeon requirements.

Well that’s it for this week! I hope my readers have enjoyed this look back at eight Midlands 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.