My love of pigeons - Eric Birhall


My love of pigeons started at the early age of nine. I was fortunate to have had an uncle who kindly built me a small loft and in this I kept quite a variety - two fantails, four bald black and white tumblers and a couple of cross homers. This was great and I spent morning, noon and night just looking at them. I could hardly wait to get home from school to see if there were any strays in the loft. However, the only stray that had been in and gone was a cat. Needless to say it had killed the lot. I think I cried for a couple of days but this did not discourage me but taught me a lesson not to leave an open loft and to never trust the feline variety. The next birds I had were a few racing pigeons from the local market, price 6d. each. I soon settled them and it was not long before I was sending one as a none racer with the local club. The race was from Cheltenham, distance 104 miles. I sent a little blue cheq. hen and to my amazement she came back in race time. This really made me keen and I could not make up my mind whether to start with racing pigeons or flying tipplers. I used to watch tipplers every spare moment I had and these belonged to the late Ben Wade and Joe Scholes. I would watch these two gentlemen drop their kits in the cool summer evenings and these birds were like coloured jewels dropping out of the sky - lovely light prints, greys, bronze mottled and duns. As the years rolled by I still had a yearning for homers and in 1937 and with the help of my mother I bought a joiner made sectional loft for £ 12.1Os. on hire purchase. This loft was l4ft. x 6ft. and came with all the fittings. What a bargain this was as 47 years later it now contains my present stock of tipplers. After buying the shed I flew racers for a few years then I started to take an interest and chase a lovely red hen called Gladys. I am pleased to say we married and Gladys has been a great help with my hobby. In 1947 we managed to rent a little cottage and this turned out to be next door to Ben Wade, whose Tipplers I had watched many times in the 1930's, fly 18 and 19 hours. At the time (June 1947) I had no pigeons but Mr. Wade had a kit in training for the Long Day fly. Three days before the fly he was knocked down and seriously injured. He was taken to hospital with broken legs and broken ribs. When I visited him I was greeted with the words, "Wilt turn my kit out on, Sunday". I thought to myself, `what a man', plastered from head to toe and still thinking about his tipplers. I assured him I would. I will never forget it: this was the first time for me to release a lat of tipplers. The morning was beautiful and up they went like three slrylarks: the only thought in my mind was that they would fly well. This they did, and at the 16 hour mark they were still right in the top. Then, believe it or not, this was the last time I saw them. Monday night visiting time at the hospital: I thought, `how do I tell him?' "Well lad, how did they fly yesterday?". With a lump in my throat I muttered what had happened. He could see I was concerned. "Don't worry lad, better luck nest time". Well I am pleased to say he came out of hospital and we became great friends and this is how I started with tipplers. By now I was cleaning out and feeding his birds: then one summers day we were sat in his garden watching some youngsters on the loft. He said to me: "I think you had better take my birds over if you want them, as I am now getting too old." It was my pleasure to accept this kind gesture and within a few years I had flown his birds 17 hours 56 minutes, 18 hours and 18 hours 10 minutes. By this time Mr. Wade was in his 93rd year, which I am sorry to say was his last, and to this day I have never met a more honest and straight man. It was my pleasure to have known this great tippler fancier. I feel I cannot end my memories of yesteryear without writing a few lines about two other characters. First the late Harry Ridgway who flew `Westacotts' strain. Harry should have had a medal for just flying his birds. Imagine, if you can, a row of four terraced houses all in one yard, his loft just two strides from the back door. This measured just 6ft. g 4ft. and in this he kept his breeders, flyers and droppers. There was only room for one person inside. He used to sit on a stool and from there could reach any bird he wanted to handle. The loft was surrounded by high buildings and how he managed to settle and fly his birds I still wonder to this day. One of his favourite sayings on fly day when asked how his kit would fly was, "they would not eat or drink, but I think they will fly the clock round," and you could be sure they would. The other old tippler fancier was Joe Howard, or as Harry called him, "Silent Night". Joe hardly ever spoke a word, every time you visited him he would be busy with the hammer and nails doing alterations to his neat little loft. This housed some lovely duns, badged and bronze mottles. . Both these characters had a great sense of humour and would always have a joke with you about their tipplers. I am proud to have known these dedicated fanciers whose love of their birds must have given them endless hours of pleasure. I think many times about these fanciers and wonder how they found the time to train their birds. Ben Wade and Harry Ridgeway both worked in the cotton mill, Monday to Friday 6.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. and Saturday 6.00 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. With a working week like that they certainly deserved to enjoy their tipplers. I have mentioned these gentlemen and am sure there are many more of yester-year who were similar in character. They will never be forgotten. I am extremely grateful for all the friends my wife Gladys and I have made over the years through our feathered friend