Ken Brown


I first started with Macs in 1928 at the tender age of eight. My grandfather built me a cote out of Tommy Liptons egg boxes, and then gave me two pairs of Macclesfield Tipplers. (Hence the name `Macs’). The colours were bronze white tails and grey white tails, very small birds with short legs and tiny feet. Very nice feathers. These macs gave me hours of pleasure as a lad but got me into a lot of trouble at school. I used to go home for dinner, let my macs out and then back to school. My desk was near a window overlooking our house. I used to watch them going round just like circus ponies, and no wonder as they were only fed on knocked burnt bread. They would fly about thirty minutes at the most. I used to watch them in complete wonderment till Mr. Wright would come up and bring me back to earth with a smart rap across the knuckles with his cane. Then he used to say, “Brown, if you would only concentrate on your lessons like you do on your pigeons, you could be the brightest lad in the school”.

At weekends I would go up to my Dear Aunt Nell’s who lived in Stannington View Road, this was opposite the old Crookes Club, then just an old tin hut built on the edge of a deep quarry. This was where all the mac flyers used to stand and watch their kits in training. Mr. Cockayne, world record holder for thirty five years with a time of 19 hours 35 minutes (Later Sheffield world record holder was Mr. Marlow of Stannington village who flew five cocks in 1959 for 19 hours 45 minutes). Mr. Jack Holland who was a successful young bird flyer, twice over 16 hours and a I7 hours (see Job Ofields book). Mr. `Wimps’ Morton with his family of blacks. My old pal Herbert Fiddler told me after the war that Mr. Billingham obtained his blacks off Mr. Morton. Mr. Wallace with his family of blues and Mr. Eagles with his family of reds with blue rumps. Yes, these men blazed the way for endurance flying. There were a great many more good flyers whose names I did not know but to me as a lad it was pure joy to just stand there and listen to the men talk. Such remarks as, “That rnac has had enough, just look how it is opening its tail when it comes over the pen”. “Just look at the nice butterfly action of my kit of Macclesfields” and “Look how my badged cocks are raking.” Then you alwxys would hear the guy who would say “My kit fly that close you could cover them with a pocket handkerchief” – Some blooming handkerchief!

After an hour or so it used to be back to Aunt Nell’s for my Sunday tea, new baked tea cakes and a great big celery. My Aunt Nell was an angel to me as I had lost my mum giving birth to me so you see the macs have always played a great part in my life,

At the age of fourteen I started at the Drill works on a gas furnace; I had to hold tiny drills over the gas flame with thumb and forefinger till the drills turned blue, then drop them into whale oil. This job played havoc with your hands, burnt all my finger prints off. The hours were 8 a,m. till 5.30 p.m. and Saturdays 8 a.m. till 12 noon, 49 working hours for eight shillings wage and no tea breaks – `The good old days’ – it was at the Drill works that I met a lad named Harold Lindop, he lived at Walkley and like myself was crary about the macs. He took me round to meet his pals in Walkley which was a real hot bed for good mac flyers. I met Mr. Billy Setters who had a grand family of light prints with red tinged flights and red tails. These macs were very small and used to stand right up on their toes. I have never seen the likes of them since. Mr. Setters used to fly fourteen macs in a kit and they were a joy to behold. Also at Walkley was Mr. Hardwick who was always in the news. Then there was Mr. Wag Hancock with his family of reds: he was a force to be reckoned with right into the 1960’s, 18 hours plus was commonplace for Wag. Then we had the terrible twins – Mr. Sunshine Rainer and Mr. Sonny Bartells, both these two guys flew badged macs with great success.

Mr. Harold Lindop and his brother Ernest were good pals of mine. The drill job had to go while I still had a thumb and foreflnger left. At fifteen I went to work with my brother Billy who was a good bricklayer and I got a rise to ten shilling a week, still 49 hours.

In 1936 I flew the grand time of ten hours with three black badged cocks that I had bought off Harold for five shillings (25 pence for the kit). In the same year we had to move out of the old house and came up on the Arbourthorne where I still live today. The council would not allow pigeon keeping but I still carried on with my Macs regardless, right up to 1939. When the war came that was the end of it.

In 1940 I met my wife and we were marned in 1942, the finest thing that ever happened to me. After the war I made my way down town to Walkley to Harold who had kept his macs all through the war. By now he was married, his wife Olive was a real nice woman and a good mother to the two sons. She was also a very understanding wife towards Harold’s hobby, their house was like a chemist shop. Little bottles of Quinine, Tincture of Iron, Tincture of Steel, Parishers Chemical Food, Easton Syrup. You name it and he had it. Little measures and syringes. His Macs had flown 17 hours plus in 1947 so he was someone to admire, but he had no Macs for sale. Then in 1947 my brother Cyril met Mr. Billingham and made way for a visit up to his loft at Gleadless. We went Sunday morning – it was Spring and Sammy Billingham had just parted twelve grand young Macs, eleven blacks and one red. I asked him how much he wanted for them and he replied £1 each. Well, that was a days wage then: I told him that I would take four blacks and the red. This seemed to shock him and he told me that he did not sell them local. All these youngsters would be sent to Jos Davies and Mr. Dick Lewis of Wales, some to Mr. Cyril Meredith of Birmingham and some to Mr. Abouthnutt in Ireland. I could not buy any! I then went to see Mr. Brookfield: his birds had flown 19 hours before the war. He told me that he sent his surplus Macs abroad. Then in 1948 Mr Jack Heaton told me that Sammy Billingham wanted me to build him a garage and some pigstyes. I went up to see him and did not mince words. I told him I would build him whatever he wanted as long as he sold me two pairs of blacks, and before I laid a brick. This he agreed to after giving it a lot of thought. I paid him £5 for two pairs – a weeks wages in those days. I then did him all the work he required. I am happy to say that I still have his strain to this day, and can honestly say I have not spent a penny on Macs since.

In 1948 I was bricklaying for the public works department and got frozen off the housing estate. We were then sent on the repairs department while the bad weather passed. One morning I was sent to clean a load of soil and stones out of the guttering of a house. The foreman told me that a young lad had caused the gutter blockage because of throwing at his pigeons. I had to tell the lad that he had to get rid of his birds. When I had done the job I went to the door and asked the lad where he had put his pigeons. He said that he had got rid of them, but I told him that I had heard them cooing. I promised him that if he assured me that he would not throw any more stones I would not report him. This he agreed to. We then went up the garden to the greenhouse where he was keeping six homers. Just as I was walking away a black Mac appeared out of a little box. What a state it was in: its head was raw and it was cut down and in a terrible condition. I asked the lad how this had happened and he told me that he had bought it out of the market. The man had told him it was a hen but it was a cock and he had put it in with a big homer cock. The homer cock had very near killed the Mac. The lads name was Harry Ward, he was twelve years old. I told him that I would take the black cock and exchange him a pair of young fantails: he was pleased to do an exchange. After that I had made a pal for life, he is now marned with four daughters.

1949, the black cock had got over its terrible ordeal, and I tried all over to get a good Mac hen to pair up to him. Then one day I met Mr. Sonny Bartells on a building site. He worked for the Y.E.B, and he kindly said that he would give me a long cast bronze mottled hen: she was a yearling and took to the black cock right away and bred a very long cast blue hen. This was the start of the strain that I call my Flesh Beak strain (now flying well in Holland for Mr. Knol). So you see how hard it was for me to obtain Macs. I am glad to say it is different today. I have now flown in N.T.U, competitions for thirty four years and have met some genuine folk.

In 1981 my great pal Walter Cooper from Beighton bred me four Macs and I flew them in the July Young Bird fly for 18 hours, 9 minutes. I missed three out of the four.

In 1982 I again had some youngsters from Walter and also four blue badges from our Newsletter editor. This time I flew two of Walters and one of the blue badges for another 18 hours 9 minutes: I missed two out of the three.

Finally, in 1983 with two more youngsters from Walter and another blue badge youngster from our editor, I managed to fly them 18 hours 15 minutes and this time I got them.

I will mention that our Newsletter editor came to our house several years ago when he was a teenager. I then gave him a blue hen that had flown 19 hours that same year, and I am pleased to say we have been pals ever since.

In addition to 1983 being the year of my success with the young birds I also had to go into hospital for cancer of the throat. My pals Tommy Hughes and young Lee Norrie stuck by me and looked after my Macs for several weeks. Good pals, and all genuine folk. I am a very lucky man.

Well, for the sake of the new starters who hope to fly in the N.T.U. competitions, first make sure you have a very understanding wife, and second make sure you obtain your stock birds from the best Mac flyer in your town. Then, with a little care to detail you will succeed but rest assured, you will have more disappointment than success. Four times I have missed kits on 19 hours and one bird in a kit over 20 hours.

If you are prepared to put up with this and bounce back – then

Ken Brown