We spoke to amateur photographer Gareth Jenkins about his project to record Kirkby Flying Club for posterity and his plan for a spring exhibition at the Moorside Rooms.
Q How did the project come about?
“First, take photographs every day and second, develop a project” is wise advice from experienced photographers to those just starting out.
I’ve been learning the craft over the last couple of years, rarely leaving the house without a camera and beginning to feel more confident. Although there’s always more to learn, a few months ago felt like the right time to embark on a project. But what?
Then inspiration struck—a middle-of-the-night idea that still made sense the next morning. Kirkbymoorside Pigeon Racing Club! One of the members I’d known for many years advised me to talk to the secretary. So I did.
Audrey, I discovered, is the lynchpin of the organisation and without her, the club would struggle to exist. I also quickly found out that the club has a declining membership and there’s a common concern that without “new blood” it may only have a couple of years left. Documenting the club suddenly became more urgent.
At the next club meeting, I proposed my idea: to visit every member, capture photographs of them with their birds and record their experiences. Using a self-publishing website, I would create a magazine to give a memento to each member—as well as the town history group. They agreed!
On hearing about the project, friend and oral story-collector, Libby Pearson, offered to record all the interviews and produce a CD to accompany the magazine. Her involvement has been a wonderful addition. The completed recording beautifully captures the voices and rich history of the club.
Q What is the history of the club?
Nobody knows exactly when the club began but a well-preserved book of Kirkbymoorside Flying Club minutes dates back to 1936. Perhaps the catalyst for their formation was a town joinery company, Porritt Pigeon Lofts, who was nationally renowned for their flat-pack lofts—well ahead of IKEA. Back then, most Ryedale towns and villages had their own pigeon racing clubs and races were held weekly from April to September. Birds were basketed and sent by train from Pickering in bespoke carriages as far as Scotland, with large cash prizes for the fastest birds. Today, with far fewer clubs, the races are shorter and generally fly from the south. Club members look back with great fondness to those days when birds flew ‘the North Road’.
Despite huge advancements in modern technology, it is still a mystery how these innocuous birds have the ability to return home after being released hundreds of miles away. Many theories abound but nobody actually knows for sure, and the unsolved mystery just makes an interesting project even more fascinating.
Members have told us so many anecdotes covering their decades of racing – famous wins, unaccountable losses of hundreds of birds in a single race, top-secret strategies and occasional skullduggery! But they reflect, sadly, on the present-day that pigeon racing holds little interest for younger generations. One or two have grandchildren that are quite keen, but there have been no new members joining for years. Membership has dwindled to around a dozen.
The club now meets in their own portacabin located at the town’s sports field. Most Kirkbymoorside residents are probably unaware of the club, though it’s probably fair to say that members haven’t publicised it a great deal. Perhaps there’s a feeling of fatality – the end of an era approaching. If and when it becomes unsustainable, those who want to continue racing may join other clubs, but they’ll miss the local comradeship.
Pigeon racing is highly competitive and all sorts of tactics and strategies are adopted to get your bird home first. But it’s also a club, a gathering place where old friends meet, share a beer and a story or two. And it will leave a hole when it no longer exists.
Hopefully, however, it won’t be forgotten. This project will provide a testimonial, a record of a bygone time when dominoes, darts, whippet and pigeon racing enthralled people as much as online gaming, Netflix and social media do today.
The Exhibition: The Moorside Rooms, Kirkbymoorside. Saturday 26 March, 10 am–4 pm.
To mark the start of the new pigeon racing season in April, we have organised a public exhibition of photographs and the audio recording. And we couldn’t run an event like this without some live pigeons and members of the club to chat to. Do pop in—we’d love to see you. And who knows, you might catch the pigeon racing bug and help keep this local institution going.
For more of Gareth’s photos visit: www.viewfromwithout.com
Meet some of the members of Kirkby Flying Club…
Born and raised in Kirkbymoorside, his favourite memories are the races when the birds would be released from Lerwick. He’d take the week off work to wait for their return. Memorably he once got a first and second which won him £600 – and covered his feed costs for a whole year.
Chair of the club but actually a resident of Pickering. Comes from a family of racing pigeon enthusiasts. Recalls his wedding day reception being disrupted by male guests suddenly leaving as birds started returning from a race earlier than expected.
Another member from Pickering. Brought up in Dalby Forest he milked his father’s cows before school and had his own loft as a young lad. A champion horse breeder and accomplished cricketer he is constantly looking to improve his birds and is hopeful of a successful season this year.
The longest-serving club member, his uncle introduced him to pigeon racing by giving him two young chicks which he raised himself. He thinks this season will be his last and has stopped breeding new birds.
The most successful member last year. For the first time this season, he will be supporting his two granddaughters to race. He’s teaching them all he knows and so maybe, just maybe, there might be a future for the club after all.
Secretary extraordinaire! Volunteered for one year and thirty years later is still doing this vital job. All members agree that without Audrey the club would have packed in years ago (it’s a good job she enjoys it then!)
A relative latecomer to the sport Bernard flies his birds with Audrey. Both are very careful about wearing a mask at all times when they are in their loft, aware that ‘pigeon lung’ has been the cause of many people having to give up racing.
In the early days Jayne and husband Fred used to compete against each other – flying from the same loft. Now they race as a team – life’s easier and more fun that way!