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Rod Adams of South Shields.

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In my near 50 years as a pigeon fancy press ‘scribe’, you can imagine how many premier lofts I have visited over the years and my visits to Rod Adams’ railway siding racing loft are some of my most memorable. I first became aware of Rod Adams in the early 1980’s when I saw him on ‘The Fancy’ television programme, which featured the Up North Combine and some of its premier members at that time. It featured several top lofts, including Ralph Iley and Bill Porritt, who’s lofts I also had the great pleasure to visit in later years. ‘The Fancy’ was one of the best things, featuring pigeon racing I’ve ever seen on TV and it remands one of my favourites until this day. I don’t think Rod races his pigeons now, but like myself, writes in the fancy press regularly and keeps a few pairs of birds in his back garden to play with.

On one of my most recent trips to the North-East of England I had the great pleasure of visiting the railway siding loft of the pigeon ‘scribe’ and one of the premier long-distance fanciers of the mighty Up North Combine, Rod Adams of South Shields. I have visited his establishment several times over the years and first visited Rod's loft with the “Many Miles with Mott' video camera in the mid-1990’s, and since then he changed his loft for a new ‘L’ shaped structure, with a pan tile and plastic roof. The smart new building is about 40ft long and has open-door trapping into a full length corridor, which Rod likes because he can stand in the dry and can observe the inmates. The best feature of the new set-up is, in my opinion, the white plastic cladding on the front, which is completely water proof and will never rot. I must say though, it was a bit sad to see his old green loft gone, as it was one of the most famous in the North-East of England, being sited on the allotment by the railway tracks.

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Rod is a man of character, holding great respect in our sport. On our arrival at his lofts, he invited, 'Big' Bill Young and myself into the cabin and made us a nice cup of tea. For many years he had concentrated on the longest old bird race from Bourges, which is 570 miles to the North-East. In recent years he has been rewarded for his dedication by winning 1st open Bourges in the mighty UNC. He maintains that there is nothing better than a pigeon that flies 15 or 16 hours home on the night from this race point. His greatest performance, he feels, was his Bourges Combine win, although through the years he has had some good hens which have had dual high positions in the UNC returning on the night from Bourges. Also, the loft has recorded five times 1st Federation from Bourges in the last few years, which is a fantastic achievement.

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When I asked how long he'd been in the sport, he told me, 'I have kept pigeons since I was 10 years old, but I have been racing on my own since I was about 20, having kept birds now for over 50 years. I was fortunate enough to start off in an area where we had when we were about 16 years old, what we used to call a 'Pudding Club', a boys' club where we raced each other for a pot of money. 'Gradually, after looking after other people's pigeons, I decided to fly my own in 1959 and I was fortunate enough to fly behind a man who was a living legend in South Shields, a guy called Tommy Burke. Tommy taught me how to race pigeons. At that time I couldn't win any races but I got Tommy's pigeons, acquired his methods, and in the space of about 5 years I was winning inland averages. In 1971 I was flying in partnership with a guy called Herbie Elliott. In that season we had 16 times 1st inland, but we couldn't time from the distance, so I decided there and then , to get rid of inland pigeons and concentrate on the distance’.

Rod won the UNC from Bourges with a lovely little chequer hen which he had called 'Little Miss Bourges'. I asked him a little bit about her background and about her build-up to her Combine win and he told me, 'They must be bred to do the job. She’s bred from a full brother to the two good hens that were actually given to me by Alan Hindhaugh. Now, the dam of this hen is bred through Sonny Galloway's Combine winner called' School Mistress', and down to a hen off Herbie Elliott called '2953', whose dam actually had three times 1st t federations on the Channel including 9th Open Combine Melon.

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'When this little hen was a year old,' said Ron, 'I told some Scottish fanciers that I’d win the Combine from Bourges with her and in fact I called her 'Little Miss Bourges' to make the point she's small, she's female and Bourges is a long way away. When she was a yearling I simply took her to Lille, which is about 350 miles and out of there she came home on the day. As a two year old, the race that actually made this hen was the Greater Distance Club race organisation that we had in the North of England with about 50 fanciers devoted to long-distance racing and this little hen went to Sartilly. I hadn't realised how west Sartilly was, about 436 miles to me, and in fact the winning pigeon took about 12 hours. I had actually looked up and thought the race was finished. She was the sixth bird home on the day, wasn't touched and she had learned from that experience. She'd gone up the wrong side of the country, but rectified her mistake. 'I let her sit for a month, sitting on eggs 12 days and sent her back to Bourges, which is 571 miles and we got a very strange race. The birds were liberated very late. In fact, it really was a two-day race and she turned in the next morning about 08.30hrs to be 30th open Up North Combine. The following season I sent her to the equivalent of Sartilly, which is Pontorson, maybe 45 miles more (possibly 40 miles) with the Northern Classic and she was clocked at 20.00hrs. As she wasn't tired, I lined her up for Bourges. She was sitting 12 days when she went and her youngster was still following her around, being not quite full grown and still sitting in the nest box with her. I gave her about three 35 mile tosses and in that month she literally had an open hole all the time. She was sent to Bourges fully pooled and I expected her to come. It was her fastest race and I was actually putting the birds in the car for a mainland race when she came. I lost no time and she really came well, not looking distressed at all. She's a beautiful little hen, evenly marked, very calm. She has a nice temperament and she's always been a bird I've fancied'.

Rod is one of the personalities in our sport and has a great knowledge of racing pigeons and when I asked him about his management he told me, 'It's totally natural. I've never flown widowhood but I do fancy going with a small team to 600 miles. I normally pair the birds up the first week in March and keep about 40 pairs of racers which are all dedicated to 500 mile racing, sooner or later. 'I'm not a heavy trainer, giving them enough training early in the season so I don't lose them. There isn't a bird born that can't be lost at 80 miles on a bad day and I try to give them a select number of races. The older birds go to, say, 500 miles and will only get three races on the build-up, perhaps one at 80, and one at 150, then they go to Lille which is 300 miles, then Bourges, which is 570. I tend to race the yearlings on a more regular basis and they have to go to 400 miles. I'm fortunate enough to be able to get reasonable corn from the farm or fancier friends and I virtually hopper feed beans and peas from the farm, which I mix with a decent commercial mixture as I get nearer the Channel races, supplementing the feed with about 30% maize. My favourite condition for sending them to the longer races goes back to the days of Tom Kilner, who was a legend in the UNC. He always sent his birds 12 days sitting at basketing and I maintain mine at 12 days on basketing, although I've had some good results with birds on very small youngsters. There's no such thing as a system that suits the whole loft. What you have to do is pick the individuals out of the team. I've always said you can't breed a Combine winner; you have to breed the gene pool. Out of that perhaps you'll get a decent pigeon. I've always made my mind up that if anybody gave me the chance of two pigeons in the nest bowl, I would always take the smaller one. I don't think big 500 / 600 milers exist. If they do, they're one-off jobs and they never come again. My ideal pigeon for Channel racing at 600 miles is small to medium and I must say I do prefer hens.'

Rod's pigeons looked very contented in the very spacious old bird section. When I asked what families of pigeons he races, he replied, 'Just an amalgamation of a lot of birds, mainly obtained within the UNC when I first started off and decided I was going to fly the Channel. I basically went to established Channel fanciers in the area - Billy Knapp, Billy Gibbons, Sonny Galloway, Ayton Marshall, well established names - and I used these birds as a base. I turned out some pretty good performances over the years, crossing with Herbie Elliotts and one or two more birds, but the turning point came when I got two hens off Alan Hindhaugh, which were cousins to the 'Mean Machine', an exceptional bird in the UNC. These two hens, which were basically Busschaerts, turned in some tremendous Bourges performances for me, flying three times on the day between them and five times in the Combine result. I can take you into my stock loft now which is behind my house. It's a small loft; maybe 12ft long with an aviary and contains nothing except birds that are either bred from Combine winners or birds that have put up exceptional performances from Bourges. Within that block I have birds from these, latebreds, and these are bred from the original stock and from the present team. I've always been conscious of the fact that in every area there are good individual local people so I collect all these winners from whatever areas I can within the UNC and bring them into the stock loft. I have about 14 pairs of stock birds. I've got light available and the loft is alarmed and I have an insurance policy because of the very fact that I have birds on a local site. I asked him if there is a type of pigeon he likes and he answered, 'Well, I think if you bring birds in you have to bring in the type that you like. I could get pigeons off Tom, Dick and Harry and they won't be as good as my own. I look for birds that have got a performance history of 500 or 600 miles. There was a time when, if you got birds from Bourges by 9 o'clock on the second day, then you would have won 70% of the clubs. Now it's more a time when you see speed, so I look for birds that are the same size as mine, medium to small and birds which have an ancestry of flying distance races'.

Rod likes to have between 50 and 60 young birds each year to race but because he prefers every pair of old birds to have a pair of youngsters he sometimes has more than this number, the surplus donated to charity sales. He trains his young bird team much the same as most fanciers, training and racing them through to 200 miles, just to educate them for Bourges. In later life, he races his young birds natural to the perch and when I enquired of him what he thought of the darkness system, he told me, 'It's been in my area for about 10 years and there isn't any doubt that when watching them racing, it's very impressive. I've never flown it because I'm interested in those birds as 2ys and I have a sneaking feeling that a lot of the top fanciers in the North of England, who've been on the darkness system, are tending to come off it. I also have a sneaking feeling that there might be a price to pay which there always is, whatever you do. You can't even force rhubarb without paying a price and I think later in life something might happen with those birds'.

Rod's loft is very natural and all his young birds run with the old birds all through the season, only to be split up at the end of the year. The old bird racers are allowed to nest anywhere: if a pair wants to nest in the comer of the loft, on the floor, they are allowed to – pure happiness, pure contentment, that's the name of the game. Did Rod think the sport has progressed in recent years? 'In the physical aspect of the sport, e.g. feeding, veterinary medicine and performance, I would say yes. The standards are much higher and they have progressed very much. When I was a young man, performances were put up which these days wouldn't come close. Some of the top fanciers of yesteryear would just not be in the hunt these days and training systems like widowhood and darkness for the youngsters and roundabout were all unheard of. The pigeons are more athletic as it is very, very rare now that velocities drop below 1000ypm. 'For most races, feeding has become an art. The corn available is better than it ever was and whilst vets haven't progressed very much in terms of what most of them know about pigeons, the average fancier's knowledge about diseases has certainly increased. However, I have to say that a lot of fanciers who self-medicate their birds use antibiotics as if they were talcum powder and they're probably doing untold damage.  'Fanciers get into the habit of winning races and some top fanciers who don't win get quite annoyed. As far as some of them are concerned, there are only two types of pigeons- winners and sick pigeons- and can guarantee that if a top local fancier goes three or four weeks without winning a race, he thinks his pigeons are sick, but it isn't necessarily so. Timing mechanisms and clocks have all improved; quality of pigeons has improved; access to birds has improved. I must say that here in the North of England we've got a saying that you get your best pigeon for nothing and these pigeons come about through friendship. If you want friends in the sport, then you have 'to work at it'.

Whenever I judge at the NEHU South Shields Show I always try and meet up with Rod, and I must say he always looks in good form. I always derive great pleasure from meeting Rod Adams and seeing his wonderful team of long-distance racers. He is a wonderful man and a brilliant pigeon fancier!

The late, great Ralph Iley.

The sport of pigeon racing recently lost one of its best ever fanciers when the great Dr. Ralph Iley passed away, at the age of 83. I had the great pleasure of meeting Ralph several times through the years and visited his loft in the mid-1990s, with ‘Many Miles with Mott’ video team. He loved the sport and even after so many year racing pigeons, he always seemed to have the enthusiasm of a new starter. Ralph is famous for the good work he did in the sport, especially for his beloved Up North Combine. Another legend has left our sport!

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Ralph had been president of the Up North Combine for well over 30 years, and said he had seen a lot of changes in our sport in that time. When visiting his loft a few years ago he told me he thought the main progression had been going over to the road transporter, since which the Up North Combine has never once failed to get all the birds to the race point, at that time. This is a fantastic achievement when you realise that on some Up North Combine races there are 15 road transporters and over 20,000 birds taking part. Ralph also told me that the Up North Combine is a limited company and has a wonderful team of workers behind it.

Ralph built his first loft as a schoolboy in 1939, and joined the Percy Main Club, and his first pigeons were obtained from his later to be father-in-law. He liked the middle to long-distance races, but had won his fair share of sprints and had been 2nd Open Up North Combine a fantastic seven times through the years, although he had never won the Combine. In 1991 he was 2nd Open Up North Combine in three races on the trot, from 360 miles through to 580 miles. A wonderful performance by a brilliant fancier!

On my visit to his loft, Ralph showed me his wonderful widowhood blue pied cock which had won 2nd Open Up North Combine Clermont (20,000 birds) in 1991, bred off Ralph's old Channel family. Ralph raced both widowhood and natural, but had never won a 600-mile race with a widowhood cock. His loft housed 90 widowhood cocks split into three teams, as Ralph raced in four clubs. He started to pair up his widowhood cocks during the second week in January, each team being paired up at a different time, at two-week intervals. The cocks raced at the beginning of the season and were put on widowhood after about four races. The reason Ralph liked widowhood was because you don't have to train the cocks; he said he had never trained a widowhood pigeon in the 18 years he had used the system.

Bill Porritt of Staithes.

Bill Porritt's loft was halfway up a cliff overlooking the North Yorkshire coastal fishing village of Staithes. He had to cross a river on stepping stones, and then climb a long, steep path to reach his pigeons. Corn had to be carried up and the pigeons had to be carried down, which was bad enough in the summer, but must have been horrendous in the ice and snow. In spite of this hardship, this great fancier had won the mighty Up North Combine four times on a Saturday and once on a Wednesday.

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The Bill Porritt pigeons were raced on a natural system, but were fed the widowhood method, with a light feed in the morning and a heavy one at night. Bill told me you feed pigeons according to what you want them to do, and said likewise you wouldn't pair up early if you want to win the late long distance races. He fed a good widowhood mixture; which was beefed up for the long-distance events. Birds were paired up at the end of February, and Bill liked races from 200 to 500 miles, declaring that these distances are true races.

Bill won his first race at 13 years of age and had at the time I visited his loft, had actually been in the sport over 40 years. He said he had won many premier races throughout the years, but his main achievement was to win the Up North Combine. Apart from his five wins in the Up North Combine, he had won countless other positions including 2nd, 3rd (twice) and 4th open Up North Combine.

On my visit to his loft, Bill showed me his champion blue pied Busschaert cock 'Shergar', which he said, was the finest pigeon that had ever been or will ever be. This fantastic cock has won many top prizes, including 2nd and 11th open Up North Combine in 310 mile races, and in north-west winds. 'Shergar' was also an ace breeder with Bill's good hen 'Blue Haze' which was inbred to the champion cock. This natural blue hen won 1st open Up North Combine Folkestone (22,000 birds) and was dam and grand dam of many winners. Another of Bill's top racers was the Janssen blue chequer hen Champion 'Diddy Girl' which won 35th open Up North Combine (22,000 birds) as a young bird, then went on to win 1st open Up North Combine (27,000 birds) Folkestone Old Bird National. This great hen had proved golden at stock, breeding many premier winners, their credit including 4th, 6th, 9th and 13th open Up North Combine. A fantastic pigeon!

Bill's families were Janssen, Busschaert and Geerts. He told me he had won the Combine with all of them. Because of carrying the birds down the cliff path, he never kept more young birds than he can get in two baskets, which was usually 35, and his main aim with the youngsters is the National race. Bill Porritt, one of the ‘all time’ greats of the Up North Combine!

George Wandless of Hetton-Le- Hope.

George Wandless first became interested in pigeons immediately after the Second World War. He was 12 when he and his friend Robert Lowery, who was then a retired police inspector, built a little 5ft loft to house two pairs of tumblers. He says he was not encouraged by any fancier, but the birds he got from Rutter Brothers, the late Tom Kilner (a very good friend), J. J. Horn and Tommy Mercer of Trimdon got him where he is today.

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George is a retired miner, working at Eppleton Colliery for many years and today the 30ft Wandless loft, at Hetton- le-Hole in County Durham, houses both widowhood and natural racers and has put up some fantastic performances over the last 30 years, racing in two clubs, Hetton Workingman's and Croft P.C., including in 1985 sixteen times first in Channel and inland races; 1994: ten times first; 1995: eleven times first and 1996: ten times first prizes. George's biggest thrill was winning 1st open Up North Combine Clermont and the ‘Queen's Cup’ in 1991. Some of the loft's best performance birds were as follows: mealy pied hen 90HET4614 winner of 3rd club, 7th Federation Lilliers, 1st club, 1st Federation, 1st open Up North Combine Clermont and winning the ‘Queen's Cup’; blue hen 91HET2135 winner of 2nd club, 4th Federation Mansfield, 2nd club Grantham, 1st club, 2nd Federation, 80th open Up North Combine Abbeville, 1st club, 1st Federation, 1st Section, 1st FCC, 1st TRCC, 1st open Up North Combine Provins.

The loft has housed countless champions through the years and at present George calls his pigeons his own old breed, as he thinks this is only right after 36 years of blending. Through the years he has introduced Frans Van Wildemeersch, Vandies, Busschaerts, Staf Van Reets and Janssens and George maintains his birds are outstanding from 75 miles through to 560 miles. Only one of his sons, George junior, has been interested in the pigeons, and his wife has been around pigeons all her life, being the younger sister of the Rutter Brothers.

Soderlund & Bradley of South Shields.

Two fanciers I have admired for many years are Soderlund and Bradley of South Shields, Northumberland, and a few years ago I had the chance to visit their lofts in the North East of England. The pigeon partnership of John Soderlund and Sammy Bradley was formed 40 years ago, since which time they have enjoyed success after success. Their fantastic loft arrangement is sited on some allotments at nearby Parkside, where there is a small caravan on site, for a sit-down and a cup of tea.

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The loft has produced countless racing champions through the years, the most noted being the famous champion 'Parkside Superman'. This great Busschaert blue pied cock was bred from stock obtained from John Palmer and Jim McKay and won countless premier positions racing, including 1st Federation twice and 2nd Federation twice. He won at six years old, after which he was retired to the stock loft and after a year at stock was purchased by Louella Pigeon World. John said he was a once-in-a-lifetime pigeon and one of the best Busschaert cocks that ever lived. He is often asked if he regrets selling champion 'Parkside Superman' and he says never, because the Massarella family made him world famous, a reputation this great pigeon himself deserves. 'Parkside Superman' has had countless Combine and National winners bred down from him. A truly wonderful pigeon!

John Soderlund has been in the sport nearly 50 years and says the partners' best performance was when they won 1st and 2nd International Beauvais with two Louella Pigeon World De Baere hens flown on natural. The loft had only gone on to the widowhood system in recent years and Sammy (Bradley) says the loft's performance is not really any better than when it was all on the natural system. Their natural pigeons have put up wonderful performances for many years, but the reason for going over to widowhood is the timesaving aspect to the system. They say it is so simple, with no training, and the cocks are always in the right form for inland races up to 300 miles. The 36 cocks are fed on a standard widowhood mixture, nothing special, and are broken down on Mondays and Sundays throughout the season. The partners normally show the hen on marking night, but have won races both ways, showing or not. The returning cocks get their mates all the afternoon on the day of the race, but there is no hard and fast rule about their widowhood system. The cocks only race inland up to 300 miles, with the odd one or two being sent to the long-distance races. The partners have a fantastic racing loft and the racing cocks are housed in three sections, 12 nest boxes in each. The widowhood cocks are paired up in mid- January and allowed to sit a round of eggs after racing. All the lofts are bright and clean with sand collected from a local beach on all the floors.

The partners race their 100 young birds on the darkness system. Sammy says they get daylight for eight hours a day, and this holds back the flight moult and puts the youngsters in better feather condition for their races. They are raced through to the Young Bird National (288 miles) to sort out the good cock birds, and training starts about six weeks before the first race with tosses every day. Young cocks and hens are housed separately, and are allowed to run together for a while before going to the marking station on Friday night. The 50 pairs of stock birds are kept in a fantastic loft, equipped with a massive wire flight, so they can get out in the sunshine for a bath. The stock birds are paired up in mid-December, and the partners like breeders to be from a long line of good winners.

Jimmy & Keith Derbyshire of Blyth.

While at a North East Two-Bird Specialist Club prize presentation, held at Peterlee Leisure Centre, I had the pleasure of meeting the father and son Northumberland partnership of Jimmy & Keith Derbyshire. That year they had won the biggest prize in Combine racing in the NEHU, the Queen's Cup from Clermont (431 miles). The Derbyshires won this premier trophy with their champion yearling blue Busschaert hen, ‘Derby's Girl’, and she was sent to Clermont on chipping eggs, with 17,114 birds competing.

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Both Jimmy's father and grandfather were pigeon fanciers, flying the 'milers', and as a lad he helped out in their loft. Later on he became loft manager for a local fancier and started up his own loft at the age of 17. He could not start, racing straight away, as he couldn't join a club until he was 18 years old. Jim won his first race in 1955 with a bird obtained from Billy Sharples and has been a premier flyer since the early 1960s. His first stock was Busschaerts from Tom Larkins, George Corbett and Ray Callender and they were the same pigeons he is racing today. Jim's first club was the one he still races in, Newsham HS, and his son, Keith, joined the pigeon partnership in 1995. Jim told me that he kept only a small team of pigeons in the early days and his biggest mistake was over feeding them.

The partners' loft was a 30ft, ‘L’ shaped structure with a Perspex canopy and open-door trapping, and deep litter was used in the stock section. The whole team was paired up the second week in January. The partners raced 12 natural pairs on the Channel and 12 widowhood cocks for inland events. The widowhood racers reared a single youngster and were put onto the system on their second pair of eggs. The widowhood cocks had only two short training tosses prior to the first Federation race and the naturals were heavy through the season from Durham (30 miles). The widowhood racers flew out for an hour in the morning and evening and were never broken down during the racing season. They were shown their mates on marking night and the time they were given the hens on their return was governed by how hard the race was. The cocks were given garlic, hemp and peanuts and were never repaired for the longer races. Keith told me that he liked his natural racers sitting 10 day eggs for the longest race from Bourges and the Channel birds were not overworked, being picked out for certain races. ‘Derby's Girl’, the Queen's Cup winner, was only lightly raced, scoring from Lillers before winning Clermont. The widowhood cocks raced every week inland, down to the south coast.

The partners kept 12 pairs of Busschaert stock birds, which were paired up at the same time as the racers, in January, and were fed on Irish mixture. When bringing in a new stock bird, Keith said, he went for good Busschaert winning lines and wasn't bothered about type. Jim maintained that when bringing in new stock you must be looking to improve your performances, as it gets harder and harder to win every season. His club, Newsham HS, won a fantastic fourteen times 1st Federation in 25 races that season. Keith said that there were four other lofts on their allotment and the racing was so 'hot' there that if you win the club, you have a very good chance of winning the Federation. One of the Derbyshires' best pigeons was a blue Busschaert hen that won 2nd open Amalgamation Beauvais (twice) and then had to go to the stock loft because she broke her wing. She was a champion racer and breeder, being the dam of many winners and grand dam of ‘Derby's Girl’, the 2002 Queen's Cup winner.

Jimmy & Keith had a team of 50 young birds each year and these were raced through the programme to Ashford. They were fed on a light mixture for the first three races, then went on to Irish mixture and were trained well from Durham. The partners put half the team on the darkness system from weaning until the Beauvais weekend and they were raced to the perch, but if they want to pair up, they were allowed to. Keith maintained that if youngsters were paired up and even sitting eggs, they raced better. The Derbyshires liked racing every Saturday, but enjoyed Channel racing best and said that one of their best performances was from Bourges, when there were only six birds home on the day from the 599 mile race in the Amalgamation and they had three of them. They recorded 3rd, 4th and 5th open Amalgamation and the dam of ‘Derby's Girl’, the Queen's Cup winner, was one of those pigeons on the day. The partners had won the longest race, from Bourges, many times and finished a fantastic 2002 season by winning 1st club, 1st Federation from this race point. They told me that their biggest thrill in pigeon racing was when they won the Queen's Cup that season, because it's the best of the best!

Trevor Rowland of Sunderland.

At the time of my loft visit, Trevor Rowland had started up in the sport 16 years previously and told me he has always done well out of Lillers, which was a 342 mile fly to his allotment lofts. In 1992 he won the ‘LNRC Cup of Friendship Trophy’ for the best two bird performance in Up North Combine Lillers race, recording 6th and 13th open. In 1996 season, Trevor hit the jackpot by winning 1st open UNC Lillers (16,248 birds) with a Busschaert blue widowhood cock. This game pigeon was only lightly raced as he got injured as a young bird, then recorded a good Combine position in the Folkestone National two weeks before winning 1st open UNC Lillers. The loft had won the Federation many times through the years, but Trevor rated his Combine win as his best performance.

The main family raced was Busschaert, one team on Natural for the long distance races and 40 cocks on Widowhood for sprint and middle-distance events. None of the racers were broken down in the race season as Trevor said the climate in the North East was wrong for this practice. For the short or long distance races he paired up on Boxing Day and had to pair the whole loft up that week because that's the only time he got off work. The birds were trained hard before the season started and they were never forced to exercise around the loft. Trevor never saved young cocks for the Widowhood system, the one time he did, he lost them on dodgy races the following year, because they hadn't any race experience. When bringing in a new stock bird, he had to have a good gut feeling and really fancy it, and they had to be from good winning lines. Trevor tod me the champion of the loft was his good Busschaert blue pied cock and he won twice 1st Federation, twice 2nd Federation and 6th open UNC Lillers. This 'Ace' was raced on Widowhood and was breeding winners in the stock partings.

Verrill & Armstrong of Staithes.

Verrill & Armstrong had their loft on the side of the valley overlooking the sleepy little fishing village of Staithes, a stone's throw from the five times Up North Combine winning loft of Bill Porritt. Matt said that the day they won the mighty Up North Combine from Maidstone Young Bird National in 1998, the wind was westerly and just right for their loft location on the east coast. He had been in the sport since 1960 and formed his highly successful partnership with Tom in 1978, winning many major positions in their favourite young bird races, including 1st open Up North Combine Harlow National in 1989; 5th open Up North Combine Folkestone National in 1982 and their latest Up North Combine win from Maidstone, with 17,076 young birds competing in 1998. The partners' Maidstone combine winner was a medium blue chequer white flight hen, bred from the best Mr & Mrs Whitehead of Co. Durham, Busschaert bloodlines. She was hatched on March 8th and put on the darkness system, after which she was raced to the perch playing around with an odd cock bird. She hurt her wing in the Peterborough race in 1998 and could not fly for three or four days. When she began to exercise well around the loft, she was entered in the young bird Maidstone National, to win 1st open Up North Combine, a wonderful performance!

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The dam of the combine winner was a nice Busschaert light blue chequer which had won 10th open Up North Combine from 252 miles. Verrill & Armstrong liked young bird racing best and bred 25 youngsters each season for their sport. They went onto the darkness system in 1998 with outstanding success; the young bird team was put on the system on weaning and taken off at the old bird Bourges race. They were trained hard down the coast to Whitby and fed well on a good widowhood mixture, never being kept short of feeding. They were raced to the perch, being allowed to pair up if they wish and Tom said a big disappointment in the 1998 season was the nest mate of the Combine winner, being killed on some wires. All the young birds were raced through the programme to the longest race. The partners' loft was 30ft long, made up of three sections, two for old birds and one for the young birds, with all trapping done through the open doors. The five pairs of stock birds were all Busschaerts, originating from Mr & Mrs Whitehead and the old birds were raced on the natural system.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed this look back at eight Up North Combine champions of yester year! We will be looking at some more very soon. To view some very old video footage 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.