The Prisoner of Falkirk


Following my request for information regarding Robert Stoddart, Jack Curtis (The Big Fella) sent me a copy of an article he wrote on Robert in 1983. He added that I could use it as I thought fit. I have now read the article and to my mind there is only one way and that is to have the article reprinted in its entirety with all credit to Jack. It therefore follows this introduction. ? Brian Newson

Jack Curtis


A FEW months ago, when doing a loft report, I came across pigeons which descended from the loft of Stoddart of Falkirk. You may think that there was nothing special about that, but you would be wrong in your interpretation for the pigeons I found were a wee bit special, to say the least In fact, it wouldn?t be an exaggeration if I said they were ?dream pigeons? and two of them were, without doubt CHAMPIONS, in the truest sense of the word. They were bred in very different parts of England, and each was capable of dominating their respective Classic long distance races and organisations.

I refer, of course, to Vic Robinson?s superb hen, ?Mademoiselle? 6946, bred in 1950 and winner of 45th, 2nd & 1st English National Pau, 527 miles and Rutter Bros? magnificent ?Thousand Pound Hen? bred in 1952 and rung NEHU52X23331. She scored six times on the trot from Bourges, 560 miles, against anywhere between 5,000 to 7,000 pigeons in each race, winning 4th, 9th, 9th, 16th, 71st and 171st Up North Combine. In 1954 the Combine winner did 821ypm and she was 4th; 1955 782ypm and she was 71st; 1956 the vel was 1245 and she was 9th; 1957 saw them doing 1209 but she slipped up being only 171st Open; 1958 the winner made 1042ypm and she claimed 16th Open; her last race at this distance was in 1959 when the winner made 1366ypm and she came up again for 9th Open. Add 7th Open Lille, 343 miles, 13,267 birds; 143rd Open Lille, 10,975 birds; 2nd Club & 7th Fed Peterborough,150 miles; 1st Club Welwyn, 200 miles; 4th Club & 4th Fed Ashford, 268 miles, and you begin to see why I started to wonder about the common factor, ie Rabbie Stoddart

Now, the two hens specified, were outstanding and you must agree upon that, but they both had many outstanding relatives in their home lofts, and I mean outstanding in every sense of the word. Both Robinson and the Rutters had a loft full of ?cracks?. This set my old subconscious going and, as is my wont, out came the old records, off went a few phone calls and letters and my regular hours reading in bed was spend tracing and piecing together the life and story of Rabbie.

My first reactions to this man are ones of sheer amazement, they say that fact is stranger than fiction and in this case you will find it so. My facts are based upon eye witness reports of people who live near him and his family, in the town of Falkirk, and also by men who have long been gone from this earthly scene. Before we think about pigeons I must look at the man, for this man was extraordinary in my eyes.

The Prisoner of Falkirk
I have always believed in fate and in my opinion our destiny is made at the moment of conception, the abilities or lack of them are set and we live our lives to the predetermined pattern dictated by that mass of grey matter under our scalp. Some people are given immense talent others brilliant health and vigour, whilst the less fortunate can lack both of these virtues. Rabbie wasn?t blessed with health and suffered from a very rare skin disease, he was allergic to sunlight and from a very early age had to protect his body from its effect. After a lot of experimenting the Doctor had him bandaged from head to foot and confined to a darkened bedroom. This pigeon fancier spent virtually the whole of his adult life incarcerated in this manner, a total prisoner in his own home. I have sat and tried to imagine what it must have been like for him but cannot find words to describe how tortured this man must have been. ?The Prisoner .of Zenda? and ?The Man in the Iron Mask? were pictures I saw as a boy and which could send chills up your spine with no bother at all, but I am not talking about fiction, I am on about a real live man who?s whole life was centred on the skies and the open air through his great love of racing pigeons.

To withstand this sort of life he must have had a will of steel, being one of a family of seven brothers and one sister must have helped him. He also had one or two very good friends who visited him regularly and helped with the pigeons. Willie Patterson was his main ally with the loft but Rabbie was the real genius with the Doos and you have my word on that. Having analysed his long run of success at the very highest level and looked at the capability of his pigeons in other people?s hands, I have wondered how good he would have been if he could have lived a normal life like you or I. Can you think how well you would fly if you were never to leave the house again and someone had to clean out, change the water, feed the birds, train them, exercise them, ring the babies, fill the nest pans, and do all the many little tasks a fancier?s life consists of then have every pigeon carried to your bedroom, for have the skill to know whether they were right for a race or not, just by handling them in the dark. This he did for years and his judgement was such that he won everything in front of him for well over 30 years. If I had to vote for the most talented fancier who has ever lived this would be my man.

I have read and studied them all, one of my main interests is the history of the pigeon fancy, you name him and I bet I can tell you something about him and his pigeons, but on the basis of my investigations I swear I have never come across a better fancier than this man. In 1929 he was getting his good hen, ?Little Lady?, ready for Rennes, she was brought to him a few days before basketing was due. Rabbie handled her and pronounced the hen was too big and heavy, she was given a six day old youngster, trained hard and sent to Nevers the week after Rennes to win this 700 mile event by a clear 50ypm, and set the 700 mile record into Scotland.

To the student of pedigree it will be of interest to note that this Scottish 700 mile record setter, was a descendent of the earlier English 800 record holder, I refer to Sheldon of Jarrow?s great hen, ?Mealy Mirande? of the 1909 era, of whom more will come later. In 1930, a daughter of ?Little Lady? was 3rd Open SNFC Rennes and was followed in by 4066, ?Thomasina? and ?Dauntless. They won ?230 in that one race which was big money at that time, when the average working man was working a 50 hour week for between ?1 to ?2 wages. The year after his good red cock, ?Steady Boy? came to win 4th Open Rennes and F W Marriott, writing on the outstanding fanciers of the time, said of the Stoddart pigeons that these were the type of birds from which the champions of the future would come. How prophetic this statement turned out to be when we can look back with the benefit of hindsight. I give the details of that three year period just to emphasise my point on this man, 1st Central Comb Nevers, 700 miles, 1929; 3rd Open Rennes 1930; 4th Open Rennes 1930 and none of your fancy aids and medicines such as we have today. No antibiotics, worming treatments, or specialised conditioners, it was all done the hard way and with only a small team of pigeons to work on, proves to me that all of the trumpet blowing about todays ?Aces? and Pigeons isn?t as accurate as some people would have us believe it is.

Rabbie Stoddart would, in my humble opinion, have given everyone at the top today a hell of a run for his money, and in saying that I think I am paying everyone a compliment. His family hadn?t reached its peak when he died. ?Rutters Hen? and ?Mademoiselle? prove that statement beyond doubt. He never got the credit he undoubtedly deserved for the production of these two dazzling Champions and it is due to this fact as well as my admiration of the man concerned that this history of Rabbie and his pigeons is adorning the pages of the Gazette 30 years after his death. In digging back through my records and information provided by my good friend, Bill Roberts of Stenhousemuir, a little help from the Editor, Billy Napper, and one or two others I have pieced together a brief outline of this legendary Scot.

To say that my research is a complete history of the man and his pigeons would be untrue and unworthy of me or my subject. However, having dug down, the deeper I dig the more fascinated I became but I will not labour his personal misfortune any further but would ask you to consider the facts as I have given them to you. Then consider the calibre of the fancier in the light of the real circumstances. I know that I am the scribe of the Up North Combine first and foremost and in presenting this article I am jumping ?over the Border?, but being part Scottish through my maternal great grandfather, who was Jack Redpath from Aberdeen, I feel I am entitled to some small licence when it comes to a character of the quality of Robert Stoddart.

The town of Carron is always associated in my mind with the military term, Carronade, the term goes back to the era of my favourite soldier, the Duke of Wellington and the Napoleonic period of European history. Wellington preferred Carron weapons to all other artillery and specified them many times ion his requests for equipment. The prosperity of Carron was built on its steel works and it was in the shadows of such an industrial monster that Rabbie spent his life, in one of the many rows of houses built just outside the walls of the works.

His first loft was, in fact, the coal house in the yard of the house where he lived and his early successes were all to this tiny place. There was no YB section, it was far too small for that sort of luxury, but this did not stop him from winning out of turn. Later, the family moved to Park Crescent where there was a garden and a nice three-compartment loft was erected but that was in 1939 and, of course, the war put paid to any Channel racing plans for the next six years. It is strange how coincidence can figure very prominently in life, from the coincidence of two great hens I am writing this article, from the same chance comes the link with Carron and the Duke of Wellington, and the thing becomes even more involved because I know that the Duke was a pigeon fancier and holds the best authenticated long distance record flight for a pigeon in the whole world. Although it has no relevance to this story in a way it gives the birth place of Robert Stoddart its true place in the history of the British people and their struggles for survival and conquest. In today?s world, Carron does not carry the same significance as it did in Wellington?s time, but the quality of its munitions and the people who produced them it played a significant part in our national well being. The same can also be said of the strain of pigeons known as the Stoddart of Falkirk strain. However, they are still here in the Up North Combine, not identical to the Master?s, I grant you, but still very very impressive indeed.

What Were They
Now the first fact that I must establish, is that Rabbie could spot quality pigeons a mile away; he had the inborn talent which some people call genius, and the brains to settle for nothing less than the very best. He was slow and methodical, perhaps due to the circumstances he lived under, but he got there in no uncertain manner. His first pigeons were a Stanhope cock from Tom Scott of Camelon and a T W Thoroughgood hen from Radcliffe of Stalybridge in Cheshire. Herbert Stanhope was a Yorkshireman by birth but spent all of his adult life in Stroud, in Gloucestershire. It was here that he developed his great family based upon the Servais strain he imported from Belgium, the prime pigeon was his ever-famous ?Red Aberdeen?, who was described by Col Osman as one of the greatest and most significant stock cocks in the history of the sport. Thoroughgood, whom I shall refer to as TWT, was a man of considerable wealth, he was a brewery owner and is reputed to be the first man in England to use barley as a feed for racing pigeons. He also had the distinction of breeding the dam of Hudson?s ?King of Rome?, who won this race in 1913.

The hen Rabbie obtained, was from TWT 42 x 47 line; 42 was a Wegge and 47 a grand-daughter of Gits? Ref C, therefore, the first Stoddarts were Servais x Wegge/Gits. This pair produced his first Ace pigeon known as ?Alfonso? and he left a long line of winners. To these he added a mealy cock, ?2430?, which was Barker/Marriott x Sheldon of Jarrow?s ?Mealy Mirande? family, probably based upon the fact that ?Mealy Mirande? was the dam of McMeekin?s 1911 SNFC winner. In 1925 he purchased a blue Logan cock, and a blue hen from Weeks of Crosshouse which was from a Barker sire and a daughter of Matt White?s ?Lady Lane?, when she was paired to a grandson of ?Scotch King?. The hen he got from Sam Vine was ?225? and she was from a son of Toft?s mated San Sebastian pair, ?3702? x ?3468?, and a sister to Osman?s ?Olympic?. At the same time he purchased a dark chequer cock, ?2735?, direct from Osman who was out of the best pair in the loft at that time, these being ?2455? and ?2465?. ?2735? later became known as ?Old Squills? and the father of generations of Stoddarts, these are the base pigeons.

Pair No 1, was the Stanhope cock and the TWT hen ?307?, this pair mated in 1923 were the foundation of the loft.

Pair No 2, mealy cock ?2430? Barker/Marriott x Sheldon and the Week?s hen ?3107?, who was a Barker cross.

Pair No 3, dark chequer cock ?2735 Osman, and the red hen ?225? Toft x Osman.

Later ?2735? was mated to ?Little Lady? who was from No 2 pair and they produced ?2554?, a great stock bird and ?Leading Lady? ?2555?, which Rabbie stated was the best pigeon he ever owned. To the student of pedigree it will be apparent that the foundation was of very mixed origins. However, they were all, without doubt, quality pigeons. It is clear to me that Stoddart never bothered about strains but paid a great deal of attention to performance in the ancestory of his stock. He line bred quite intensely to his own best without the risk of deterioration and then put a cross from a different line into it. In 1933 he obtained an outstanding hen from Archie Dew of London, ?252? from a Logan x Toft sire who was a grandson of ?Champion 69?, twice San Sebastian including 19th Open NFC as a 2yo, and a Bryant x Winnant dam who had won 5th Open MFC Marennes for Lang of Stockport. Once Rabbie had tested her progeny he did not allow the line to die, instead, he inbred to her and it was a daughter of this type which produced his war time cracks, ?Combine Lady? and ?181?. The skill of the man is really shown in the pigeon which went to Vic Robinson for this cock, ?7351?, was from a son of ?Combine Lady?, mated to a daughter of ?181?, and it was ?7351? which set the Robinson family on fire.

Vic Robinson obtained the Stoddart?s through an exiled Scot, working in Southampton during the war. Vic was a hard task master and was loath to put anything into his own inbred Osman family that wasn?t absolutely tip-top. The Stoddarts were put through the mill to the extent that they went week after week without let or hindrance. In fact, he literally murdered them with work before he would put them in as a cross. ?7351? was worked hard to Guernsey as a young bird, then turned North as a yearling and flown every week right out to Thurso, 533 miles. At the same time Vic was working upon ?2450? who was direct from Rabbie?s ?Danny Boy? (sold for ?100 at eleven years old) and he was put in as a cross with the top stock hen to breed ?Lonesome?. This cock won four good Open positions in the Nationals and was put back to ?Our Jean? to breed ?8406?.

Vic then mated ?7351? to ?8406? and this mating produced ?Mademoiselle?. The Robinson Champion was, therefore, a line-bred Stoddart with an Osman cross, the whole Robinson family being line-bred to ?Forlorn Hope? and the ?Wienberg Hen?. Rabbie never got the credit I felt he deserved for this superb hen and the many other ?cracks? the cross produced in the Southampton loft, however most VC?s are awarded posthumously and Rabbie is getting his now.

Variations on a Theme
As with all line breeders, Stoddart was always on the look out for something special to bring in, Dan Gillespie?s crack cock ?101? attracted him and he got an inbred son from him in ?6184?. On the old lines he bred ?Air Mail?, ?2952?, ?2954?, ?6329? and ?7112? which were all great racers. Later, came a dark chequer cock of Thoroughgood x Grooters breeding from H T Langdon and when mated to ?Combine Lady? he bred ?Danny Boy?, ?The Dollar Cock? and ?177?. His last cross was an inbred son of Anderson Bros of Falkirk?s ?Flora?, 1st Open SNFC Rennes. The Stoddart?s, like many other great families, were developed from a base of very mixed origins, if we look at the permutations available to him we can see that he could vary the lines within the loft to suit whatever purpose he had in mind.

The sheer brilliance of the man is magnified a thousand fold in my eyes when I remember the circumstances under which he lived and flew his pigeons. A coal house for many years had to suffice as a loft, money must have produced all sorts of problems in the early years as he couldn?t go out and earn it like you or I. Then there was his total reliance on other people for every little job he wanted doing while he, the Master, could only sit like a living Egyptian Mummy, fastened to a living tomb. You can go to Belgium, you can go to Hell if you like, but as sure as God made little apples you won?t find a better fancier than Robert Stoddart, and I will put my reputation as a man and scribe on the line, pound for pound, this man was a super heavyweight.

The effects of his work are still being felt even to this very day, the blend of Stanhope cross Thoroughgood with the additions of Barker, Marriott, Sheldon, laid the base. Add the Logan Barker, followed by Toft x Osman, then the Osman direct for the intermediate years, then the very influential ?Dew Hen? of Logan/Toft/Grooters breeding. The Gillespie cock was no fluke either for his sire, ?101?, not only flew 500 miles three times, but bred a boatload of 500 and 600 mile winners with a lot of different hens. The bloodlines were J L Baker, who can only be described as a devastating fancier, crossed with the Bryant Grooters and it is true to say that the bakers owned an awful lot to the Stanhope strain in their make up.

So, this cross if you can call it that, had a very strong affinity with Rabbie?s very first foundation pigeon. I dare say that if I had the time I could almost work it out but I feel I have made my point clear to you. The other significant pigeon, Langdon?s ?413?, was Thoroughgood x Grooters which again is hardly a cross at all but he made his mark and left behind a powerful line. There must have been some variation in type within the loft but of one thing I am certain, there was never any variation in capability or ability, these factors were tied in by the Master.

Earlier, I mentioned his genius and quest for nothing but the best. If we look at the Dew hen we find that she was bred in 1933 from a grandson of Logan?s ?69? which was descended no less than 17 times from ?103?. ?103? was Logan?s very first 600 miler and is one of the key pigeons in the strain, tracing directly back to ?Old 86?, the first pigeon to fly 400 miles and winner of his last five races, including four of them from France. Many of the later Stoddart?s owe something to this hen through her grand-daughter, ?7711?, ?Combine Lady?. Rutter?s great hen is a great grand-daughter of ?7711? on the dam?s side and, as we have seen, the Dew hen was half Grooters. ?419?, the sire of the ??1,000 Hen?, is line-bred to ?1111? the grand dam of Dr Buckley?s ?Champion Bull Dog Drummond?, twice 500 miles, three times 670 miles and placed in every one of them, including three great National positions. The Buckley?s were all line-bred Grooters as we know and we find them on both sides of the crack hen of the Up North Combine. The magic cross, this time, was Barker via a grand-daughter of ?Strinesdale Queen?, but the Barkers were there in Rabbie?s foundation also. Today, many top lofts in the mighty Up North Combine owe something of their reputation to the Stoddart?s of Falkirk.

Billy Napper?s ?Combine Cock? with 1st, 5th & 11th Open is one, many of Tom Kilner?s great winners carry the line, George Woodward of Jarrow is another and I hear that the Kibblesworth pigeon that topped the Combine from Eastbourne is another this year, which only goes to prove what I have been saying for years is true, ?class will tell?. I see that Dale Newcombe is flying a few Napper?s with success in the SNFC, we could say it?s a case of coals from Newcastle, but then the UNC wins can also be related back to Sheldon?s fabulous ?Mealy Mirande? and we have turned a full circle.

I have never believed that pigeons from one area are better than pigeons from another, there are good pigeons everywhere if you seek them out correctly. Rabbie Stoddart knew how to do that, and that?s a fact, Kilner knows how to do it and that is also a fact.

In trying to piece together the story of Robert I find it difficult to believe that a man with handicaps could play such an important part in the history of the sport, but to the best of my knowledge every word I have written is true. His mortal remains line in almost forgotten isolation in a small cemetery in Scotland. I say almost forgotten because I know of at least one man who goes and pays his respects whenever he visits the place. Bill, the next time you visit, pay mine, for if ever there was such a thing as a ?special fancier? then that man was the late Robert Stoddart of Falkirk.

It is true to say that in the Up North Combine the prime fountain for Stoddart pigeons is the loft of Rutter Brothers of South Hetton. They had a direct son of ?Combine Lady?, who sired the dam of the ??1,000 Hen?, he also sired the ?Orleans Cock? who won 12th UNC Orleans in 1959 in a 900ypm race. This cock was out of a full sister to the ??1,000 Hen? which means he is line-bred to Stoddart?s ?Combine Lady?. After his good win from Orleans he was mated back to the ??1,000 Hen? and this mating produced the brother?s famous ?Broken Legs?. The method of best to best in this case intensified the line-breeding to ?Combine Lady? further still and preserved the great Scottish line because ?Broken Legs?, apart from being a superb racer, proved to be a marvellous reproducer of top class stock. Due to his legs hanging down in flight he was kept mainly for inland racing and he won out of turn. He was, however, sent over the Channel once and won 16th Up North Combine Lille, 5,878 birds, vel 1112ypm, flying the 350 miles with his legs dangling every inch of the way. The influence of ?Broken Legs? is still paramount in the Combine, he was on loan to Tom Kilner for a season and through this action is the great grand sire of Bradley & Robson?s winner of 1st Up North Combine this year with over 23,000 pigeons competing in the race.

For football fans it will be of interest to note that the pigeon was bred by Bill Arnott of Felling who, of course, is the father of the ex-Sunderland midfield star, Kevin Arnott. The Bradley & Robson pigeon is a combination of Rutters x Kilner on the sire?s side and Ian McKinnon & Braithwaite of Workington?s Vandeveldes on the dam?s side. But, for the purpose of this text, the emphasis I wish to make is the link right back to Rabbie Stoddart and his splendid family of pigeons, through the Up North Champions which Ralph & Charlie Rutter created. The brothers have moved their loft back to South Hetton and I had a look at their pigeons only a few weeks ago. At the present time I know for a fact that they have 7x1sts, 5x2nds and 5x3rd prizes under their belt with some good Fed prizes to go with the club turns. Ralph will never let the old line die, he is too clever a fancier for that. He corresponded with Rabbie Stoddart for a few years right up to his death and when studying the breeding techniques of both men I am tempted to ask myself how much does the successor owe the Master.

I suppose one should never labour a point too much and I think I have paid my tribute to this truly great fancier, the circumstances of his life could never be described as normal, but surely the great moral to come out of this tribute is that if you are determined to succeed in any walk of life, there is no obstacle which cannot be overcome if you have the guts, willpower and single mindedness to apply yourself, for surely these are the indelible characteristics to come out of my survey of this man?s astonishing life of imprisonment, mental torture and triumphant successes.