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Paul & Helen Johnson & Chris Greenwood of Hull.

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I first met Paul Johnson while I was on a weeklong filming tour in Yorkshire in the mid-1990 and at that time he was racing in the very successful Johnson, Wilson & sons partnership. Harry Wilson is no longer in the sport and Paul has been very successful racing in partnership with his wife, Helen, from there garden in Burton Pidsea, near Hull, for the last fifteen years. There is a third partner, in the form of Paul’s good friend, Chris Greenwood and he concentrates on the stock birds and breeding side of the partnership. The Johnson partnership has been the highest prize winners in the Holderness Flying club and East Coast Federation in the 2017 and 2016 racing seasons. They have won 36 x 1st, 30 x 2nd, 32 x 3rd, 28 x 4th in both the clubs, and 14 x 1st, 12 x 2nd, 10 x 3rd, 9 x 4th in both the Yorkshire Middle Route and East Coast Federation in those two seasons. They have also won 3 x 1st, 3 x 2nd, 2 x 4th, 2 x 5th, 2 x 6th section in the Midland National Flying Club in the last four years. Fantastic pigeon racing by any ones standards!

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Premier racers in the Johnson loft in recent seasons have been: ‘Jonno’s Boy’ winner in 2017 of 1st club, 1st Federation Huntingdon (895 birds), 1st club, 1st Federation Reed (972 birds), 1st club, 1st Federation Maidstone (779 birds), Beaten by loft to win 2nd club, 2nd Federation Billericay (548 birds). ‘Jonno’s Boy’ is the sire of winners, including 1st Federation and also an RPRA Regional Award winner in the 2017 racing season: ‘Legs Eleven’: 1st club, 1st Federation Redd (972 birds): ‘Treble One Seven’: 1st club, 1st Federation Peterborough (1,223 birds): ‘George’: 1st club, 1st Federation Huntington (673 birds): ‘Jackson’: 1st club, 1st Federation Billericay (548 birds) Beating ‘Jonno’s Boy’ by one second on the ETS: ‘Henry’: 1st ENE section, 1,089th open MNFC Coutances (8,903 birds): ‘369 The Monkey Drank Wine’: 2017: 2nd ENE section, 191st open MNFC Coutances (3,651 birds) Only two birds in the region on the day.

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The Johnson partners have always raced around 40 cocks on widowhood right from the beginning to the end of the season, and over the last two years when time permits they have been trying 12 widowhood hens racing to old cocks, but  Paul maintains, there is still a lot to be learnt! The stock birds are usually paired in early December and rear their first round. The racing widowhood cocks are paired in early January for the proven cocks to rear some youngsters and also take some of the second round off the stock birds. The shorter distance cocks are broken down at the start of the week on depurative and then slowly building them up on Gerry Plus, then on to the widow mixture and fats at the end of the week. The longer distance birds only see the lighter food on their return and on the Sunday morning and have as much as they need especially the days leading up to basketing. The hens aren’t usually shown to the cocks before an inland race for two reasons, with no time after rushing home from work on a Friday afternoon and they think it excites them too much. The cocks know exactly what is coming after going to a couple of training tosses with their bowl turned over in an open nest box! On their return from the race the cock usually see their hens for approx an hour before being taken out. The cocks can usually have five or six tosses before the first race and sometimes have a livener in midweek race if they think it’s necessary for the first six weeks of the season, but never in freezing cold North winds in March. Paul says, ‘the season is a Marathon not a sprint’. The young birds are trained hard starting at one mile and working up to 12 miles, and are often put up in two’s and three’s on the River Humber bank when time permits. Because of the Humber and distance need to travel over the Humber Bridge the birds are very rarely trained from Lincolnshire. These days they only race the birds with the Yorkshire Middle Route and the East Coast Federation for the inland races and use the Midland National Flying Club for the channel racing. Paul thinks club and Federation channel racing will soon become a thing of the past, with the rising costs and Federations being reluctant to join together, and the birds learn a lot when having to split early from the pack and do it on their own. They treat their birds for canker and respiratory every four weeks alternating fortnightly, also using Naturaline and Cider Vinegar in the water and Gemthapax and herbal oils on their food. While moulting they feed the birds a strong protein mixture and while they have cast their last flight then start to bring them on to a depurative mixture before pairing early in the New Year. The young cocks and hens are split and the cocks are expected to start to claim a box in the widowhood section for January’s pairing up, and the new season ahead.

I asked Paul if he liked long distance or sprint racing and what was some of his best recent racing performances, and he said, ‘we like all distances for racing but prefer 150 miles up to 500 miles. We have a 2009 hen off Stuart Ward’s ‘Sophie’ lines and her grandchildren are now producing Federation winners. One of her sons topped the YMR from Maidstone as a young bird beating a loft mate by one second, then as a yearling he topped it again from Eastbourne. Another top breeder is the 2013 bred Premier Stud / Sablon hen that breeds winners in every nest paired to four different cocks. Our most recent successful pigeon, ‘Jonno’s Boy’, is off a daughter of the Rawson hen crossed with the Sablons Freddyinx bloodlines. He topped the East Coast Federation three times in the 2017 season and was beaten by a loft mate by one second on his fourth attempt. We also in the last race of the 2017 season had a young hen win 2nd section MNFC Coutances (331 miles), with only two birds on the day and not many day birds in the country after a two day hold over. On the day she folded her wings and dropped straight into the loft after a 10 hour fly into a Northerly wind.  She was bred out of a young Van der Merwe cock from Stuart Ward’s charity sale in 2016 when paired to a Jan Hoagland hen from his distance lines bought off Alun Jones / Red Star website. Some of our best performances have been mentioned above but another good performance came from ‘That’, a Van der Merwe cock direct off Stu Ward. He topped the YMR from Clermont, then topped the East Coast Federation two weeks later from Billericay and then went on to win the ‘Humberside Trophy’ that year for his outstanding Combined results. My most thrilling experiences in the sport so far was going up to collect the prestigious ‘Humberside Trophy’ in 2011 and topping the MNFC ENE section from Carentan three years ago for the first time and seeing the young hen come from Coutances just before dark in the 2017 season’.

Paul and Helen’s present loft is 70ft long with two 10ft sections for the young birds, a 5ft section for a few racing hens on widowhood, two 10ft sections for the widowhood cocks, a large section that houses all their hens on poles and last, but not least, a section that houses the white racing birds that are only used for Helen’s wedding and funeral business “Dove Occasions”. The loft is well ventilated with the old fashioned clay pan tiles letting air through them, but no drafts and Paul is very adamant that the loft MUST be kept dry. The young birds are on deep litter right throughout the year, even after the young cocks have gone to claim their perches in the widowhood sections at the end of the season, the young hens stay on it right through to the start of the next season before most of them become widowhood hens.

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Paul was born and lived in Hedon for most of his life until moving to his present address ten years ago and he says, none of his family had any interests in racing pigeons. He was a very keen amateur footballer for Hedon United on Saturday and Sunday mornings up to the age of 31 before retiring. Paul has been in the sport for 42 years, but for the first ten to fifteen years his football and work commitments in his family waste disposal company always came first. For the next fifteen years he was in a very successful pigeon partnership with Harold Wilson and for the last fifteen years, having the most success racing in partnership with his wife, Helen, from our present address in Burton Pidsea, with Chris Greenwood looking after their stock loft. The young Paul Johnson first became interested in pigeons when he met his now stock loft partner Chris Greenwood at the age of eleven when they both went to senior school. These days Paul looks after the racing side of the pigeons and Chris looks after the breeding. He became a member of the local South Holderness Flying Club at the age of sixteen and had to join under his father’s name because he was too young to join on my own. Paul obtained his first pigeons from Chris Greenwood and his father, who flew under the name of Andrews, Greenwood & sons and were the top fanciers in the area in 1970’s to the 1990’s.  They gave Paul his first two pigeons and he housed them in his first small loft. They got him started and Paul said, ‘I just thought it was a case of breed a few young birds off these two pigeons, then send them to a race and they would just win! This was my first mistake as a novice. When I first start I didn’t realise the work that goes into a racing, breeding and keeping pigeons and it’s a 365 days a year sport, all about paying attention to the detail.’ Paul’s first loft was an old porta-kabin that had blown over on one of their old landfill sites that he rescued and rebuilt for the pigeons. The top fanciers at that time were, Harold Wilson, who later became Paul’s pigeon partner and Alan Sarel who both flew very well in their cubs and the Yorkshire Middle Route from all distances. In the early days flying with Harold under the partnership name of Johnson, Wilson & sons they had great success racing mainly the Cattrysse pigeons.

For the past fifteen years under the partnership name of Paul & Helen Johnson they started racing mainly with Chris’s old strain and Van Loons, with two pairs of stock from Hughie and Colin Jackson, and a very good breeding hen from John Rawson. More recently in the past eight years they have introduced the Peter Van Der Merwe’s pigeons from their good friend Stuart Ward of Oldham and also direct from Peter Van Merwe himself. More recently they have brought in the De Rauw Sablon’s mainly from Premier Stud and they’ve producing some very good results, crossed with the Van Der Merwe’s or kept pure. Paul and Helen’s main two families of pigeons are Van Der Merwe and De Rauw Sablon and the stock team are paired in early December. After pairing they are moved off their winter mix on to a depurative to start bringing them in to shape and the heaters and lights are put on in the stock loft. When looking for new stock Paul and Chris like a medium sized bird that handles well, with a decent eye, but they maintain the eye isn’t the be all and end all. Performance is far more important to them than pedigrees, although they have them both with all their recent stock. When selecting the breeders the partners have no really views on eye-sign, apart from as long as they aren’t real wishy washy and they have one at each side of their heads! They inbreed for stock purposes only and never as near as mother and son, but we would regularly go grandmother to grandson. Chris never breeds late breds for racing because they take too much looking after during the winter months only for the majority of them to go missing early the following summer.

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Paul and Helen breed between 80 and 100 young birds every year and usually split the sexes in both Federations and fly all of them if possible to the south coast. Eastbourne (200 miles) and then the cocks are stopped and the young hens go on to Chale and Coutances (331mls) with the MNFC, from where they have had two very good results over the last two years, when returns were very thin on the ground. They are weaned onto the darkness system until approx a weekend in the middle of June. The youngsters are fed mainly on protein when first weaned then slowly turned on to the widowers racing mixtures as racing approaches and are trained as much as possible starting approx six weeks before the first race from one mile up to 15 miles, no further than that due to the River Humber. When racing starts the sexes are split and they run together on the sliding door system all Friday afternoon before basketing. The partners have always raced on the dark system and this has never affected them as yearlings, and they all drop their last flights before the New Year is in.

Paul’s occupation is a waste recycling manager with Biffa Waste in Hull. His main help with the pigeons comes from his wife Helen and stock man is Chris Greenwood. Paul told me, ‘without Helen there wouldn’t be any pigeon racing’. She traps them in when he is training the pigeons, feeds them in on the morning fly before she goes to work and starts letting them out again when she returns, long before Paul is home, in fact he thinks it’s sometime him and Chris that are helping her! She also looks after her own White birds for Weddings and funerals. Paul told me, ‘Helen has had the doves (white racing pigeons) for weddings and funerals for 5 years now. She got her first birds from a retired racer Alan Rawson who started her off with approx 20 birds and since then she always runs with around 35 to 40 birds. She covers the Humberside area and has gone as far as Scarborough in the North and Harrogate in the West for her Nephews wedding. See started off with the idea when she saw some white racers advertised in the BHW and thought it would be a good idea for us (me!) the extend the loft and give it a try, and so far she is making a very god job of it and expanding year on year’. Paul has been the club secretary over the past year and is just starting to get used to it. Like most fanciers he thinks there are too many clubs and Federations traveling up and down the country for the amount of fanciers and something should be done about it before these Federations buckle under the rising costs and loss of members. He says he would also change the raptor laws!  He thinks the sport has progressed over the past 20 years with the introduction of the ETS systems, but it has also gone backwards on the social side with computers and the ETS making it much quicker to produce a result with pools, nominations and prize nights starting to fall by the wayside. The only bad thing over the past 20 years is it has become far too expensive for any young lads to start up on their own without being in a partnership with their fathers. This isn’t the only reason for the decline in up and coming new pigeon fanciers though, you only have to look at the local Saturday and Sunday football league’s and how much they have reduced in the past 25 years. Paul told me he would always advise all new starters to try to get advice off good local fanciers because in our declining hobby most fanciers will give advice and even help with pigeons to get them off the ground. It is a 365 days a year sport and they should walk before you try to run and keep their eyes open when in the loft with the birds and pay attention to the detail. He considers the best fanciers locally in the past 20 years to be the late Jess Hotham, Brian Bolton and John Williamson and also Kerry Mellonby all from the Bridlington area because they have all won from all distances and in any wind conditions.

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As I previously stated, while in Yorkshire in the mid-1990’s we had the great pleasure of visiting the lofts of Paul Johnson and Harry Wilson of Hull.  Here is a little look back to that loft visit in Hull over 20 years ago. Harry Wilson's father had a pub and in 1977 he started up in the sport when he got involved with a local pigeon club that used the pub to mark their birds for races. Harry formed his partnership with Paul Johnson in 1984 and set the local clubs alight, racing at all distances. Johnson & Wilson had won countless prizes in the Federation including many times 1st open. Harry said he thought their best performance was when they recorded 2nd and 3rd open Federation from 500 miles with only five birds home on the day of liberation. The pigeon that won 2nd open from 500 miles was a handsome Herman / Cattrysse blue chequer cock raced on widowhood and the week previous to being 2nd open, he had won 1st open Hull S.R. Federation.

The partners raced 40 cocks on the widowhood system and these were paired up on 1st February, with the hens being taken away after the first pair were weaned, the cocks were not generally trained, but might have been given one 15 mile toss before the first race. The cocks flew out around the loft for one hour, twice a day and were only broken down in the early part of the season. The corn was beefed up for the longer races and for seven days before a distance event they were given as much to eat as they wanted. Another outstanding widowhood cock in the Hull loft was a Cattrysse blue chequer and he had won 1st open Federation from 318 miles and 2nd open Federation from 200 miles.

The main family kept was Cattrysse and only 15 pairs of stock birds were retained. When obtaining new stock Paul said he liked them to have all round quality in the hand, but must be out of good winning lines. The partner’s best racer was a blue Cattrysse widowhood cock and he won the Yorkshire Middle Route Federation Channel Average on his own in 1996. This fantastic pigeon had won many premier Channel prizes in the Federation and lifted the ‘Humberside Trophy’.

The partners 70 young birds were housed in a smart loft, with a pan tiled roof and sputnik traps. The youngsters were raced to the perch, but Paul said they were going on the ‘Darkness’ system for the 1998 season. They were trained well and most of the team raced through to 210 miles, with a few young cocks being saved for the widowhood system. The babies were fed very heavy, but were cut down just before racing to bring them into line.

Well, that’s our article for the week! It’s been really great meeting up with Paul Johnson again after those years. He really is a great pigeon racer, consistently winning at the top level over many years! I can be contacted with any pigeon ‘banter’ on telephone number: 01372 463480 or email me on: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.