“ON THE ROAD” WITH KEITH MOTT.
LOOKING BACK OVER THE YEARS (PART 12.)
Frank Pace of Putney.
Frank Pace's story began in his native country of Malta when he was nine years old and fed the local pigeons on his mother's balcony. One day a black pied hen appeared on the balcony and Frank said he and the hen took a fancy to each other. She used to land on his shoulder and let him handle her. He had nowhere to keep her so he kept her under his bed in a cardboard box, until his parents told him she must go. On release she disappeared for three days and on third day she flew in the French windows and straight under the bed looking for her box. On seeing this his parents were amazed and said he could keep 'the tame one'. This hen stayed with the young Frank for three years until one day she just disappeared. Frank was hooked and says his love and interest in pigeons started with that pied hen.
He had come a long way since those early days in Malta, winning many top positions in Club, Federation, Combine and National in his four short years in the sport. To say he had a fantastic season in 1981 would be an understatement, winning many top prizes including: (Old Birds) 2nd Club, 2nd West Middlesex Federation Weymouth, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th club, 4th, 5th, 6th, 12th London Federation Dorchester, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th club, 14th, 15th, 16th London Federation Seaton, 2nd, 3rd club, 9th West Middlesex Federation Exeter, 1st, 2nd club Exmouth, 3rd club, 23rd Federation Le Mans, 3rd club Exeter, 2nd, 3rd, 4th club, 11th, 17th, 18th London Federation Dorchester, 3rd club Seaton, 3rd, 4th club Exmouth, 1st, 3rd, 6th Club Angers, 2nd, 5th club, 23rd Federation Poitiers, 1st, 2nd club, 9th, 11th London Federation Exmouth, 1st club, 9th West Middlesex Federation, 11th SMT Combine Melle, 4th club, 8th Federation Plymouth, 1st, 3rd club, 1st, 3rd West Middlesex Federation, 1st, 4th SMT Combine (3,342 birds) Bergerac; (Young Birds) 2nd, 4th club, 2nd, 7th West Middlesex Federation Blandford, 1st, 4th, 5th club, 1st, 16th, 17th London Federation, 4th club, 5th West Middlesex Federation Blandford, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th club, 13th, 14th, 16th London Federation Dorchester, 2nd, 3rd club, 5th West Middlesex Federation Weymouth, 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th club Seaton, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th club, 6th, 12th, 18th London Federation Exmouth, 2nd, 4th, 5th club Dorchester, 3rd, 5th, 6th club Exeter, 1st, 2nd, 3rd club Dorchester, 1st Club, 9th West Middlesex Federation, 14th SMT Combine Plymouth, winning several trophies in the Putney and Wandsworth Clubs, and the SMT Combine Channel Average, SMT Combine Combined Average, and West Middlesex Federation Channel Average.
Frank moved to his present address in 1977 and at last had a garden in which he could build a loft. He said at the time, after nineteen years in England his wish had come true, to be able to keep racing pigeons. He started to build his loft in the spring of 1978 and purchased some youngsters and started to race them in the Wandsworth Flying Club. He broke his novice status at the third race he entered winning 1st club Seaton. He used to breed and show Gloster canaries with outstanding success, winning many cups and diplomas. He said he kept canaries because he has never had a garden for a pigeon loft at his previous addresses. Frank said Mr. S. Francis gave him a lot of help when he started up in pigeons, but got most of his knowledge from reading anything he could find on the sport. Frank's family of Dordins were bred down from most of the French master's champions. The S.MT Combine Bergerac winner was a yearling blue cock called 'Dynamic Cass' and he was bred down from Champion 'Ramses'. He previously won 2nd club, 23rd Federation Poitiers in 1981 and was sent to Bergerac driving several hens around the loft. Frank maintained the Dordins had raced for him with outstanding success right through to 536 miles. The 4th SMT Combine Bergerac pigeon was Frank's good three year old Dordin blue hen 'Dynamic Lady' and she had previously won 1980: 2nd club, 5th Federation Seaton (1,282 birds), 1981: 1st club Angers, 5th club Melle.
Frank's wife, Liz, was very interested in the pigeons and he said it would be impossible without her help to take proper care of the birds. She cleaned out twice a day in summer, changed the water twice daily and fed the birds. She clocked in on holdovers and saw the team in from training. Liz was the chief nurse looking after all the injured birds and Frank worked on the shift system and had to work every Sunday. The Paces' very smart loft had open door trapping and the floors were laced with lime after the daily scrape. Frank said his motto was, feed them well, train them hard, and treat them with respect. He fed De Scheemaecker ‘Natural Mixture’, as he had found it sound corn and at a reasonable price. When the longer races were approaching, he adds extra beans and maize to the mixture. He raced the old birds and yearlings to the longest race in the programme and the same with the youngsters. He used Red Band for trapping and gave the birds honey in their drinking water once a week.
He said back in Malta they only race for trophies and diplomas, not for money, which he thought was a happier system. Frank's Dordins had raced with outstanding results on the natural system, but said at that time, he is going to try a few cocks on widowhood to try to improve their trapping which had cost him a lot of races. He paired the stock birds up on Christmas Day and the racers up the second week in March, breeding about 30 youngsters each year. He said good pigeon racing is only patience and hard work and told novices to buy pigeons only from a successful fancier and remember that pigeon racing is a 365 day a year hobby. Frank rated Tommy Gumble of Putney the local ‘ace’ and said he had had many successes year after year. Frank maintained that Tommy was as genuine as his pigeons and was a very helpful man. Frank also thanked Dave Pratt, the Putney R.S. secretary for all his help in the early days. When sorting out the birds for mating he said he liked to pair winner to winner, and he had 'Dynamic Cass' and 'Dynamic Lady' down to be paired together in 1982. I must say this was a very enjoyable loft visit. I saw premier quality pigeons and met an outstanding fancier. There you have it, Frank Pace of Putney.
Tommy Gumble of Putney
Nineteen-eighty-one was a very successful season for the Putney ace Tommy Gumble, being top prize winner in the West Middlesex Federation, winning 1st Federation three times and being beaten on a decimal for 1st SMT Combine Bergerac (450 miles).
Tommy first became interested in pigeons at the age of nine, when he used to keep pigeons in orange boxes on top of his father's stable. He had a collection of tipplers, racers, fantails and anything he could catch in the park. He started racing in 1973 with birds from here, there and everywhere and although these birds won, he thought that for the time and work he was putting into them they should be doing better. In 1976 he went to Dave Fitch of Bookham and obtained five pairs of Delwiche Jets which was the family he raced with outstanding success. Dave Fitch, who became a good friend of Tommy's, gave him a lot of sound advice on how to race the Delwiche pigeons. Tom said a lot of his success he owes directly to Dave Fitch and his Delwiche Jets.
His all-time great pigeon was his seven year old blue Delwiche cock 'Gumble's Leader', which in his racing career won: 1st club, 1st Federation Dorchester; 1st club, 2nd Federation Dorchester; 1st club, 2nd Federation Exmouth; 1st club, 3rd Federation Dorchester; 1st club, 5th Federation Dorchester; 2nd club, 5th Federation Dorchester; 2nd club, 4th Federation Dorchester; 3rd club, 4th Federation Seaton; 3rd club, 8th Federation Weymouth. This champion cock was retired to stock and was always raced on the natural system. Tommy raced four cocks on widowhood as a try out in 1981 and topped the Federation with two of the cocks. Tommy said what would ‘Gumble's Leader’ have done on widowhood?
Tom had three lofts, a 14ft natural and young bird loft, a small widowhood loft and a small closed-in loft where he kept his widowhood hens. He thought the most important factors in loft design were good ventilation and a suitable trapping system. The mistake he thought many fanciers made was they start with sub-standard birds and keep them year after year, never culling or sorting the wheat from the chaff. He maintained widowhood was the system of the future and anyone who likes inland racing and stays on natural will get left behind. One of the stars of the widowhood loft was the three year old blue chequer cock 'Gumble's Boy' and he won in 1981: 1st club, 1st Federation Plymouth. His son a two year old blue cock called 'Gumble's Topper' was also an inmate of Tommy's very select widowhood loft and he had chalked up, 1st club, 1st Federation Weymouth; 2nd club, 2nd Federation Plymouth (beaten by 'Gumble's Boy'); 6th club, 10th Federation, 24th Combine Le Mans 238 miles.
The Gumble loft contained only three pairs of stock birds, all retired racers which had excelled on the road, such as 'Gumble's Leader'. He kept to 12 pairs of old birds and bred 25 youngsters, believing in quality not quantity. As his stock birds flew out to the racing loft and he paired the whole loft up on the nearest weekend to 14th February. Tom was so pleased with his four widowhood cocks' performance in 1981, topping the Federation on two consecutive weeks that he intended to increase the team to nine cocks in 1982.
Tommy considered the main factors behind success with pigeons are good stock, contentment in the loft, good food and plenty of hard work. He reckoned the Delwiche Jets to be a super utility strain of pigeons winning from 60 miles up to 500 miles. Tom's most thrilling experience was as a novice when he won 1st Bordeaux (457 miles) with a broken pigeon that he purchased for 10 shillings. This bird was well up in the Federation and Combine and was first of only three day pigeons in the old Earlsfield club.
His 1981 Bergerac pigeon was his good Delwiche blue chequer hen 'Gumble's Magic' and her full performance list is 1979: 2nd club Exmouth. 1980: 3rd club Exmouth. 1981: 5th club, 20th Federation Plymouth; 2nd club, 2nd West Middlesex Federation, 2nd SMT Combine Bergerac (beaten by a second decimal). Another outstanding distance hen in the Gumble loft was his dark chequer 'Gumble's Expected' which had chalked up 1980: 3rd club Dax, 5th club Le Mans. 1981: 5th club, 9th Federation, 23rd Combine Le Mans; 4th club, 12th Federation, 49th Combine Bergerac; 5th club Exeter. Tommy started training two weeks before old bird racing commenced, and the birds went to 14 miles every day regardless of the weather and once racing starts they went to the same training point three times a week. Youngsters were trained by the same method except they were trained every day through racing from the same 14 mile training point.
Tom said he fed a good quality corn with no beans and didn’t make the common mistake of overfeeding. All birds, young and old, were made to fly the programme and a few late breds were bred from the best racers which were just trained up on selected days as young birds. He didn’t show at all and said his birds get in the winter what they have earned in the summer, a nice long rest. He believed in inbreeding and line breeding and stated the thing to remember is that this will magnify the bad points as well as the good and they won't all be champions. When selecting producers, he always looked to his champion racers, but has found sometimes the nest mates to good racers were good birds at stock. Tommy's loft contained many winners, but another outstanding racer was the blue pied cock 'Gumble’s Captain' which won 1st club, 11th Federation Seaton in 1980 as a youngster and 1st club, 1st Federation Weymouth, 6th club Exeter in 1981 as a yearling. There you have, Tommy Gumble of Putney.
Nora Major of Putney.
I first met the late Nora Major in the mid-1970’s and being one of the best lady fanciers I’ve had the pleasure to meet. I first visited her Putney loft in 1977 for an article. Nora was a great worker for the sport, always willing to help anyone and was famed for her blunt manner. A spade was a spade with Nora, but she got the job done!
In 1968 Nora built a loft for her 11 year old son, Francis, who wanted to race a few pigeons which were scrounged from here, there and everywhere. The 40 strong young bird team collected that year were raced through the card and only one 6th position was won. Francis had lost interest in the sport by 1969, but Nora had caught the bug and was intent to improve her stock and win races. In 1969 the turning point in Nora’s pigeon career came when she met Alex Fleming of Esher and obtained six eggs from him and by 1970, she had a loft full of Fleming pigeons and never looked back. Nora said at the time all her best pigeons were Fleming and she owed all her success to Alex. Most of her team in 1970 was bred down from the original six birds and she won her first race from Bournemouth that year and celebrated that same night with other club members by throwing a big party at her house. She had previously met Bill Bonamy of Ealing, who had many impressive trophies around his house, which included an uninscribed replica with a pigeon on top. Nora took a fancy to the replica and Bill promised he would present it to her when she won her first race. The night of the party, Bill turned up at midnight and presented her with her first trophy. From that day the trophies poured in with the Alex Fleming pigeons winning out of turn, but after all her great success she said the big thrill of winning had gone. She said that she was quite unmoved in 1976 when she recorded 1st, 2nd, 4th and 7th club Dax (537 miles), having the only pigeon on the day of liberation in the Richmond club. She said the sense of achievement had gone and she felt ashamed when she took all the trophies in the club that season, leaving three trophies for 40 other members to share. Nora told me, she was a hopelessly addicted pigeon person and thought she should have been a man. She considered one of the nicest compliments she had received was in 1973 when she had won the much coveted ‘Brooker Gold Cup’, in the London Coly for the second time. A veteran of the sport came and shook her hand and with his congratulations he said, ‘Nora, you are a jolly good pigeon man’, to win the ‘Brooker Gold Cup’. You had to nominate no more than six birds at the beginning of old bird racing, then on the night of marking for Niort, only one bird of the six may be nominated for the race. Nora won the Niort race with her one nominated bird two years on the trot.
I made my trek to Nora’s Putney home in the heart of the London Federation just before Christmas in 1976 and the first stop was her living room to look at her fantastic array of trophies. She had won many outright and said when she took one off the club, she always bought one to replace it. She had won 20 trophies in 1976 in the very strong Richmond & Dist. H.S. and London Coly, which also included Old Bird Average and Continental Average in the mighty London Federation. Nora’s loft was 24f x 8ft, four compartments and the birds were trapped through drop holes. They were cleaned out every day and all the old birds were raced on the natural system with very little training, as they were raced on Wednesday and Saturday. The feed was a good mixture but was not given on a regular basis as Nora liked to give them a change. The three pairs of stock birds and 25 pairs of racers were paired up in late January and about 60 young birds were bred each year. All pairings were made by eye sign which she said she had learnt by reading S.W.E. Bishop’s book, ‘The Secret of Eye Sign’.
The first pigeon we looked at was the 1976 ace bird, a pure Fleming dark chequer pied hen, ‘72437’, and she recorded 1st club, 7th Federation Dax (536 miles) in 1976. She was the only bird on the day in the Richmond club and there was only seven on the day in the London Federation. She was a nice apple-bodied hen with a nice eye and strong back. A great pigeon! Nora’s family of club and Federation winners goes on and on, but her favourite pigeon was her blue chequer hen, ‘Blue Lady’, and she was Nora’s number one stock hen, breeding winners every year, and she was bred by Alex Fleming. Her best pigeon was her champion blue pied hen, ‘Nora’s Hen’, and this brilliant bird was a champion in the truest sense, winning, 1975: 3rd club, 1977: 1st club, 1st Federation, 1st open L&SC Combine (2,868 birds) Bergerac, 1st club, 5th Federation, 13th open Combine Nantes, 1978: 1st section E, 4th open NFC Pau Grand National (£1,052), 1st club, 5th Federation, 18th open Combine Nantes, 1790: 26th section E. NFC Pau. What a pigeon! She was bred from the Alex Fleming lines when crossed with a pigeon from Mick Graham of then Richmond and when Nora retired from the sport in the early 1980’s this champion hen was sold to C.H. Besant of New Malden for £1,000.
Nora’s loft housed many Federation winners and found it hard to tell of her best achievement but in 1974 she was highest prize winner in the West Middlesex Federation, winning Young Bird Average Cup, Federation Points Shield, 1st, 2nd Federation in June, and 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Federation in August. She was 1st, 2nd, 3rd club Bergerac (450 miles) in the Putney club in 1973 and Nora’s loft was premier prize winner in the Richmond club six seasons out of seven in the 1970’s. A wonderful record! As well as being the secretary of the Richmond club and the London Coly for many years, she was also a vice president of the RPRA London Region and president of the London Federation. She was very hot on bookwork, recording everything on paper. She didn’t like showing her birds and said she only put her pigeons into pens to support the club. Nora always told novices to get a family of birds from a premier flyer, like the late great Alex Fleming. Nora always maintained that there was no other pigeon fancier to match Alex! She was a very keen gardener and if my memory serves me right, I think she won the best loft and garden competition in the 1970’s. A great lady!
Tommy Woodcock of Wimbledon
The late Tommy Woodcock’s birds were mostly dark blue chequers and blues, with some pieds and were of the Sheppard strain, which Tom rated second to none. He said he tried other strains including Belgian and Dutch, but they couldn’t keep up the pace like the Sheppards and have fallen by the wayside. Tom was a hard taskmaster, giving the birds the best and he expected the best. If a bird was fit and well it had to fly the programme and Tom maintained that at the end of the year only the best were left. The team was trained hard in the three weeks before racing and then training stopped as the birds got two races per week, on Wednesday and Saturday.
Tommy won 1st open London & South Coast Combine Nantes (4,007 birds) in 1979 and added yet another great performance to the many he recorded in his many years in the pigeon fancy. Tom’s combine winner, a yearling Sheppard blue chequer pied hen called, ‘Dids’, was a daughter of his famous, ‘White Tail’, stock hen, which was the dam of countless winners, including four 1st Federation winners. ‘Dids’ was flying to chipping eggs when she won the combine and previously had won many other positions including 2nd and 4th club Weymouth as a young bird. One of Tommy’s all-time best seasons was in 1976 when he left devastation wherever he raced, with total cash winnings for that season being approximately £1,500 and he was top prize winner in the London Coly, Wimbledon & Dist. F.C., Mitcham Two Bird, London Federation and was third highest in the Merton & Morden H.S. The Woodcock loft won 18 times 1st, 16 times 2nd, 15 times 3rd at club level and 4 times 1st, 3 times 2nd, twice 3rd at Federation level in 1976, with 1st Hersham Open Weymouth and 2nd Sandhurst Open Guernsey being the icing on the cake. Tom’s performances go on and on, but one worth a special mention was his performance in the 1978 Young Bird National when he recorded 9th open (9,708 birds) Guernsey.
The pigeons had an open loft most days and they were very tame, and Tom had picked up birds from the lawn on race days and clocked them in. Tom thought the most important thing is a good team of yearlings and not too many pigeons over two years old were retained. He was a 100% eye sign man and all pairings were made by their eyes, also they were inbred very closely. Tommy had two lofts, a 15ft x 6ft racing loft and a 12ft x 4ft stock loft at high level over his garage. The very neat lofts were dressed in deep litter of sharp sand and a little lime and the birds were trapped through open doors and bob holes. The feed was a mixture of beans, peas and maize, with some wheat added when racing. The babies were not separated from the old birds, all being together through racing, but were weaned in a race crate. The eight pairs of stock birds were paired on 14th February; the 18 pairs of racers at the beginning of March and 36 youngsters were produced to race each year.
Tom started in the sport in 1934 and won his first race that year from Exmouth with a gift white cock from Alf Tomlin of Wimbledon. The new starter, Tommy, was disqualified as he had forgotten to transfer the birds to his name, with the National Homing Union (RPRA). He always looked up to the late Harry Branch of Mitcham as one of the greatest pigeon racers. Tom always told novices to stay out of the pub on Saturday afternoon as he had lost many a race by standing at the bar, when the birds were due home. The Sheppard pigeons were bred down from the Savage Barker strain and when the late Mr. Sheppard died he left his pigeons to his loft manager, Mr. Bacon. Tommy obtained his first Sheppards from Mr. Bacon and never looked back. The daddy of the Woodcock loft was the Sheppard blue cock, ‘The Hoppity Cock’ and this great cock had smashed his leg, hence his nickname from Tommy. He won on the road and was responsible for countless winners, including three in the combine. Tom’s wife, Dids, took a big interest in the pigeons and clocked in many winners in Tom’s absence.
TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT (www.keithmott.com)