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Thanks to The Up North Combine! 07-09-18


Thanks to the Up North Combine!

Thank you for your invitation to be Chief Guest at the forthcoming Up North Combine Annual Dinner, Dance and Prize Presentation to be held in Sunderland in October. I must say that I feel highly honoured to be asked, as in my opinion the Up North Combine is the ‘mecca’ of pigeon racing in the UK. Great fanciers and wonderful pigeons! I have had the great privilege to enjoy judging at the NEHU Peterlee Show several times and going on many loft visit tours in your part of the world over the years. Once again thank you to the officers and the members of the Up North Combine for your very kind invitation, I feel very honour to be asked. Many thanks Keith Mott.

A nice email I received recently!

Dear Keith


I am not sure that we have ever met but, having read your articles in the fancy press for the last few years; I feel that I know you quite well! I am originally from Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, and I started racing in 1958 (aged 17) in the Seaton Sluice H S flying against the late, and great, Ayton Marshall who was always a great encouragement to me.  He, in fact, gave me driving lessons when I was in my late teens.  I raced for about five years (only came in front of Ayton three times!) before Martins Bank moved me away and I left the sport.  I subsequently worked in Geneva from 1967 / 73 and, when I returned to this country, bought a house in Surrey where I still live.


I was very interested to read your piece in the pigeon paper on Ralph Iley as I knew him well.  He was also a good table-tennis player for one of the North Shields YMCA teams with me coming up against him when I was with Whitley Bay YMCA; he won!  His Father-in-law, Alfie Bilverstone, was also a good fancier having won the UNC from Luxembourg in 1949 with Bob Morris topping the Combine from Brussels the same year; both had their lofts on Tanners' Bank which came up off the Fish Quay.  Ralph was teetotal although Bilver wasn't and, at functions, other fanciers used to buy the latter drinks then watch him kick off! I was pleased to learn how much good work Ralph did for the sport.  He got his degree in Physics (hence the doctorate) from Kings College (now Newcastle University) and then rose to the top in his company.  When the pits closed, he employed a number of those laid off with Ayton becoming his chauffeur; when he attended meetings at Hartlepool, Ayton would drive him down with pigeons from both lofts taken for training!


In 2015, my Warlingham neighbour and friend, Alan Lucas, and I bought four pairs of stock birds from Terry and Barry Marshall and these went into Alan's loft.  The following year, I got a Blake's ducket (Geordie patter) and the breeders came up to me along with a few of their young.  I planned to breed birds for Alan and maybe do a bit myself.  The bug bit and I raced old birds in a small way last year and then had a good go with the young birds winning two races. I sent 4four youngsters to Guernsey in the BICC and a blue hen got 157th National and came well again in the second race.  This year, she was 57th National from Falaise on 28/4 and then 45th National from Le Mans on 21/7. She is 50% Marshall Bros with the remainder spread between John Halstead, J & B Donovan, plus PJ and Bob Andrews.  I have three wins, thus far, inland with yearlings bred from the Marshall stock birds whilst a late bred hen, from a cock sent to me by Gerald Thurston (Whitley Bay), has had four turns; coincidentally Gerald is Bilver's cousin!  I have had a lot of help from Alan and I wouldn't be where I am without him. Barry Pearce was a good friend of Ayton and Theresa and I have been in touch with him.  I hope this info is of interest to you.


All the best - Mike Potts.


Geoff & Carolyn Brundle of Skinningrove.

Many years ago there was a programme on the TV called ‘The Fancy’ and it was about the mighty Up North Combine and featured the little fishing village of Skinningrove. This sleepy little village, set on the coast, halfway between Redcar and Whitby has a long and successful connection with pigeon racing with many UNC winners being recorded there. The little village is sited in a valley overlooking the North Sea and the valley sides are littered with pigeon lofts on both sides. It is a great place to visit. One of the most recent UNC winning lofts at Skinningrove is that of Geoff & Carolyn Brundle, who won 1st open Folkestone (20,200 birds). Fifteen years earlier, Geoff took over his stepfather's birds when he passed away and has had outstanding success, including 1st, 8th, 21st and 54th open in the mighty UNC. He likes sprint racing and says Skinningrove is a very hard valley in which to compete. On a Saturday, the birds drop in the valley and he says you know the race winner, as most of the members in the club have their lofts on the sides of the valley at Skinningrove. The Brundles won the combine with a Busschaert / Janssen dark chequer pied hen, which was a widowhood hen and then was transferred to the racing section to make up the pairs. This game little hen won the Folkestone Combine on ten day-old eggs and previously won a 2nd and 6th club as a yearling.

The partners race mainly widowhood, with 18 cocks on the system and a few pairs on the natural for the longer races. Geoff pairs up his racers and stock birds on 26th December and his cocks rear a youngster before going on the widowhood system. They are lightly trained while on their second round of eggs and are broken down during the racing season. The hens are shown on marking night and the cocks have their mates for about an hour on their return from the race. The 16ft widowhood section is very light and airy and has a grille floor for easy cleaning. The loft set up is L-shaped and all trapping is through open doors. The main family kept is Janssen with a few Busschaerts and the stock team is 18 birds strong. All the first round of eggs from the stock birds are floated under the racers. At that time the Brundles had raced their 40 young birds on the darkness for the last eight years and had won the Young Bird Average. The youngsters are put on the darkness system when they are weaned from their parents and taken off on the old bird Bourges weekend, being darkened down from 4pm to 9am. The young birds are allowed to pair up and are trained every day throughout the season, if the weather is right.

Kevin Locker of Loftus.

For our next loft visit we are coming just inland from Skinningrove to Loftus, to the Up North Combine winning loft of Kevin Locker. His 1st open Combine (26,158 birds) Folkestone, 253 miles, was the highlight of 20 successful years in the sport, where he had been an outstanding force in the sprint racing. Kevin's combine winner was a yearling latebred Soontjens blue cock raced on the widowhood system and was still carrying a nest flight when he won the Up North Combine. The handsome cock had every race up to the combine win, scoring several times, including 2nd club Epping and had one race as a young bird, recording 3rd club. A brilliant pigeon! Kevin raced cocks only on the widowhood system and trained every day, including through the racing season. He broke down on a Saturday and Sunday when racing and for races over 200 miles he put a hopper of peas in the loft from the Monday until the Friday. His smart widowhood loft was 16ft long, had a corridor with open door trapping and housed 14 widowhood cocks. The main family raced were Soontjens and his nine pairs of stock birds were paired up at the same time as the racers, so the eggs could be floated. Kevin's 14ft x 10ft young bird loft was designed for the darkness system, which had been very successful. His 40 youngsters were put on the darkness for eight hours a day from weaning and the young birds race through to Maidstone (250 miles) with outstanding success.

Wright & Lowe (Twice 1st open Combine).

Twice 1st open Up North Combine in one week! That's what Wright & Lowe recorded in the 1998 season. A fantastic performance! The Wright & Lowe partnership was formed in 1990, but Dave had been a fancier all his life, formerly racing with his late father, who was his tutor. Wright & Lowe won 1st open UNC Beauvais on the Saturday and 1st open UNC Folkestone on the Wednesday. The partners liked to race from the shortest through to the longest race and had previously won 3rd open UNC Folkestone with their Champion ‘Cutthroat’, who in turn, bred a pigeon to win 2nd open UNC Folkestone for Wright & Lowe.

The partners' Beauvais combine winner was a Herman / Busschaert blue chequer cock raced on the roundabout system. On his build up to his Combine win, he had every inland race, one Channel race from Lilies, one week's rest, then into Beauvais (377 miles). This game pigeon was an outstanding young bird being raced on the natural system and was ‘Bird of the Year’ in the club. Dave & Ray raced on the roundabout system and send both cocks and hens to the same race. The 30 pairs of racers were paired up in February and were only lightly trained, as they flew out around the loft, for an hour twice a day. The racers were never broken down and had mixture in front of them all the time. Ray told me on my visit, the partners had always been on the natural, winning 60 times 1st in four years on the system and changed over to roundabout in 1998 to win twice 1st open Up North Combine. The main families raced were Billy Parkes Busschaerts and Hermans from Ward Brothers of Yorkshire. The partners had ten pairs of stock birds and when selecting breeders, liked good feather and eyesign. The lads won the Folkestone Wednesday Combine race with a Herman x Busschaert blue hen on the roundabout system and she had every race on her build-up to the Combine win. This game hen was a granddaughter of the champion blue pied Herman cock ‘Cutthroat’ who won eight times 1st and 3rd open UNC Folkestone. A fantastic family of pigeons!

Neil Laidlaw of Shildon.

Although this article is part of the Up North Combine series, this week we are going to include a look at some premier lofts in the West Durham Amalgamation. My good friend Neil Laidlaw of Shildon in Co. Durham arranged the West Durham Amalgamation ‘Many Miles with Mott’ video loft tour for me in the mid-1990’s. He is a great lad and brilliant pigeon racer.

Neil raced in partnership with Dennis Merryweather and their 40ft x 8ft loft was sited in Dennis' garden. The loft had put up many premier performances through the years including 1st, 2nd and 3rd West Durham Amalgamation Abbeville (344 miles) with 4,900 birds competing. This was the only time any loft had done this in Classic racing since the WDA was formed in 1950. The partners had been racing a standard widowhood system for only five years when they recorded this brilliant performance. Neil and Dennis separated their 20 pairs of racers on their second round of eggs, having reared a pair of babies. Then the cocks got six training tosses no further than 15 miles, before the first Federation race. Cocks were never broken down, as their main aim was to win the Channel races. Hens were only shown on a Friday night for the first two races and never after, but they were always there for the cocks on arrival from the race. If the weather was right they paired up in February and raced only the south route with New Shildon WCHS.

Busschaerts were raced and were down from Neil's old family, when he raced with Wilf Stott as Stott & Laidlaw and four additions direct from Georges Busschaert. In 1991 they also introduced some Busschaerts from their good friend Bernard Curley and these crossed with their old Busschaerts had produced a family that won from 60 to 500 miles.

Dent & Linsley of Cockfield Fell.

Eric Dent entered the sport of pigeon racing in 1955. His team of Busschaerts were from introductions in the late 1960s out of the original lines of A. Wilkinson, Parker & Wilkinson and E. Rawle blended in with Fountainhead and Louella birds to create a family. The Dent and Linsley pigeons were outstanding from 60 to 400 miles and at the time of my visit, Robert Linsley maintained the Busschaerts were the best strain of pigeons in the UK over the last 30 years. Eric and Robert raced their team of pigeons to the Cockfield Fell, a tract of common land populated with sheep and wildlife. The view around the loft was staggering; with the rolling hills of County Durham stretching as far as the eye can see.

The partners had won the West Durham Amalgamation twice in recent seasons including 1st NEHU Queen's Cup, 1st open WDA Bourges (17,478 birds) 400 miles in 1995, also recording 3rd and 4th open WDA in the same race. A fantastic performance! Their Queen's Cup winner was a handsome Busschaert dark pied cock, raced on the widowhood system and this champion was of the Louella/Busschaert lines, a grandson of  ‘Starview Pegasus’, and an outstanding young bird, scoring several times. In the Bourges race the partners clocked their second pigeon six minutes after the Queen's Cup winner to win 3rd open WDA and this bird was also a game widowhood Busschaert cock with an excellent racing record, winning twice 1st as a young bird.

The main racing team was 34 widowhood cocks and this system was started eight years previous, with the hens never being raced. The cocks were broken down over the race weekend and peanuts were added to the widowhood mixture for the long distance races. The hens were shown to the cocks on marking night and were left with the returning birds for about one hour. The cocks flew out twice a day and got three 20 mile training tosses per week right through the racing season.

The smart loft had glass windows and open door trapping. The partners raced 50 youngsters each season and the cocks were stopped after three races, but the hens flew the full programme. If young birds wanted to pair up they were given a nest bowl and were trained three times a week from 20 miles in the racing season. Eric and Robert kept ten pairs of stock birds which were paired up in late January. When selecting stock birds the partners looked for good 400 mile performances. The most consistent racer was a blue Busschaert cock; winner of five times 1st club and twice 1st open Federation in races from 60 through to 370 miles and that was a grandson of Champion ‘Twirler’.

Tray, Sons & Lynas of Co. Durham.

Since starting up in the sport in 1946 John Tray had been a leading flyer in the West Durham Amalgamation, winning every position in the first 50 open, including 1st open twice, 2nd open twice and 3rd open four times. A fantastic record! John liked Channel races best but enjoyed all racing and kept three main families of pigeons, including Busschaert, Janssen and Wildemeersch. He raced cocks and hens on the roundabout system and one of the top racers was a blue chequer pied Busschaert hen, winner of 1st club Bourges 555 miles and 1st club Orleans 500 miles. John raced a standard roundabout system with the birds being paired up on 21st January. He fed a first-class widowhood mixture. The birds were broken down from Saturday until Tuesday morning and cocks and hens raced on alternate weeks. The old birds got two 12-mile training tosses every week and were never paired up, not even for the long distance events. The birds were not fed depurative for the long distance races. Another top racer we looked at on our visit to John's loft was a blue cock, a Busschaert and the winner of: twice 1st open Federation, including 1st club, 1st open Federation, 9th open WDA Brands Hatch Inland National.

John's very smart lofts were sited on allotments with 20 other lofts and his club sent about 700 pigeons every week. His racing loft was painted white so the birds could pick it out when the mobs of pigeons hit the allotments on race day and was 56ft long, ‘L’ shaped with open door trapping. The loft housed 40 young birds each season and these race the programme through to 240 miles. The babies got three 12 mile training tosses every week and usually race to the perch, but John let a few pair up for the young bird races. The day before our visit, John was 2nd open Federation Wakefield with a young blue chequer pied Busschaert cock calling his hen to nest. John was not a believer in pairing up young birds, but said he let a few go to nest bowls to give them a bit of edge for the young bird events.

The partnership had a large stock loft, which was light and clean, with plenty of room for the inmates, which housed ten pairs that were paired up in January. The main stock birds were Busschaerts from Tommy Newton and direct from Georges Busschaert, Janssens from Louella and Wildemeersch from Charlie Wooff. John told me on our visit to his loft that he always paired his best to the best to produce his champion racers.

Knighton, Shoulder, Rhine & Roe of Co. Durham.

The name Knighton, Shoulder, Rhine & Roe sounds like a firm of solicitors, but in fact they were one of the top pigeon partnerships racing in the mighty West Durham Amalgamation. On our visit to the allotment lofts we were met by loft man, Ted Williams, who had been in the sport for over 40 years. Ted told me there were 20 lofts on the same allotments, including the loft of John Tray, and with the club sending over 700 birds, if your bird flew half a turn too much on trapping, the race was lost. Because there were so many pigeons on the allotments, the partners let their young birds out at 4.15am, so they were back in the loft before the crowds were in the sky over the allotment site.

The partners liked to race their pigeons from 200 miles through to 450 miles and had won countless premier positions in the West Durham Amalgamation including 1st open and five times 2nd open. One of the top pigeons in the North East of England loft was a blue chequer Busschaert cock raced on the natural system, winner of 1st club twice and 2nd club four times. In one race it sat out for three minutes and finished 2nd club, 2nd open Federation. Because of his bad trapping, this cock was at stock and has bred five winners.

Knighton, Shoulder, Rhine and Roe raced only the natural system with cocks and hens being raced purely to eggs and youngsters. Ted said the birds trapped well as a rule because they were taught as young birds. They were never allowed to sit out on the lofts. The old bird team was paired up in late January and Ted liked the hens sitting eggs for the longer races. Another top pigeon in the loft was a blue chequer Staf Van Reet cock that had won many top prizes in races of about 250 miles including 1st club, 1st open Federation and 2nd club, 2nd open Federation. This cock liked to race to 12 day old eggs and was also at stock breeding well, including a yearling to win 2nd club in a 400 mile race.

The main loft was 40ft long with open door trapping, which was a must with the local competition in races. The loft housed 50 young birds, which raced through to Brands Hatch (240 miles) and were paired up for the long National Young Bird races. The partners kept eleven pairs of stock birds that were paired up on 14th February, with the main families being Busschaert and Staf Van Reet. Ted told me stock birds were selected on handling and racing performances.

That’s it for this week! Over the years I have made many journeys up to the ‘Pigeon Mecca’ in the north east of England to do pigeon show judging, shoot films and articles, and this article is our last look at some of the many great winning lofts I visited. I hope my reader have enjoyed look at some of the very best of the Up North Combine over the past few weeks! I can be contacted with any pigeon ‘banter’ or news on telephone number: 01372 463480 or email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.