This film is part of Free

Time on the Wing

Everything you always wanted to know about North East homing pigeons (but were afraid to ask).

Sponsored film 1969 33 mins

From the collection of:

Logo for North East Film Archive


This strangely compelling film follows the lofty ambitions of pigeon fanciers and racers affiliated to the Up North Combine. A culture with a mythical status in the North East, pigeon crees cluster like brightly painted Wild West shacks from Skinningrove to the Scotswood Road. A cross-channel race is a tense blue-sky sport of watch and wait for dedicated owners and the “toss” of thousands of pigeons is an awesome sight (unless you have a Hitchcockian fear of birds).

This film was commissioned by Vaux Breweries, based in Sunderland from 1837 to 1999, who sponsored the International Open Vaux-Usher Gold Tankard race from Beauvais, France, in the 1960s and 70s. The Up North Combine was founded in 1905 to handle the logistics of long distance races for an increasing number of clubs and federations in the North East. The volume of pigeon traffic on the railways from mining districts in Northumberland was heavy enough in 1905 to begin running pigeon specials during the racing season. Pigeons became known as ‘the poor man’s racehorse’ as the popularity of raising birds grew in working class culture during the last third of the 19th century, particularly in mining districts.