Crowded Trains

By Richard Beckett

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'OF YEARS AGO!' page

NOT Newhaven I know, but does anybody recall scenes like these in the 1960's/70's on the track along the top of East Beach?

The train will have travelled down overnight from the Midlands with their attendants/owners. Then the Carriage sides were dropped down early in the morning, the cages unloaded and the birds fed and watered. After a while came the mad rush to open the cages and let the birds go. I can recall seeing hundreds of pigeons fly upwards en-masse, circle round a few times then split up into small groups and off up the valley on their way home to their lofts. There always seemed to be a few who never made it out of Newhaven and it was usual for a couple of days afterwards to see one or two still around long after the train had gone.

Now Pigeon trains are a thing of the past.

And of course there helping would be John Hawkins who lived in Station Road, for he also raced Pigeons but on a smaller scale. Many the day I have seen him wheeling his bike down to the Railway Station with a loaded Pigeon basket on the front carrier. The basket with it's destination label, would be put in with the Guard and transferred from station to station until it reached it's destination. There a local pigeon fancier would collect the basket and at the appropriate time would release the pigeon(s) to fly back to Newhaven. The cage label would then be reversed and the cage sent on it's way back by rail to Newhaven. However I never did get to find out if all his pigeons made it back.

Now John, his pigeons, pigeon baskets and Guards on passenger trains are a thing of the past.

This page was added by Richard Beckett on 26/06/2014.
Comments about this page

My Father John Martin was an avid Pigeon racer all his life and was secretary of the local racing pigeon club for many years. During the 50s and early 60s the local pigeon racers would be asked to assist with liberations such as the one depicted in the photo. The birds would travel down from the north by special train in those years as I recall, before BR turned the traffic away, and then they would travel down in specially built lorries. As a lad I assisted in such a liberation. The carriages were in the goods yard, now North Quay, and several local pigeon fanciers would unload the baskets and line them up for dispatch. There would be about 20 plus birds in each basket and some liberations could amount to thousands of birds in one race. The baskets had a large drop down flap tied with three separate strings. After the birds were watered and lightly fed earlier the two outside strings were cut leaving just the one string to cut. When the liberator was satisfied the weather conditions were favourable enough for the flight home he would give the order to cut the centre strings as quickly as possible on all the baskets and free the birds in one big flock which would circle for a while, find there bearings, and head for home mainly in the North East England if my memory serves me correctly. 

In those far off days the railway was a common carrier and accepted any thing you wished to send including baskets of pigeons. If you wished to train your birds from a distance you could offer them in a basket at the parcels office at Newhaven Town, address them to a Station Master say at Selhurst, about 40 Miles away, which my father did on occasion. He would contact the Station Master first to let him know the birds were coming to his station who would release them on arrival, and send the empty basket back. The birds would travel in the guards van of the normal passenger train so were looked after all the way on their journey. Life was different then.


By Barry Martin
On 04/07/2014

I remember members of the local pigeon racing club meeting in The Labour Club to synchronise their time-clocks before a race.

By Doug Hall
On 13/10/2015

My husband was a fireman on the railway at that time and remembers the pigeons being brought down by train and left at the east quay.  A driver, and himself as fireman, then shunted them to East Side/Tidemills.

By Carol Walton
On 19/03/2017

As a kid, I remember seeing pigeons in cages in the basement of a house on the west side of South Road, close to the Volunteer. You could see them through the window in the pavement.

Can anyone shed light on this? I assume it was a pigeon racers home!

By Rob Patten
On 27/03/2017

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